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Once during school, I was chatting with a friend about our college majors. As a finance major, I knew I had a lucrative career path ahead. I asked my friend if she planned to teach or go to law school with her history degree. She said she didn’t want to do either and just picked history as her college major because she liked it.

College is a huge undertaking and often comes with a massive expense. Before you commit to spending tens of thousands of dollars for a college degree, it is important to understand the long-term value of that degree and your prospects to get a job, pay off student loans, and live the financial life you want. Here’s a glimpse into some of the most valuable college majors you can choose today.

Engineering

Most modern parents and students are familiar with the term STEM, referring to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related areas of study. These days, it seems that nearly all top-paying jobs come from a STEM expertise. If your primary concern with a college major is getting a high-paying job, you should pick engineering.

According to data from Payscale, the majority of top-paying jobs both early in a career and come from engineering related disciplines. The top earner is petroleum engineering with an early career income of $94,600 and a mid-career income of $175,500. That qualifies as a solid upper-class income in most areas of the country. A $175,500 income would put you in the 90% percentile of all incomes in the United States.

Other top engineering majors include nuclear, chemical, marine, electrical, aeronautical, and computer engineering. If you have the term engineer in your title, you should do just fine for your career.

Business

When I picked my finance emphasis for my college major, I knew that the vast majority of large companies have a finance department. Finance and accounting go hand in hand, and I spent ten years of a successful career with these types of positions earning a comfortable income. In most large cities, it is easy to find job listings for positions in various departments where a business school degree would come in handy.

Well earning college majors in the business school (and related departments) include finance, economics, accounting, and business systems. Marketing is another fine major, but marketing positions tend to thrive primarily in a strong economy. Marketing is one of the first areas cut, for better or worse, during a downturn.

If you can couple finance or economics with mathematics, you’re in even better shape for a well-paying career.

Medical professions

While a degree in chemistry or biology may have interest career prospects, when you peg the phrase “pre-med” to the start, you’re in an even better position to earn a good living. Capterra reports the median income for a doctor at $187,000. That makes me a little jealous of my sister with her MD, but not the crazy hours she spent at medical school earning it!

In addition to doctors, pharmacists and nurses are in high demand and earn solid salaries. A pharmacist makes around $120,000 per year and a nurse earns around $70,000 per year. Both of these jobs are hard work, but there is a big shortage of both. That could lead you to an easier job search and good potential for higher salaries in the future.

Pick a college major with job prospects

An analysis at Bankrate also found zoology as a great degree with a high income and low unemployment. The worst college majors for a good income and low unemployment: visual and performing arts, cosmetology, culinary arts, psychology, composition and speech, and fine arts. Those are great college majors if you want to spend your working hours making less than $50,000 per year while struggling more than average to find a job.

If you are a parent or plan to head to college in the near future, make sure to pick the right college major. It could be the difference between a lucrative and fulfilling career and years of struggle. When it comes time to pick a college major, major in getting a job. That is an important key to career success.

Eric Rosenberg is a finance, travel, and technology writer originally from Denver, Colorado living in Ventura, California. When away from the keyboard, Eric he enjoys exploring the world, flying small airplanes, discovering new craft beers, and spending time with his wife and baby girl. You can connect with him at his own finance blog Personal Profitability.

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