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Get Engineering Degree, Earn Big Bucks

Chris Nichols

If the potential to make money is the biggest determinant of what you choose to study in college, think hard about an engineering discipline -- specifically oil.

That's because the major with the greatest earnings potential, for both bachelor's degree and graduate degree holders is petroleum engineering, according to a report on NPR.org's Planet Money. Citing data compiled by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, the report said median earnings -- half are above and half are below -- for petroleum engineers is $120,000 annually, whether they have a bachelor's degree or higher.

As for why it's the same regardless of whether the data include undergraduates only or all graduates, the report said one of the Georgetown researchers theorized that petroleum engineers with graduate degrees stand a higher chance of working in academics, meaning they wouldn't be as likely to garner the top earnings found in private industry.

Here are the five top-earning majors the data revealed, along with their median yearly pay:

Of note is that when all graduates are factored in, earnings associated with health and medical preparatory programs match petroleum engineering's median salary, at $120,000.

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That changes markedly from the findings covering only those with undergraduate degrees. At the bachelor's level, health and medical preparatory degree holders earn $40,000, putting them among the 10 majors with the lowest earnings. The reason is that this major is a first step -- bachelor's students tend to use the degree to go on to medical school or some other graduate program, which enhances their earnings potential considerably.

Ultimately, you won't go wrong with the sciences, the job titles make clear. You've already seen the top five, and as for the remaining degrees in the top 10, the best pay is associated with mathematics and computer science, aerospace engineering, naval architecture and marine engineering, chemical engineering and electrical engineering. Those jobs, at the median, earn $94,000 to $98,000.