(One well-picked major) x (Four years of math and science courses) = soaring starting salaries.
Math skills set recent grads apart from other majors, according to a recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks college graduates’ starting salaries. Overall, the average salary offered to recent graduates is down 2 percent from last year, netting student-loan-owing young adults with about $48,351 a year. There are far fewer students graduating with math-based majors compared to their liberal-arts counterparts, which is why the starting salaries for the top five highest-earning college degrees are so high, according to CNN.
How high is high? Here are the top 5:
1. Degree in Petroleum Engineering
Average starting salary: $83,121
Petroleum engineers design and supervise the process of getting oil and natural gas out of the ground and into storage tanks. Most of these engineers work for oil companies, but some are employed by banks that lend money to oil companies while others work for government agencies that regulate oil production. Petroleum engineers across the board command the highest starting salaries among bachelor’s degree holders, according to CNBC. The demand for these skilled workers is expected to increase exponentially as energy issues vie for attention on the political stage, according to CNBC.
Though some schools offer a bachelor’s degree specifically in petroleum engineering, geology, geophysics, mining, or civil or mechanical engineering, plus course work in petroleum engineering, can serve just as well. It’s the best deal for students who don’t want to go into graduate course work—the average annual salary comes in at about $114,000.
2. Degree in Chemical Engineering
Average starting salary: $64,902
Chemical engineers may have the second highest starting salary, but their employment opportunities are far broader than for petroleum engineers.
Chemical engineers often use physics, mathematics, statistics and chemistry in their jobs, which usually involve the design, testing, approval and maintenance of various chemical processes. They can specialize in several fields—such as pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, biomedical, electronics, aerospace and environmental engineering—and have research, technical and production skills necessary in the manufacturing of chemicals and products for a multitude of companies.
After completing a chemical engineering degree program, a graduate can work in multiple industries for planning, development, and production, and can look forward to pulling down an average of $107,000 after their first ten to fifteen years, according to Payscale.com.
3. Degree in Mining and Mineral Engineering
Average starting salary: $64,404
Mining and mineral engineering majors use math and science to study minerals like coal, iron, diamonds and gold, and study the processes for locating and extracting them from naturally occurring environments. These engineers use technology to develop systems that help process or refine minerals that are essential to our modern world, and yet have to be conscious of and mitigate the damages these processes can make to our planet. Mining engineers are typically employed in oil and gas extraction, metal ore mining, and coal mining.
There are fewer than 7,000 employed mining engineers who make an average of $75,960, according to Payscale.com. As older mining engineers retire, the industry will be looking to hire freshly-educated engineers to plan mining operations, design underground and surface mines and equipment.
4. Computer Engineering
Average starting salary: $61,738
Computers, cell phones, gaming systems and other technical devices are getting smaller and lighter for both mobility and convenience. Technology changes rapidly, and those who enjoy staying on top of these changes may find themselves well-suited for a degree in computer engineering.
A computer engineer uses computer science and mathematical analysis to solve programming problems, designing new software, hardware and electrical equipment, and keeping abreast of trends in this ever-evolving field. Computer engineers work in a variety of industries such as industrial, media, web development and manufacturing, and can expect a mid-career salary of as much as $105,000, according to Payscale.com. The upper 10 percent of earners in this field took in more than $125,750 last year, according to the NACE.
5. Degree in Computer Science
Average starting salary: $61,407
Robots, toys, operating systems—oh my! There’s a wealth of possibilities for computer science majors once they graduate. A computer science engineer can design applications for software, create operating systems, research artificial intelligence, or build robots and other computer-controlled mechanical devices. Other jobs in computer science are related to computer networking and communication, database systems, parallel computation, distributed computation, computer-human interaction, computer graphics, and numerical and symbolic computation.
The size of the IT employment market in the United States today is higher than it was at the height of the dot.com boom, according to the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional development organization. A mid-career computer science degree-wielding engineer can make upwards of $94,000 a year, according to Payscale.com.
Other majors that made top-earning degree lists include civil engineering, political science and economics. Forbes Magazine ranked economics high on their list in 2009, saying that the average salary with five years in the field nets college grads about $48,100. That makes accounting, economics, finance and business administration grads among the fastest-growing earners, according to the financial magazine.