There's no doubt about it: a college degree offers a fast track to earning power. And some degrees are more powerful than others. The following five bachelor's degrees offer the best financial return for your hard work in the classroom.
Bachelor's Degree Blockbusters
All bachelor's degrees offer an earnings boost--but some lucky graduates really hit the jackpot when they trade in their credential for a career. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent figures, bachelor's degree graduates earn nearly twice as much in a lifetime as high school graduates: 2.1 million compared to 1.2 million. Class of 2010 college graduates are earning an average salary of $48,351 right out of the gates, reports the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). This is already a healthy boost over the estimated first-year earnings of high school graduates. And the picture is even rosier for graduates of top-earning bachelor's degree programs, with average starting salaries doubling and in some cases even tripling the high-school-level benchmark.
Take a look at these top performers:
Twelve of the top fifteen highest-paying degrees are engineering degrees, according to the NACE survey on college recruitment for the Class of 2010. The NACE report calls out petroleum engineering as the highest earner, with chemical engineers not far behind. Petroleum engineers landed in the job market just a promotion shy of six figures: the average starting salary, according to NACE, was $86,220. Chemical engineers commanded $65,142 to start.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms continued good fortune for graduates of bachelor's degree programs in engineering. The salary average for all U.S. petroleum engineers stood at $119,960 in 2009. Chemical engineers can expect average earnings of $91,670.
The digital revolution is still in full effect, as networked systems and portable electronic devices reshape the high-tech market. These developments and more are keeping computer science bachelor's degrees in high demand. Your BS in computer science, computer engineering, or software development could translate into a lucrative career as a software developer, testing engineer, hardware engineer, or research scientist.
NACE reports an average starting salary of $61,205 for computer scientists in 2010. Overall, computer scientists earned $105,370 in 2009, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.
Learn how to manage money and financial risk, and you could find yourself with a fortune of your own. Actuarial science and accounting are among the few non-engineering bachelor's degrees with top-ranked starting salaries. These quantitative disciplines teach applied financial practices that businesses rely on to turn a profit or accumulate investment gains. About half of all actuaries work for insurance carriers; the remainder work in financial services and consulting. Accountants are in demand throughout the private and public sector, in areas such as financial planning, compliance, and regulatory investigation.
Actuaries started at an average salary of $56,320 in 2010, reports NACE. The BLS estimates 2009 average salary of $97,450 for actuaries.
Another winner in the quantitative social sciences is economics. A four-year bachelor's degree in economics gives you a broad-based skill set for careers in business administration, management, marketing, economic policy analysis, financial planning, and economic research. Earning power varies depending on which career path you choose. Economists averaged $96,320 in 2009, while marketing managers earned $120,070.
Overall, economics graduates command a respectable starting salary from the outset, gradually coming into top-level earnings by mid-career.
The bachelor's degree in information sciences or information systems is a springboard to IT careers. The college credential allows you to skip over the support and service desk roles and head straight into lucrative analyst and manager roles. A BS in management information systems (MIS) explicitly aims at management careers with a combined technical and business curriculum.
A bachelor's degree in information sciences & systems earns you an average salary of $54,038. Advance into a management role, and watch this figure double. Computer and information systems managers earned an average salary of $120,640 in 2009.
A bachelor's degree is your ticket to higher earnings. Choose the right major, and your degree could be a ticket to much higher earnings. The common denominator of all these top-earning majors is math and technical skills. Train to solve problems using quantitative methods and calculations, and you'll find fortune in today's numbers-driven economy.