8 Tips: Picking the Best High-Paying Jobs

Last Updated May 24, 2011 12:35 PM EDT

If you want to increase your chances of landing in a high-paying job, be strategic when picking a college major.

Common wisdom has always suggested that what matters is getting a college degree, but a new study released today by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, suggests the college major you select does matter greatly in your future earnings.

The massive study, which mined Census Bureau data on three million college graduates of various ages, concluded that Americans with the highest-paying majors earn roughly 300% more than those with the lowest paying college majors.

Getting a college degree -- any college degree -- will increase your lifetime earnings over a high school grad by 84%, but according to Anthony Carnevale, one of the study's authors, your major counts for up to four times as much.

Here's where you can find the lengthy report, What's It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors. Using the report's findings, I'm sharing eight ways to make more money with a college major:

How to Make More Money With Your College Major

1. Stay away from majors that women love.

Avoid majors that have the highest concentration of women such as art, social work and education. Majors that are heavily favored by women are among the lowest paid. Here's an example: 97% of early childhood education majors are women and this degree recorded the second lowest pay ($36,000) of the 171 majors studied.

2. Choose guy majors.


Majors that men favor pay better. The most heavily male major in the country is naval architecture and marine engineering (97%). Among the other heavily male degrees in the top 10 are mechanical engineering (90%), nuclear engineering (91%) and construction services (92%).

3. Avoid many popular majors and choose the unpopular ones.

Wildly popular majors like psychology and elementary education don't pay, but many of the less popular ones do. For instance, eight of the 10 highest paying majors involved engineering. Petroleum engineering is the most lucrative major with a median salary of $120,000.

4. Stay away from majors that generate part-time jobs.

The majors that often lead to part-time employment include medical assisting services, visual and performing arts and communication disorders sciences and services.

5. Don't stop at a bachelor's degree.

With some majors, students are far more likely to attend graduate schools and that typically increases earnings potential. Graduate degrees that lead to the highest earnings bump include zoology and health and medical preparatory programs. Graduate degrees with the smallest earnings boost include studio art and petroleum engineering.

6. Look for majors with no unemployment.

Majors, which have virtually no unemployment, include military technologies (didn't even know that was a major), pharmacology and geological and geophysical engineering.

7. Keep art a hobby.

Three of the 10 majors that pay the least involve art: drama and theater arts, studio arts and visual and performing arts.

8. Don't be a woman or a minority.

Women and minorities who did earn degrees in the most lucrative majors still didn't make as much money as men. Women with chemical engineering degrees, for instance, earned an average of $20,000 less than men with the same degree. While I find this wage discrimination outrageous, I'm not surprised.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Petroleum engineering image by Nestor Galina. CC 2.0.

More on CBS MoneyWatch:

Top 20 Best-Paying College Degrees in 2010
Worst Paying College Degrees in 2010
What's Wrong With America's Dream Colleges?

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