Survey shows engineering as the highest paying field for recent college graduates

PayScale’s 2015-2016 college report indicates that of the top 15 majors based on early career pay, 13 are engineering-focused, and 24 are in the top 50. However, universities are still struggling to retain students who might be interested in an engineering or a STEM career.

By Chris Vavra August 28, 2015

Recent college graduates who just received a bachelor’s degree in engineering can expect a very good starting salary. According to the 2015-2016 PayScale college report, 13 of the top 15 highest paying majors for recent college graduates are engineering-focused. The top-paying job for a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree is petroleum engineering with an early career median pay of $101,000. Petroleum engineering has been the highest-paying career since it first appeared in 2010.

In addition to being the highest paying, petroleum engineering is also the most common job for an engineering major and is growing in popularity. "We have seen an increase in the number of petroleum engineers and biomedical engineers, indicating that that job type is gaining popularity and in higher demand," said Aubrey Bach, a senior manager for PayScale.

Bach also said that while mining and petroleum engineering have slowed down a bit since oil prices have fallen, it hasn’t affected highly paid engineers yet. There is also a strong demand and a need for petroleum and biomedical engineers, according to O*NET, which suggests that these fields have yet to hit their ceiling.

Engineering remains very lucrative for those in mid-career, also. According to the report, all but one of the top 10 paying majors in mid-career median pay is engineering-focused. All of the careers listed in the table have a median pay of over $100,000, as well.

For students looking to pick a school that specializes in engineering, the report listed Rice University in Houston, Tex., as the No. 1 school based on mid-career median pay. Other schools in the top 10 included the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Virginia, Tulane, and Stanford.

In general, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are very lucrative-particularly if pursuing a degree beyond a bachelor’s, if anyone has a mind to go back to school for more education. According to the report, 25% of the 201 master’s level majors have mid-career median pay numbers above $100,000, and all are STEM subjects.

While STEM careers are lucrative, many students are leaving STEM programs. According to a 2013 Department of Education report, 48% of bachelor’s degree students and 69% of associate’s degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 had left these fields by spring 2009. This attrition is making it difficult for many employers looking to fill in-demand jobs. "There are not enough students pursuing the most in-demand engineering fields to fill employers’ hiring needs," Bach said.

Bach said that schools are trying to deal with the problem by highlighting the advantages of obtaining a STEM degree and its high earning potential. They are also tracking and analyzing the career outcomes of alumni to attract new students by showing off past successes as well as advise them on potential fields to study. Universities also are investing in diversity programs to attract women and minorities and encourage those who are interested into pursuing a STEM career.

And even if these demographical groups aren’t interested in STEM careers, understanding how technology works and functions in the 21st century—particularly as everything becomes more interconnected with technology, such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)—will go a long way in a future career. Bach said, "Getting familiar with the most cutting-edge technology will extend the lifespan of your skill set and make you most valuable to employers."

– Chris Vavra is production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

ONLINE extra

Learn more about the 2015-2016 PayScale report.

Read the Department of Education report on STEM retention

See the O*NET list of in-demand careers

See related stories about engineering careers and salaries below.