The Best College Majors for Getting a Job After Graduation

September 19, 2019, 7:00 PM UTC

No doubt about it, choosing a major in college is complicated. Do you pick something you love —history, let’s say, or English literature— and hope for the best? Or do you decide on a field where you’re all but guaranteed to start pulling down a nice salary as soon as you graduate, like computer science or finance?

With any luck, of course, passion and practicality coincide. But if you find yourself wavering one way and then another, at least you’ve got plenty of company: the U.S. Department of Education reports that about one-third of college students have changed their minds, and their majors, at least once.

Some clarity about job prospects, and what kind of pay to expect, could help. Based partly on Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, job search portal CareerCast recently analyzed the outlook for dozens of fields between now and 2026. The result: a list of the most promising majors, for both the increase in demand and the likely level of pay, over the next seven years.

It’s important to note that those two factors aren’t always linked. Compare, for example, a bachelor’s degree in general education and one in electrical engineering. Recent graduates in general education have the lowest unemployment rate, at just 1%, versus a 3.8% average among all majors. That rate will stay the same for a while: the BLS projects that, by 2026, the U.S. will need more than 76,000 new high school teachers, and about 116,000 more elementary school teachers. The study warns, though, that teachers’ pay “skews toward the lower end”, with a median starting salary of $40,300.

Now look at electrical engineering. New grads can expect the highest average starting pay of any major at $72,600, and job openings will grow by a healthy 7% by 2026. But, if what you want is a major that will get you hired right out of school, this one may not be for you. Competition for entry-level engineering jobs is so tough that unemployment among new grads is about 3% —triple the rate for teachers, and much closer to the overall average new-grad unemployment rate of 3.8%.

Here are five of the top majors from CareerCast’s study, with two other stats for each: median annual salary over the course of a whole career in the field, and the increase in hiring that the BLS predicts through 2026:

1. Accounting

Accountant/Auditor: $70,000 | +10%

Financial Planner: $88,890 | +15%

2. Computer and Information Systems

Information Security Analyst: $98,350 | +28%

Software Engineer: $105,590 | +24%

3. Electrical Engineering

Electrical Engineer: $99,070 | +7%

Engineering Technician: $64,330 | +2%

4. Finance

Financial Analyst: $85,000 | +11%

Compensation/Benefits Analyst: $63,000 | +9%

Fundraiser: $56,950 | +15%

Financial Planner: $88,890 | +15%

5. General Education

Elementary School Teacher: $57,980 | +7%

Middle School/High School Teacher: $58,600 | +8%

Interested in healthcare, but don’t want (or can’t afford) to go to med school? Two medicine-related majors to think about: first, a degree in general medical and health services could lead to a career as a medical services manager, running the business side of a clinic, hospital, or medical practice. The median yearly salary for that role, CareerCast reports, is $99,730, and the BLS foresees a hefty 20% jump in demand in the next seven years. Or second, on the patient-care side, you might consider a degree in nursing. Registered nurses earn, on average, $71,730 annually over the course of their careers, and 15% more will be needed by 2026.

If it helps to take the pressure off, bear in mind that, whatever choice you make now, you’re not stuck with it forever. In fact, you could easily end up spending your career in a field that has little or nothing to do with it. Life is surprising that way. Just ask almost anyone who’s been working for a long while what they majored in, way back in college, and prepare to be amazed.

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—How to tell if your job is a stepping stone to a career
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