Higher education should be enriching, helping to broaden horizons and provide new perspectives and greater contributions to society. But going to college is also extremely expensive--so wouldn't it be nice to receive a reasonable return on that investment of money and time?

Not that you should choose your college or university solely on the basis of future earnings potential, but still: The relative value of that degree should definitely be part of the decision.

That's why PayScale surveyed 2.3 million graduates of more than 2,400 colleges and universities to report their pay, major, highest degree earned, and associate's or bachelor's school name where appropriate. The result is the College Salary Report, with rankings that can sort the top-paying schools by state, major, etc.

Here are a few of the highlights from the report:

  • Engineering and math dominate the bachelor's degree rankings for the highest-paying major. The median pay for early-career STEM majors is $51,400. By comparison, median pay for early-career liberal arts majors is $41,300.
  • Ivy League schools, elite technical universities, and military academies lead the bachelor's degree rankings. Harvey Mudd (a school I had never heard of) leads the rankings with a mid-career median pay that is $8,000 higher than number two Princeton. MIT ranks third, followed by SUNY Maritime College and West Point.
  • Stanford leaps from 10th to first in the rankings when graduates who go on to earn higher degrees are included. Caltech jumps up to a tie for third with MIT.
  • Considering a two-year school? Helene Fuld College of Nursing, Pacific Union College, and Labouré College are the top two-year degree-granting schools with the highest-earning alumni. (Two-year degrees with the highest earning potential are instrumentation technology, radiation therapy, and management information systems.)

Again, earning potential isn't the only reason to choose a school. But since college should be seen as an investment, why not at least evaluate the return on that investment?

The same holds true for choosing a major. If history is your passion, by all means follow it--but if you're undecided, use the rankings to help you weigh different degree and career options.

Published on: Aug 29, 2017