The Most Valuable College Majors

It's probably no surprise that scientists and engineers generally earn more than artists and actors. But some professions require advanced degrees -- are they worth the time and money? In the long term, the major you choose in college is about more than a paycheck. Some fields are a long-term commitment, often requiring master's and graduate degrees, keeping you out of the workforce longer and racking up more student loans.

Grads with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) typically earn much more and are less likely to be unemployed, according to a study of 162 college majors by Bankrate.

For the study, Bankrate looked at the median incomes and unemployment rates of people based on which bachelor's degree they obtained in college, factoring in how many people in each group obtained a higher degree. Is the investment worth it?

The top college major on this list, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, has a median income of $90,000, an unemployment rate of 1.6%, and only 29% of grads obtained an advanced degree, making this degree the most valuable with the best return on investment.

For the study, Bankrate used weighted data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey to analyze what bachelor's degree holders who were either employed or unemployed entered as their first major and income for the previous 12 months. The analysis included majors with labor forces of at least 15,000 people. They also looked at how many college graduates obtained a higher degree such as a master's degree or doctoral degree, and ranked the majors based on three factors median income (weighted 70%), unemployment rate (20%) and the percentage of people with an advanced degree (10%).

These are the most valuable college majors.

Photo: Shutterstock

1. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
1. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering

The Most Valuable College Majors

1. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering

  • Median Income: $90,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.6%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 29%

Naval architects design floating vessels. Above, cadets in the Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Department at the Coast Guard Academy test out their ship design in a water-testing tank as part of their capstone project in February 2019. Their project was to design a replacement Waterways Commerce Cutter to ensure critical trade routes can be maintained cost-effectively.

Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin/U.S. Coast Guard

2. Nuclear Engineering
2. Nuclear Engineering

2. Nuclear Engineering

  • Median Income: $98,100
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.8%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 56%

Photo: Shutterstock

3. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration
3. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration

3. Pharmacy / Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration

  • Median Income: $100,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.2%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 58%

Photo: Shutterstock

4. Genetics
4. Genetics

4. Genetics

  • Median Income: $85,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.2%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 76%

Photo: Shutterstock

5. Electrical Engineering
5. Electrical Engineering

5. Electrical Engineering

  • Median Income: $99,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.7%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 46%
Photo: Shutterstock

6. Architectural Engineering
6. Architectural Engineering

6. Architectural Engineering

  • Median Income: $74,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.5%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 29%

Photo: Shutterstock

7. Aerospace Engineering
7. Aerospace Engineering

7. Aerospace Engineering

  • Median Income: $90,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.3%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 49%

Photo: Shutterstock

8. (tie) Computer Engineering
8. (tie) Computer Engineering

8. (tie) Computer Engineering

  • Median Income: $92,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 40%

Photo: Shutterstock

8. (tie) Electrical Engineering Technology
8. (tie) Electrical Engineering Technology

8. (tie) Electrical Engineering Technology

  • Median Income: $76,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.8%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 30%

Photo: Shutterstock

10. Materials Science
10. Materials Science

10. Materials Science

  • Median Income: $90,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.0%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 66%

Materials science is an interdisciplinary field involving the properties of matter and its applications to various areas of science and engineering.

Photo: Shutterstock

11. Engineering and Industrial Management
11. Engineering and Industrial Management

11. Engineering and Industrial Management

  • Median Income: $72,600
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.3%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 34%

Engineering and industrial management involves the process of operating, designing and managing production systems in a variety of industries.

Photo: Shutterstock

12. General Engineering
12. General Engineering

12. General Engineering

  • Median Income: $80,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.4%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 37%

Photo: Shutterstock

13. Applied Mathematics
13. Applied Mathematics

13. Applied Mathematics

  • Median Income: $78,200
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.8%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 49%

This is the study of mathematics as it is applied to physics, engineering, and variety of other fields.

Photo: Shutterstock

14. (tie) Construction Services
14. (tie) Construction Services

14. (tie) Construction Services

  • Median Income: $70,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.9%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 11%

Photo: Shutterstock

14. (tie) Transportation Sciences and Technologies
14. (tie) Transportation Sciences and Technologies

14. (tie) Transportation Sciences and Technologies

  • Median Income: $72,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.2%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 20%

Photo: Funny Solution Studio / Shutterstock

16. Mechanical Engineering
16. Mechanical Engineering

16. Mechanical Engineering

  • Median Income: $88,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.0%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 39%

Photo: Shutterstock

17. Management Information Systems and Statistics
17. Management Information Systems and Statistics

17. Management Information Systems and Statistics

  • Median Income: $80,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.9%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 25%

According to the University of Arizona, MIS students learn how businesses use information to improve the company's operations, how to manage various information systems, and how to create systems for finding and storing data.

Photo: Shutterstock

18. Computer Science
18. Computer Science

18. Computer Science

  • Median Income: $87,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.1%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 32%

Photo: Shutterstock

19. Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology
19. Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology

19. Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology

  • Median Income: $70,100
  • Unemployment Rate: 0.6%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 45%

Photo: Shutterstock

20. Civil Engineering
20. Civil Engineering

20. Civil Engineering

  • Median Income: $80,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.7%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 39%

Photo: Shutterstock

21. Chemical Engineering
21. Chemical Engineering

21. Chemical Engineering

  • Median Income: $88,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.0%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 46%

Photo: Shutterstock

22. Miscellaneous Engineering Technologies
22. Miscellaneous Engineering Technologies

22. Miscellaneous Engineering Technologies

  • Median Income: $70,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.1%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 21%

Photo: Shutterstock

23. Finance
23. Finance

23. Finance

  • Median Income: $75,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.9%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 29%

Photo: Paper Cat / Shutterstock

24. Mathematics and Computer Science
24. Mathematics and Computer Science

24. Mathematics and Computer Science

  • Median Income: $99,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.5%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 40%

Photo: Shutterstock

25. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs
25. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

25. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

  • Median Income: $74,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.7%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 78%

Photo: Shutterstock

26. Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
26. Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

26. Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering

  • Median Income: $80,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.1%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 37%

Photo: Pradit.Ph / Shutterstock

27. Nursing
27. Nursing

27. Nursing

  • Median Income: $64,000
  • Unemployment Rate: 1.5%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 26%

Photo: Shutterstock

28. Geosciences
28. Geosciences

28. Geosciences

  • Median Income: $69,700
  • Unemployment Rate: 0.9%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 56%

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth. They may work in industries such as mining or petroleum, or in environmental protection and clean up projects.

Photo: Shutterstock

29. Statistics and Decision Science
29. Statistics and Decision Science

29. Statistics and Decision Science

  • Median Income: $78,700
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 51%

Harvard describes decision science as the collection of quantitative techniques used to inform decision making at the individual and population levels. It may be used in business and management, law and education, environmental regulation, military science, public health and public policy.

Photo: Shutterstock

30. Engineering Mechanics Physics And Science
30. Engineering Mechanics Physics And Science

30. Engineering Mechanics Physics And Science

  • Median Income: $84,300
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%
  • Percent With Advanced Degree: 55%

See how all 162 majors ranked, and which ones did the worst. Hint: Arts and drama.

Photo: Shutterstock

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