Best-paying jobs for bachelor's degree holders

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(MoneyWatch) The authors of a new book, "College Majors: Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs," have compiled a list of the top-paying jobs that require only bachelor's degree.

Clearly, it's important to earn a college degree, because the earnings gap between high school and college grads is significant. In 2011, for instance, high school graduates in their 20s were making a mean annual salary of $25,484, versus $39,705 for college graduates of the same age.

Rewards in health care, engineering

For people with a bachelor's degree, the median annual salary for all major fields of study is $51,597, but obviously income varies considerably by profession. Here are the 25 top fields of study, ranked by median annual salary, that require a bachelor's degree:

1. Medical preparatory programs, $100,000
2. Computer systems engineering, $85,000
3. Pharmacy, $84,000
4. Chemical engineering, $80,000
5. Electrical and electronics engineering, $75,000
6. Mechanical engineering, $75,000
7. Aerospace, aeronautical engineering, $74,000
8. Computer science, $73,400
9. Industrial engineering, $73,000
10. Physics and astronomy, $72,200
11. Civil engineering, $70,000
12. Electrical and electronics engineering technology, $65,000
13. Economics, $63,300
14. Financial management, $63,000
15. Mechanical engineering technology, $63,000
16. Applied mathematics, operations research, statistics, $62,800
17. Information systems, $62,000
18. Accounting, $60,000
19. Architecture and environmental design, $60,000
20. General mathematics, $60,000
21. Industrial production technology, $60,000
22. Public administration, $60,000
23. Marketing, $59,800
24. Political science, government and international relations, $57,800
25. Legal studies and pre-law, $56,800

Choosing a major

Of course, students generally shouldn't pick a college major based on what degrees typically produce the biggest paychecks. Some students will not possess the academic background or abilities to successfully graduate with a computer science or engineering degree. Students are more likely to fare better in their careers if they pick a major that they enjoy.

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