News & Events

Chemical engineering tops list of highest-paying majors

October 14, 2014

Students with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering will typically earn slightly over $2 million during their working life, the highest of 80 college majors sampled, according to a report by the Hamilton Project, a Brookings Institution research effort aimed at developing long-term economic policies.

Indeed, the top nine highest paying college majors were all in the fields of engineering, according to the paper  “Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes,”  by Brad Hershbein, a Visiting Fellow, and  Melissa S. Kearney, Director, of the Hamilton Project.

Using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, they calculated annual median earnings from career start to retirement among 80 majors for workers who completed a bachelor’s degree in a particular major but did not go on to earn an advanced or professional degree.

Over the entire working life, the typical college graduate will earn $1.19 million in today’s dollars,  they reported.  This is more than twice as much as the lifetime earnings of a typical high school graduate ($580,000), and $335,000 more than that of a typical associate degree graduate.

“As college students begin another year of classes, few of them have good knowledge of what their earnings for their chosen field of study are likely to be. The good news is that no matter what their major, they are likely to earn more over their careers than those with less education,” they added. “College degrees may not be a guarantee of higher income, but they come closer than just about any other investment one can make.”

The Hamilton Project was launched in April 2006 as an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution by a combination of leading academics, business people, and public policy makers who wanted to develop a systematic strategy to address economic challenges.