College Degrees That Can Earn the Biggest Salaries

With the cost of a college education and the burden of student loans, many students are considering their return on investment when choosing a degree.

Salary, job availability and the need for higher education are a big factor in what makes some degrees more valuable than others.

To determine the most valuable majors, personal finance site Bankrate analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. They looked at what bachelor's degree graduates who were either employed or unemployed entered as their first major. They also looked at their income for the past 12 months, as well as how many college graduates had obtained a higher degree such as a master's or doctoral degree.

Based on Bankrate's analysis, here are the most valuable college degrees.

Photo: Shutterstock

1. Actuarial Science
1. Actuarial Science

1. Actuarial Science

Field: Business

Degree: Actuarial Science

Average Income: $108,658

Unemployment: 2.3%

Higher Degree Holders: 22%

Actuarial science is the discipline that applies mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance, finance and other industries and professions. Actuaries help insurance companies set premium rates based on the risk factors.

Actuarial science got the highest ranking because degree holders earned more on average than their peers and faced lower unemployment. Plus, only 22% of actuarial science majors held a master's or doctoral degree, indicating the majority of them did not need to invest in more schooling, according to Bankrate.

Photo: Shutterstock

2. Zoology
2. Zoology

2. Zoology

Field: Biology and Life Sciences

Degree: Zoology

Average Income (Weighted): $111,889

Unemployment: 1.4%

Higher Degree Holders: 68%

Photo: Shutterstock

3. Nuclear Engineering
3. Nuclear Engineering

3. Nuclear Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Nuclear Engineering

Average Income: $108,591

Unemployment: 1.8%

Higher Degree Holders: 48%

Photo: Shutterstock

4. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs
4. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

4. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

Field: Medical and Health Sciences and Services

Degree: Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

Average Income: $130,308

Unemployment: 2.3%

Higher Degree Holders: 78%

Photo: Shutterstock

5. Applied Mathematics
5. Applied Mathematics

5. Applied Mathematics

Field: Mathematics and Statistics

Degree: Applied Mathematics

Average Income: $105,679

Unemployment: 2.0%

Higher Degree Holders: 51%

Applied mathematics is the application of mathematical methods by different fields such as science, engineering, business, computer science, and industry.

Photo: Shutterstock

6. Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration
6. Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration

6. Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration

Field: Medical and Health Sciences and Services

Degree: Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration

Average Income: $103,350

Unemployment: 1.8%

Higher Degree Holders: 57%

Photo: Shutterstock

7. Molecular Biology
7. Molecular Biology

7. Molecular Biology

Field: Biology and Life Sciences

Degree: Molecular Biology

Average Income: $105,849

Unemployment: 2.1%

Higher Degree Holders: 64%

Photo: Shutterstock

8. Mechanical Engineering
8. Mechanical Engineering

8. Mechanical Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Mechanical Engineering

Average Income: $101,590

Unemployment: 2.4%

Higher Degree Holders: 39%

Photo: Shutterstock

9. Civil Engineering
9. Civil Engineering

9. Civil Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Civil Engineering

Average Income: $96,405

Unemployment: 2.2%

Higher Degree Holders: 36%

Photo: Shutterstock

10. Finance
10. Finance

10. Finance

Field: Business

Degree: Finance

Average Income: $100,448

Unemployment: 2.7%

Higher Degree Holders: 30%

Photo: Shutterstock

11. Chemical Engineering
11. Chemical Engineering

11. Chemical Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Chemical Engineering

Average Income: $111,018

Unemployment: 2.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 48%

Photo: Shutterstock

12. Electrical Engineering
12. Electrical Engineering

12. Electrical Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Electrical Engineering

Average Income: $106,187

Unemployment: 2.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 43%

Photo: Shutterstock

13. Biochemical Sciences
13. Biochemical Sciences

13. Biochemical Sciences

Field: Biology and Life Sciences

Degree: Biochemical Sciences

Average Income: $109,301

Unemployment: 2.6%

Higher Degree Holders: 65%

Photo: Shutterstock

14. Computer Engineering
14. Computer Engineering

14. Computer Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Computer Engineering

Average Income: $99,587

Unemployment: 2.5%

Higher Degree Holders: 36%

Photo: Shutterstock

15. Public Policy
15. Public Policy

15. Public Policy

Field: Public Affairs, Policy, and Social Work

Degree: Public Policy

Average Income: $97,721

Unemployment: 1.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 56%

Photo: Jannis Tobias Werner / Shutterstock

16. Genetics
16. Genetics

16. Genetics

Field: Biology and Life Sciences

Degree: Genetics

Average Income: $95,954

Unemployment: 1.3%

Higher Degree Holders: 64%

Photo: Shutterstock

17. Economics
17. Economics

17. Economics

Field: Social Sciences

Degree: Economics

Average Income: $108,824

Unemployment: 3.4%

Higher Degree Holders: 42%

Above, Janet Yellen, right, an economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve, talks with Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, at a 2014 event.

Photo: Federal Reserve/Wikipedia

18. Petroleum Engineering
18. Petroleum Engineering

18. Petroleum Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Petroleum Engineering

Average Income: $153,743

Unemployment: 7.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 24%

Photo: think4photop / Shutterstock

19. Miscellaneous Engineering
19. Miscellaneous Engineering

19. Miscellaneous Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Miscellaneous Engineering

Average Income: $89,704

Unemployment: 2.0%

Higher Degree Holders: 29%

Photo: Shutterstock

20. Architectural Engineering
20. Architectural Engineering

20. Architectural Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Architectural Engineering

Average Income: $86,622

Unemployment: 1.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 29%

Above, construction at the World Trade Center site in New York in 2013.

Photo: Frank Romeo / Shutterstock

21. Agricultural Economics
21. Agricultural Economics

21. Agricultural Economics

Field: Agriculture

Degree: Agricultural Economics

Average Income: $84,356

Unemployment: 0.4%

Higher Degree Holders: 35%

Photo: Shutterstock

22. Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies
22. Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies

22. Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies

Field: Engineering Technologies

Degree: Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies

Average Income: $ 82,386

Unemployment: 1.2%

Higher Degree Holders: 20%

Photo: Shutterstock

23. Mathematics and Computer Science
23. Mathematics and Computer Science

23. Mathematics and Computer Science

Field: Interdisciplinary and Multi-Disciplinary Studies (General)

Degree: Mathematics and Computer Science

Average Income: $93,961

Unemployment: 2.4%

Higher Degree Holders: 40%

Photo: Shutterstock

24. Physics
24. Physics

24. Physics

Field: Physical Sciences

Degree: Physics

Average Income: $100,383

Unemployment: 2.5%

Higher Degree Holders: 67%

Photo: Shutterstock

25. Chemistry
25. Chemistry

25. Chemistry

Field: Physical Sciences

Degree: Chemistry

Average Income: $102,338

Unemployment: 2.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 63%

Photo: Shutterstock

26. Transportation Sciences and Technologies
26. Transportation Sciences and Technologies

26. Transportation Sciences and Technologies

Field: Transportation Sciences and Technologies

Degree: Transportation Sciences and Technologies

Average Income: $90,394

Unemployment: 3.0%

Higher Degree Holders: 19%

Photo: Shutterstock

27. Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
27. Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

27. Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

Average Income: $100,252

Unemployment: 3.3%

Higher Degree Holders: 41%

Photo: Shutterstock

28. Aerospace Engineering
28. Aerospace Engineering

28. Aerospace Engineering

Field: Engineering

Degree: Aerospace Engineering

Average Income: $105,536

Unemployment: 3.4%

Higher Degree Holders: 52%

Above, Chris Randall, an aerospace engineer at NASA.

Photo: NASA

29. Geosciences
29. Geosciences

29. Geosciences

Field: Physical Sciences

Degree: Geosciences

Average Income: $112,162

Unemployment: 3.9%

Higher Degree Holders: 59%

Geoscience is the study of the Earth. This image taken by NASA shows the changing landscape in the heart of Madagascar - an estuary drains into the sea due to decimation of rainforests and coastal mangroves.

Photo: NASA

30. Computer Science
30. Computer Science

30. Computer Science

Field: Computer and Information Sciences

Degree: Computer Science

Average Income: $94,204

Unemployment: 3.1%

Higher Degree Holders: 32%

Curious about the least valuable degrees? They were: fine arts, composition/speech, clinical psychology, cosmetology/culinary arts and visual and performing arts. See the full ranking here.

Photo: Shutterstock

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This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.

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