Investment in Engineering and Science College Degrees

Why Investment in Engineering and Science College Degrees provide the best Lifetime Earning ROI:


College education is not cheap and is becoming more and more expensive every year. The US college loans debt is approaching 1 Trillion dollars and more and more students find it harder and harder to pay for their college education, in spite of the many financial aid options available to them.

Despite the gloom and doom over the rising cost of college education, it still pays to get a degree if you do it wisely. Full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, 84 percent more over their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma, according to a May 2011 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.


But college is an investment, and not all investments are created equal. “What” you study impacts the economic value your degree will hold after graduation, which is why some parents urge their students to study engineering instead of art. In fact, 42 percent of parents say they prodded their student to pick a collegiate path based on earning potential, and 16 percent of parents say they will have their child change majors to earn more money, according to Fidelity Investment 2013 report. Many parents pushing their kids to pursue degrees in Engineering, Computer science, Biology, Psychology, Business, Medicine, and Accounting as opposed to liberal arts, history, poetry or foreign languages.

Engineering and Computer Science

While engineering and computer science consistently rate among the top-paying college majors, students should also research employment demand and hot skillsets. Those skills include the ability to analyze and make sense of data, work through complex economic and scientific models, or understand what drives people to buy. Factoring in workforce demand, employment potential, starting salaries, and income growth can help college students ensure they get the best return on their investment (ROI).

An analytical edge for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)

Engineering, Physics, Computer Science, Life Sciences and Mathematics boast strong earning potential and low unemployment rates, which can help you reap the highest ROI on your education investment. Not everyone is cut out for the analytical stuff. If you are one of those people, you’re lucky, because people want to hire you. Even in Engineering, there are many “hot” disciplines that are “popping up” and attracting strong and dynamic workforce to fulfill the demand. Recent trends include Bio-Technology, Petroleum and Chemical Engineering, and Environmental and Geological Engineering.

With average 2014 starting salaries hovering close to $98,000 per year, a median salary of $120,000, and 95 percent of graduates employed full time, Petroleum Engineering majors can expect a solid ROI on their degree. The same goes for students majoring in Geological Engineering, a niche degree that yields high salaries and nearly 100 percent employment for majors.

Engineering majors dominate most top 10 lists for degrees with a high ROI. For Example:

•Chemical Engineering— 2014 median starting pay: $64,500; median mid-career pay: $109,000

•Electrical Engineering— 2014 median starting pay: $61,300; median mid-career pay: $103,000

•Material Science— 2014 median starting pay: $60,400; median mid-career pay: $103,000

Some interesting findings from a 2013 ROI report generated by PayScale Inc. reveal that the highest Lifetime ROI for college education is produced by graduates of non IV league colleges where college tuition is moderate and mid-career pay is very competitive, as shown in the following table:

Expensive colleges (mostly ”big name” private institutions and IV league school) do not generate the highest ROI necessarily, although their graduates enjoy fairly high lifetime earnings as shown in the table below.

If high lifetime earnings and high college ROI are important factors for you in choosing a college and a career path, I highly recommend exploring college degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and looking for colleges with high ROI potential. Most STEM careers will produce high earning and provide fairly steady and secure career paths.

When looking for specific college, I would not recommend picking “big name” school with high tuition costs necessarily. Many state colleges provide excellent STEM education, and open many career opportunities for their graduates with very competitive salaries.

So consider college investment as a long term proposition and choose your college and your major based on estimated lifetime earning potential, and your ROI.

Good luck!





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22 Responses

  1. I’m a software engineer, and the salary is much the same as what you list above for other engineer types. In a technology heavy world, it’s not surprising the tech jobs pay pretty darn well.

  2. I am very happy that I majored in mechanical engineering. My career work has allowed me to work on launch vehicles, on-orbit vehicles, the space shuttle, and military aircraft. The pay has been pretty good as well. I also met my wife on the job.

      1. Hi David, Yes, I enjoy doing research as well as coming up with a solution/invention that no one has ever thought of before. I also spent a lot of time (7 years) working on the Air Force’s Airborne Laser on both the mechanical design side and on the real-time software side. The real-time OS was VxWorks and the language was C. I ran control simulations in Matlab.

        1. Very impressive!
          I am aware of the ABL program. I wish the Air Force will invest more in high power solid state laser technology!
          Thanks for dropping by!

  3. You make some great points on the benefits of STEM. I’m 24 and currently enrolled in a PhD in business, but my undergrad degree was in Biology/Chemistry. I’m amazed to see what geology masters students are making. Many are starting at six figures in oil/natural gas…

    Have you been please with your career and earning potential?

    1. I work as a software engineer and studied Comp Sci and Physics as my two undergraduate majors. I happen to love science and engineering and come from a family that is very engineering driven. My career potential is on its way up. The quest to 7 digits, eh?

    2. Definitely. as a software engineer the opportunities are endless as well as the pay. I even enjoy coming to work every day.
      But wow, Biology/Chemistry to PhD in business!!!

      1. That’s really exciting for you career. I know it’s a really good one and I have considered that route in the past. Just missed my chance.

        Definitely a big switch from the natural sciences to Business, but I enjoy learning so it has been a smooth transition. We’ll see what comes next, I’m not entirely sold on academia yet.

        1. Jacob, it’s never too late to pick up a new major. Remember, it’s all about enjoying the job, not just doing it for the money, even though that’s mainly what it’s about.
          Can business also relate to natural science?

  4. But then these majors also have different workload during school. I think what people of these majors earn is actually justified seeing they actually have to work harder than people whose major isn’t so lucrative.

    1. You are definitely right. The extra few credits in school bring out a little more sweat, but on the bright side it racks in more cash!!!
      Thanks for dropping by!

  5. I think for now when people start questioning the value of education, we also have to take into account the post-graduation earning potential. Not every major makes $60,000+ income for fresh graduate. For the ones that do, I still think education is worth the money.

    1. Okay, you have a point. Without education, we most probably wouldn’t have jobs in the first place.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. As someone who is married to a high school physics teacher, I applaud your advice! Seriously, though, despite just having a career in a STEM related profession, there are also many companies in other industries who like to hire engineers because they know that they are good problem solvers and “think” about situations differently which is a great resource.

    1. I think you are right about engineers, but hey, anyone who is hard working and determinate can be considered great resources.
      Thanks for stopping by Shannon.

  7. My background is Chemistry (BSc and PhD). If I knew now what I knew then I would have gone with Engineering. I now work for a company that wants way more applied science than my analytical mind is used to. It’s fine, but I wish I had the background in the broader analysis parameters (like cost!) compared to just being able to analyze the science.

    1. That is definitely a huge point I was trying to convey. Cost does influence many people’s decision, but if you love the topic go into it and work your hardest to pay it off.
      Thanks for dropping by Alicia!

  8. I often wish that I had one into engineering instead of the field I went into. It’s always going to be a lucrative field because engineering does evolve with the market. I would say that if I had to pick an engineering field to go into it would be civic. There are so many options.

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