Top 10 Best and Worst Paying College Degrees

August 16, 2010
Terri Cullen

If your kid's about to head off the college, you may want to consider urging them to change their major. A new study found that students who major in math-focused fields of study go on to earn the highest salaries, while students who major in education and child studies typically earn the least.

If your kid’s about to head off the college, you may want to consider urging them to change their major. A new study by salary research company PayScale Inc. found that students who majored in math-focused fields of study go on to earn the highest salaries, while students who majored in education and child studies typically earn the least.

PayScale compiled the best and worst undergraduate college degrees in its 2010-11 College Salary Report. Petroleum and aerospace engineering were the top-earning degrees, bringing in a mid-career median pay of $157,000 and $108,000, respectively. Child and family studies and elementary education rounded out the bottom two worst-paying degrees, with median mid-career earnings of just $38,400 and $44,400, respectively. In comparison, the worst-paying job for doctors -- family practice -- earned $175,000, according to a recent study by Forbes magazine.

Here are the Top 10 best and worst paying undergraduate degrees, according to PayScale.

Best Undergraduate College Degrees by Salary

Undergraduate Degree

Starting Median Pay

Mid-Career Median Pay

Petroleum Engineering

$93,000

$157,000

Aerospace Engineering

$59,400

$108,000

Chemical Engineering

$64,800

$108,00

Electrical Engineering

$60,800

$104,000

Nuclear Engineering

$63,900

$104,00

Applied Mathematics

$56,400

$101,00

Biomedical Engineering

$54,800

$101,000

Physics

$50,700

$99,600

Computer Engineering

$61,200

$99,500

Economics

$48,800

$97,800

Worst Undergrad College Degrees by Salary

Undergraduate Degree

Starting Median Pay

Mid-Career Median Pay

Child and Family Studies

$29,500

$38,400

Elementary Education

$31,600

$44,400

Social Work

$31,800

$44,900

Athletic Training

$32,800

$45,700

Culinary Arts

$35,900

$50,600

Horticulture

$35,000

$50,800

Paralegal Studies/Law

$35,100

$51,300

Theology

$34,700

$51,300

Recreation & Leisure Studies

$33,300

$53,200

Special Education

$36,000

$53,800

The median pay is based on graduates with bachelors who did not go on to acquire higher degrees. Typical starting graduates had two years of experience, while mid-career had 15 years of experience. To see the complete list of degrees, and the methodology for the ranking, click here.