Watch CBS News

The top-paying and lowest-paying college majors

Damage to Tar Heel state from Hurricane Matthew tops $1B; rising energy costs boosts inflation; and computer science ranked as highest-paying college major. These headlines and more from CBS MoneyWatch. 01:08

While the rising cost of earning a bachelors degree has a lot of people questioning its value, some economists are focusing on another issue: How does a student's major influence their lifelong earnings potential?

That's a pertinent question, considering that Americans who major in the country's top-earning subjects can secure jobs that pay as much as 70 percent more than the lowest-paying subjects, according to a new study from Glassdoor.

The findings back up previous research by economists, such as a 2014 study from The Hamilton Project, which found that four degree majors will see median lifetime earnings of more than $2 million, while other degrees could pull in less than half that.

The majors that lead to the highest pay in the first five years out of college tend to focus on one area: the so-called STEM fields, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But that doesn't mean students who aren't interested in tech or science can't find solid careers with high earning potential.

"Secure jobs in today's economy require creativity and a sharp sense of judgment, which do not necessarily require a STEM background," said Allison Berry, Glassdoor community expert. "Having a successful career can have more to do with your commitment to building and developing your skillset over time, rather than relying just on what you learned in college."

By mid-career, a host of issues can affect your pay, ranging from whether workers climb up into the management ranks, as well as the strength of their so-called "soft" skills, which are increasingly in demand from employers.

Liberal arts majors on average are making more money by their mid-50s than those who studied professional or pre-professional subjects, according to a study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Still, earning higher wages earlier in one's career has a number of benefits, such as boosting overall retirement savings.

For its study, Glassdoor examined 500,000 resumes and the median base salary for each major within the first five years of work after college graduation.

Read on to learn about the five top-paying and five lowest-paying college majors.

Top: 5, industrial engineering: $64,381

Corepics VOF, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Recent graduates with degrees in industrial engineering are pulling in a median base salary of $64,381 during the first five years of their career, Glassdoor found. These majors are often employed in jobs such as industrial engineer, quality engineer and production planner.

Top: 4, Chemical engineering: $65,000

Getty Images/iStockphoto

People who have majored in chemical engineering earn a median base salary of $65,000 in the first five years after graduation, Glassdoor found. Popular entry-level jobs include chemical engineer, process engineer and project engineer.

Top: 3, Mechanical engineering: $68,000

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Graduates with degrees in mechanical engineering earn a median base salary of $68,000 within the first five years of graduation, Glassdoor found. Typical entry-level jobs include mechanical engineer, design engineer and project engineer.

Top: 2, Electrical engineering: $68,438

Lisa F. Young, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Young workers who majored in electrical engineering earn a median base salary of $68,438 in the five years after graduation, Glassdoor's study found. Common entry-level jobs for these majors include electrical engineer, systems engineer and software developer.

Top: 1, Computer science: $70,000

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Computer science graduates earn the highest salaries among all majors after leaving college. The median base salary within the first five years of graduation is $70,000, and typical jobs include software engineer, systems engineer and web developer.

Lowest: 5, Psychology: $42,000

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Psychology majors have the fifth-lowest median base salary in the first five years after graduation, earning $42,000 annually, Glassdoor found. Typical jobs for grads with psychology degrees include case manager, mental health counselor and sales associate.

Lowest: 4, Sociology, $42,000

Getty Images/iStockphoto

People who majored in sociology earn a median base salary of $42,000 in the first five years after graduation, Glassdoor said. Common entry-level jobs for these grads include HR assistant, account manager and administrative assistant.

Lowest: 3, Health care administration: $42,000

Shannon Fagan, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Grads with degrees in health care administration are in the bottom three of entry-level earnings after leaving college, with median annual earnings of $42,000, Glassdoor found. Typical jobs include medical assistant, file clerk and office manager.

Lowest: 2, Social work: $41,656

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Social work majors are the second-lowest earners right out of school, with a median annual salary of $41,656, the study found. Typical jobs for people with this major include social worker, mental health counselor and camp counselor.

Lowest: 1, Biology: $41,250

unknown, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Biology majors are the lowest earners among all 50 majors studied by Glassdoor, earning a median annual salary of $41,250. Typical jobs right out of college include lab assistant, paramedic and tutor.

The best of the rest

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Below are the typical earnings for the remaining 40 majors, ranging from No. 6 to No. 45.

6. Information Technology: $64,008

7. Civil Engineering: $61,500

8. Statistics: $60,000

9. Nursing: $58,928

10. Management information systems: $58,000

11. Finance: $54,900

12. Mathematics: 54,018

13. Biomedical engineering: $52,814

14. Accounting: $52,000

15. Economics: $52,000

16. Physics: $50,000

17. Biotechnology: $50,000

18. Architecture: $50,000

19. Fashion design: $50,000

20. Business: $47,850

21. International relations: $45,880

22. Graphic Design: $45,846

23. Marketing: $45,475

24. English: $45,000

25. Political Science: $45,000

26. History: $45,000

27. Human Resources: $45,000

28. Journalism: $45,000

29. Advertising: $45,000

30. Philosophy: $45,000

31. Environmental science: $45,000

32. Social Science: $45,000

33. Spanish: $44,256

34. Communications: $44,190

35. Interior design: $44,098

36. Chemistry: $44,000

37. Music: $44,000

38. Film studies: $44,000

39. Public relations: $43,156

40. Sports management: $43,156

41. Education: $43,000

42. Anthropology: $43,000

43. Hospitality management: $44,000

44. Biochemistry: $42,672

45. Liberal Arts: $42,500

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.