10 College Majors That Have Million Dollar Earnings

Future earnings shouldn’t be the only factor you consider before you choose a college major. But wouldn’t it be nice to earn a degree in a field that could all but guarantee a comfortable paycheck for the rest of your life?

The good news is that by going to college at all, you are well on your way to earning $1 million over your lifetime. The Hamilton Project, a special research group funded by the Brookings Institute, looked at how much college graduates earned in their lifetime by examining U.S census data. The typical college graduate will earn over $1.19 million in their lifetime, they found — twice as much as someone who only graduates with a high school diploma.

When they looked even further at the data and broke down earnings by major, the differences in earnings were pretty staggering. Lifetime earnings for college graduates can range from $800,000 to over $2 million for the most lucrative fields.

Plus, the researchers noted, “majors that emphasize quantitative skills tend to have graduates with the highest lifetime earnings." (Translation: Math skills = mad earnings potential.)

Now, this study isn’t perfect. For one thing, it only looks at graduates with bachelor’s degrees. That means it doesn’t count the earnings for people who go on to earn master’s or other graduate degrees, which plenty of research has shown can dramatically increase future earnings potential. Also, the researchers ignore a bunch of important factors besides pay that can impact a student’s choice in career, like work/life balance and their own personal interests. Even the promise of a fat paycheck might not be enough to make someone consider a career where they wouldn’t be happy. The lowest-earning majors, according to the Hamilton Project, lead to jobs in careers that are incredibly important, like early childhood education, social work and elementary education.

And one last thing: Earning $1 million in a lifetime isn’t the same as being worth $1 million. The key to earning big bucks (and keeping them in the bank) is to start saving early and often — ideally as soon as you graduate.

Here’s a look at the top 10 majors where graduates earn at least $1 million in their lifetime.

Engineering

The number of undergraduate engineering students increased by 26% between 2006 and 2011, according to the National Science Foundation. It’s not hard to see why. The top nine earning majors are all engineering degrees (I counted them as one group for the purposes of this story), according to Hamilton’s findings. The highest paid engineering degree — chemical engineering — can produce lifetime earnings of over $2 million. And that’s just the average. The top 10% of chemical engineers can pocket $3.96 million in their lifetime.

At the other end of the engineering degree spectrum, someone with a “general engineering” degree will net about $1.7 million in earnings over their lifetime. Not shabby. Part of the reason engineers are so well paid is that they are one of the most in-demand professionals in the workforce today. So, maybe that A.P. Calc class is worth paying attention in?

Here’s how the rest of the top 10 shook out (all of these are averages).

Computer science

Lifetime earnings: $1.6 million

Computer science graduates start out earning a salary of $38,700. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $87,900 annually.

Finance

Lifetime earnings: $1.5 million

Finance graduates start out earning a salary of $38,300. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $81,000 annually.

Accounting and Actuarial Science

Lifetime earnings: $1.3 million

Accounting graduates start out earning a salary of $37,300. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $70,400 annually.

Nursing

Lifetime earnings: $1.3 million

Nursing graduates start out earning a salary of $44,200. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $65,100 annually.

Marketing & Marketing Research

Lifetime earnings: $1.3 million

Marketing graduates start out earning a salary of $33,100. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $63,400 annually.

Business Management

Lifetime earnings: 1.25 million

Business management graduates start out earning a salary of $30,400. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $65,100 annually.

Criminal Justice

Lifetime earnings: $1.1 million

Criminal Justice graduates start out earning a salary of $24,600. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $61,800 annually.

Biology

Lifetime earnings: $1.1 million

Biology graduates start out earning a salary of $23,300. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $61,000 annually. Of course, many biology majors go on to obtain medical degrees which can dramatically increase lifetime earnings. The Hamilton Project only looked at people who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a given field.

Communications

Lifetime earnings: $1.1 million

Communication graduates start out earning a salary of $25,100. At their earnings peak (26-30 years after graduation) they earn $53,700 annually.