Most Lucrative College Majors


What you major in (engineering) has a bigger influence over your (engineering) income than where you go to school (for engineering), according to a new economic analysis. (NPR)

Use our STEM resources to get a head start.

Petroleum engineering is the most lucrative field of study among college students, a new study reveals. Photograph by Ira Block, National Geographic
Petroleum engineering is the most lucrative field of study among college students, a new analysis reveals.
Photograph by Ira Block, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • Look at our collection of STEM resources. STEM is science, technology, engineering, and math. How does STEM align with the list of lucrative college majors?
    • Very well—engineering and science fill all the top slots.
  • Read the section “STEM and Geo-Literacy.” Geo-literacy is defined as “the ability to make decisions based on an understanding of the systems and connections in the world.” Does this apply to the list of most-lucrative majors?
    • Yes, of course.
      • Petroleum, chemical, electrical, marine, mechanical, and mineral engineering demand an intimate knowledge of Earth’s physical systems and distribution of resources.
      • Pharmaceutical scientists must be aware of the health and health-care systems of different communities, how to best make their products available across diverse regions.
      • Aerospace engineers must know the political landscape to efficiently pursue global or local transportation and security demands.
  • Why do you think STEM majors have so much more economic value than those who study arts or social sciences?
    • There are fewer of them, and so they face less competition. The NPR article notes that psychology is one of the most popular majors, while far fewer students are enrolled in petroleum engineering courses. (The entry-level psych major applied to hundreds of jobs before landing a $36,000 teaching position, while the petroleum engineer was recruited before graduation for a job that started at $110,000.)
    • They’re doing work in more lucrative fields. People and organizations place greater economic value on the work of engineers, pharmaceutical executives, and computer scientists than that of artists and social workers.
  • One petroleum engineer interviewed in the article says college “is an investment in me and my family’s future.” Do you agree? Besides financial gain, what other factors might college students consider when choosing a major?
    • ability or aptitude?
    • interest or passion?
    • obligation, family business, or inheritance?
    • altruism or moral value?

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