You don’t need to look further than biochemical engineering major Ashton Kutcher or licensed physician Ken Jeong to know that having a certain degree doesn’t always determine what you’ll spend your working life doing. But for many, a degree in a certain subject can set up the foundation for a potentially lucrative career.
Starting salary alone isn’t always the best way to evaluate a college major. Other factors like market demand, flexibility and benefits, projected growth, and your skills and aptitudes can all work together to point you toward a specific major. Learn more about a few of the most promising college majors out there.
1. Chemical Engineering
If you’ve always been interested in how things work and have an aptitude for chemistry, chemical engineering (ChemE) may be the perfect major for you. Chemical engineers are responsible for creating everything from the flavorings used to enhance processed foods to life-saving cancer drugs.
By harnessing molecular reactions and designing chemical processes, ChemE majors can work with chemicals, pharmaceuticals, petroleum, plastics, foods, or even paper mills. There is a variety of careers you can pursue with a degree in chemical engineering. For example, some engineers focus on improving the environmental impact of industrial processes, while others work primarily inside laboratories.
ChemE majors also have unique opportunities to work with cutting-edge technologies. However, unless you already live in a city that houses some major players in the industrial, manufacturing, medical, or pharmaceutical fields, you may need to relocate to find one of the many $75,000 to $80,000 ChemE jobs out there.
2. Computer Science
Thirty-five years ago, some technology gurus predicted that the “quick fad” of the laptop computer would soon die off. But computers are here to stay, and they’re only getting more advanced and efficient. In fact, you could argue that computers are essential for business nowadays. This means that computer science majors have plenty of opportunities to earn high starting salaries in a variety of sectors. If you’ve always been interested in computer applications or have tried your hand at programming in the past, this could be the major for you.
Computer science majors are not just technically inclined– they’re natural problem-solvers. This allows them to work with artificial intelligence (AI), numerical analysis, programming languages, gaming technology, and even robotics.
The computer science field is expected to expand by 16 percent over the next decade, and with average salaries exceeding six figures, having a computer science degree can allow you to repay your student loans more efficiently.
Business majors are tomorrow’s leaders and can thrive as CEOs, controllers, managers, and entrepreneurs. As a business major, you’ll learn a variety of key business concepts, from marketing to accounting, economics, and finance. A business degree can prepare you for graduate school or for an entry-level job with a higher than average salary.
Those who major in business administration can earn more than $50,000 with a bachelor’s degree and $70,000 or more with a master’s degree. Meanwhile, management information systems (MIS) graduates can earn between $55,000 to $150,000 or more, with supply chain management specialists earning in the $50,000 to $70,000 range. No matter which concentration a business major pursues, there should be no shortage of employment prospects in a field that provides ample opportunity for upward mobility.
The U.S. population is aging, which means the demand for skilled and compassionate nursing majors will continue to increase. If you’ve always dreamed of helping others, nursing could be a personally and professionally rewarding career for you. From pediatric and neonatal nursing to geriatric and hospice nursing, nurses provide care to individuals at every stage of life.
Nursing programs usually incorporate science-heavy courses and clinical rotations that provide an opportunity for hands-on experience. After graduation, nursing majors are required to take and pass a clinical examination before they can be licensed.
Many parts of the country continue to struggle with a shortage of licensed nurses. This has helped bump the average nurse’s salary to nearly $70,000 per year. Another bonus of a nursing career is its penchant for flexible schedules. Many nurses can earn overtime pay or avoid childcare costs by working an overnight or weekend schedule.
Some of the most promising business ideas have fallen flat simply due to their originators’ inability to effectively market them. Enter the marketing major, someone with a passion for promoting products and services. From graphic designers to research analysts and account executives, a marketing degree can open many doors for graduates.
Marketing majors often find themselves working in the sales field upon graduation, which can provide them with tremendous opportunities for advancement. In addition, the average starting salary for a marketing major is more than 20 percent higher than the average U.S. worker salary, with marketing managers earning twice the average U.S. wage.
Accountants prepare and examine financial records for businesses, non-profit organizations, individuals, and even the government. From certified public accountants (CPAs) to company comptrollers, those with strong math skills and impeccable attention to detail can be quite successful in an accounting career. Many accountants enjoy puzzles and word games, which can make the act of solving financial puzzles an enjoyable one.
The post-graduation employment rate for accounting majors is among the highest, with more than 1.4 million American adults working in the accounting field. And with many accountants earning $70,000 per year or more, or just under $34 per hour, these jobs provide far more than a mere living wage for those working in the industry. And fortunately, businesses of all sizes and types often need a little extra bookkeeping help. As a result, accountants often don’t need to relocate to find gainful employment in their field.
However, accounting isn’t without its potential downsides. Because accountants’ work responsibilities are often tied to various federal and state tax deadlines, accountants may find themselves working long hours at the end of the calendar year, the end of their employer’s fiscal year, and the months leading up to Tax Day (April 15). While most accountants enjoy generous benefits packages that include paid time off, the ability to take this time off during crunch periods can be limited. If you prefer a steady 40-hour work week all year long, another career path may be a better fit.
Don’t Stop Here
Although the majors discussed above are generally considered safe bets, they don’t guarantee success to everybody who chooses one of them. This also doesn’t mean that those who opt for different majors can’t also achieve high salaries and professional satisfaction. No matter which major you choose, you’ll still need to work hard, stay organized, and operate with a goal-oriented mindset to achieve your dreams.
Furthermore, if none of these majors seem right for you—don’t fret. There are hundreds of majors offered by U.S. colleges and universities, and only by exploring some of these majors (and the skills and aptitudes they require) can you come to a more concrete decision. Around four of every five students wind up changing their major at least once during their college careers, so don’t be afraid to try new things until you find a course of study that seems right for you.