College Degrees Most Likely To Pay Off

According to USA Today, ~64% of the class of 2024 will move on to attend a two- or four-year college. What's more, many of these high school graduates are sure to borrow for their educational endeavors, much like the 42.3 million current student borrowers, per the Education Data Initiative. Indeed, the cost of a college education has positively skyrocketed over the previous decade or two. Per EDI, the cost of a four-year degree at a public institution has jumped an eye-watering 179.2% during a 20-year period ending in 2022. That equates to an average annual increase of 9%, which far outpaces inflation on other goods and services. (Speaking of which, here are some smart savings moves to make with inflation still rising.)

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Considering the lofty price of admission, you'll want to make sure your studies are focused in the correct discipline to get a maximum return on your investment in education. And with more than 1,800 unique majors to choose from, selecting the right path isn't easy. Previously, Money Digest has cautioned against theĀ college degrees least likely to pay off financially, but now, let's tackle the flip side of that discussion. Which college majors are likely to land a top-paying job?

You should get acclimated with STEM

You may want to start your quest toward a high-paying degree (these are the 27 highest-paying jobs in the U.S., by the way) by exploring STEM fields. That's short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. To be sure, those types of majors can be a little dry and subsequently aren't always the most popular with college students. That lack of popularity has an inverse relationship with their earnings potential, though, if you can discipline yourself to complete STEM studies.

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In particular, niche degrees in operations research, and naval architecture/marine engineering are, according to The HEA Group, a leading source on higher education data, the two highest-paying. After four years' worth of experience in the field, employees in those two disciplines can expect to be earning $112,097 and $109,121 per year, respectively. Per that same source, two other lucrative degrees are computer science at a $104,799 annual salary and computer engineering, at $99,063.

Getting a second opinion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York yields similar findings, although that organization is a bit more financially conservative regarding salary expectations. After five years on the job, college graduates with computer engineering and chemical engineering degrees can expect to earn $80,000 and $79,000 per year, respectively. Slightly lower down the scale are computer science and aerospace engineering majors, which the NY Fed says pay $78,000 and $74,000 after five years of experience.

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More traditional degrees can also be worthwhile

As you can see, the top-earning degrees are very heavy on technology and engineering, but what if that's just not your forte? What about other majors like business or nursing, which would also seem like responsible choices to pursue. Indeed, they are. While not quite as high-flying as STEM degrees, holders of a general business degree can expect to bag $50,000 per year straight out of school, while finance majors can do even better at $66,000, once again per the NY Fed.

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In the medical field, nurses will find their skills in high demand for a good job while helping the community at the same time. Appropriately, nurses can expect to earn about $62,000 per year fresh out of college.

According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, the difference between top-paying college majors and the lowest-paying majors is $3.4 million over a person's lifetime, so choose your educational path carefully. To further maximize your educational return on investment, also consider the advice of billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban to attend an affordable university and not necessarily the most prestigious one. If you can save money by earning some credits at a cheaper community college before transferring to a four-year school, all the better.

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