Getting a degree in America is becoming more and more expensive.
Going to a four-year private school costs an average of $53,949 annually, according to the Education Data Initiative, a research team that publishes facts on education. Even a two-year, in-state degree at a public school costs an average of $16,037 per year. That means you could be spending from $32,074 to $215,796 total on your college education.
To make sure you’re making the most bang for your buck, here are the most valuable college majors, according to a study by Bankrate, a publisher and provider of financial product comparison tools.
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When calibrating its rankings, Bankrate looked at three main factors:
- Median income (70% weight)
- Unemployment rate (20% weight)
- Percentage of people with an advanced degree, i.e. whether or not you would need more education after college (10% weight)
Here are the results for most valuable majors:
1. Architectural Engineering
With a median salary of $90,000, unemployment rate of 1.3% and higher degree rate of 29.3%, architectural engineering was the most valuable major. According to Penn State Engineering, architectural engineers end up designing buildings and complex systems that are sustainable, resilient and safe. The major consists of interdisciplinary skills in structural, mechanical, electrical, lighting, acoustical and design engineering. If you like the challenge of building large systems and combining interdisciplinary skills, this could be a good option for you.
2. Construction Services
With a median income of $80,000, low unemployment rate of 1.0% and higher degree rate of 12.1%, construction services ranks high on the list. According to TalentDesk, a platform for hiring contractors and freelancers, construction services majors can go on to work as construction managers, cost estimators and civil engineers for massive building projects. A key draw for this major is that most people can earn a high salary without needing to get an advanced degree.
3. Computer Engineering
Computer engineering makes the highest median salary on the list at $101,000. It has a 2.3% unemployment rate, and 39.7% of degree earners go on to get more education to stay relevant in the industry, which may contribute to its lower ranking despite its high salary. College Board, which manages higher education testing like the SATs, says that computer engineering majors study mathematics, physics and computer science, then use that information to develop computer hardware and software in the industry.
4. Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineers make a median income of $100,000 and have an unemployment rate of 1.9%. About 50.7% end up getting a higher degree beyond college. If you have dreams of building and flying aircraft or someday going into space, this is the major for you, according to Georgia Tech.
5. Transportation Sciences and Technologies
Last on the list is the study of Transportation Sciences, with an average salary of $86,000, unemployment rate of1.8% and higher degree holder rate of 21.1%. As cities are increasingly urbanizing and building transportation networks, transportation engineers are needed to solve how people move around an urban setting, says the University of Florida.
General trends for secure and high salary college majors
Overall, engineering majors tend to provide the most value for college degrees, according to Bankrate. Many of them are centered around constructing large and complex systems such as buildings and transportation networks.
Federal funding interest and private investment in these types of projects is also increasing. President Joe Biden is pushing an infrastructure bill aimed to modernize roads, bridges and transit systems while expanding high-speed internet systems and the nation’s network of electric vehicle charging stations. Companies like GM and Tesla are also investing in both the development of electric vehicles and charging station networks.
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For this study, Bankrate used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of over 2 million Americans as well as 2019 data from IPUMS USA, the clearinghouse of census data hosted by the University of Minnesota, to identify 159 majors.
Michelle Shen is a Money & Tech Digital Reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach her @michelle_shen10 on Twitter.