Engineering majors get paid the most mid-career, while liberal arts degrees earn the least, according to the New York Federal Reserve’s most recent study of salaries for recent college graduates.
The top 10 majors where graduates ages 35 to 45 earn the most are almost all related to engineering, except for computer science, pharmacy, finance and business analytics majors. The median salary for the 10 top-ranking majors is $103,700.
For the purposes of the survey, the 35 to 45 age cohort is defined as “mid-career” and limited to median wages for full-time workers with a bachelor's degree only.
The lowest-paid majors in this cohort are mostly liberal arts or education majors, and most of them pay less than $60,000 per year.
The difference between the highest-paid major, chemical engineering ($111,000), and the lowest-paid major, early childhood education ($43,700), is $67,300. In general, STEM-based majors make a higher amount of mid-career income compared to majors in the liberal arts.
The survey also looked at “early career” earnings for graduates ages 22 to 27 and found that the clustering of majors at the top and bottom rankings was consistent over time. STEM-based majors — particularly engineering — were consistently paid well throughout a graduate’s career, but liberal arts majors — particularly education — were consistently paid less throughout a graduate’s career.
For example, the median pay for a chemical engineering major starts at $70,000 after college and increases to $110,000 when the graduate is between the ages of 35 and 45.
But a major in family and consumer sciences — a life management skills degree — offers the lowest pay right after college, with a median income of $32,000, which goes up to just $51,000 when the graduate is between the ages of 35 and 45.
Whatever the major, pay increases over time: Early career graduates make a median income of $43,500, while mid-career graduates make a median income of $70,000.
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter