Petroleum engineer tops the list of highest paid majors

by Grace

Among graduates of four-year colleges, engineers dominate the list of top earners according to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers survey.  Petroleum engineers are at the top.

Here’s the list of top 10 majors, with starting salaries:

  • Petroleum Engineering: $93,500
  • Computer Engineering: $71,700
  • Chemical Engineering: $67,600
  • Computer Science: $64,800
  • Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $64,400
  • Mechanical Engineering: $64,000
  • Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering: $63,400
  • Management Information Systems/Business: $63,100
  • Engineering Technology: $62,200
  • Finance: $57,400

Engineering technology is different from engineering.

Engineering and engineering technology are separate but closely related professional areas….

Engineering programs often focus on theory and conceptual design, while engineering technology programs usually focus on application and implementation.

Also, engineering programs typically require additional, higher-level mathematics, including multiple semesters of calculus and calculus-based theoretical science courses. Engineering technology programs typically focus on algebra, trigonometry, applied calculus, and other courses that are more practical than theoretical in nature.

Average starting salary for college graduates is up from last year.

The average starting salary for a member of the class of 2013 is $44,928, up 5.3% from the previous year, driven by big gains in fields such as health sciences and business.

But these figures are relevant only for those grads lucky enough to find a job during college-recruiting season or soon after. A recent report from the Department of Labor looked at data from 2007 to 2011 and found that 13.5% of bachelor’s degree holders were unemployed a few months after their 2011 graduations (Bleak, but far better than the 17.6% unemployment rate among that group in 2009).

Be careful about picking a college major based on today’s hot jobs.

“In the wake of a one-year jump of 55% in the number of U.S. petroleum engineering freshman students”, students should “be realistic about future job growth“.


9 Comments to “Petroleum engineer tops the list of highest paid majors”

  1. Interesting. The jobs at the top of the salary list are all boom-or-bust jobs. I am surprised that MIS starts out higher than finance. My experience is that MIS majors often start on helpdesk, which is low paying.


  2. So most of these engineering jobs are boom/bust? I hadn’t thought of it this way.

    Could it be that many of these MIS majors combine the “best” of business and computer quantitative skills? I imagine there are some programs out there that are highly regarded, so that could bring the average up.


  3. There are no “”computer quantitative” skills in an MIS major!!! They learn about purchasing computer systems, and organizational theory about integrating new processes. I think they might get a little project management, and business mathematics, especially statistics. Looking at an example program (Rutgers, which is probably a “better” program), they require one semester of “applicaiton programming”, a database course, systems analysis (which is typically a course in modeling processes in a non quantitative manner), one security course, a web design course, a course about networking – in other words, a hodge podge of different topics. I would predict that a person with this degree would have a shallow understanding of a bunch of topics, without a deep understanding of any of it.

    Here is the course description for the required “Management Information Systems” course, which I think will show you the difference
    “Microcomputer-based course that provides a comprehensive understanding of computer systems and application software. Hands-on approach to learning widely used spreadsheet, database, word processor, and presentation application packages and internet tools.”

    In other words, they learn to use software packages.


  4. Petroleum Engineering and Computer Science are both terrible boom-or-bust fields. Chemical Engineering and Aviation Engineering have bad reputations too. And there have been a lot of big layoffs of Computer Engineers (those are the people who design the hardware)


  5. Well then, those high MIS salaries are a puzzle.


  6. I don’t think the 55% jump in the number of freshman petroleum engineering students will necessarily have a big impact on the job market. What matters is the number of graduates. Engineering programs always have washouts, and the jump in freshman students might be accompanied by a corresponding jump in the number of washouts.


  7. Actually, the jump in freshman PE students might be accompanied by a relatively HIGHER number of washouts. This would be the case if it is assumed that more of these newly interested freshman are less well prepared than the typical group of students who enroll during non-boom times. IOW, students drawn to this field during boom times might be less serious about the hard work needed to graduate.


  8. TIRED of people encouraging people to become engineers because of high starting salaries!!! I am a mechanical engineer with 25 years of experience and a professional engineering license. I am highly respected at my company and in my field! My salary is $110 k per year and this is considered high. The average engineer with my level of knowledge and experience makes only about 90k per year. Compare this with the start salary of $64k and you will see that 26k for 25 years is only about 1k per year of experience.
    So, why is this? Engineers are viewed as cost centers by the bean counters. We are expected to account for every hour of our time on every project that we work on. And, by the way, we are expected to be 120% chargeable. This translates to working about 60 hrs a week on average. New graduates have value because their skills are more up to date… By the way, maybe my skills start to fall behind because I am busy being 120% chargeable. Trust me, I have worked at several firms, this is the way of the engineering world!!
    Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be engineers, make em’ be bean counters. It’s the one who’s in charge of the money who is going to eventually end up ahead!


  9. “It’s the one who’s in charge of the money who is going to eventually end up ahead!”

    I’ve seen this, where the ambitious engineers who go for management positions are the ones who end up ahead. However, some (a few?) firms have been successful in instituting a technical track for those engineers who want to advance their careers but prefer not to move into management.


%d bloggers like this: