The Semester Is Almost Here … Have You Picked Your Major?

by JessicaHawkins

A breakdown of Forbes' 2012 List of Most Valuable Majors

The time for real world decisions is here. You have gotten accepted into college, but still have no idea what you want to major in. In a perfect world, we would all go through life knowing exactly what it is that we want to do, but some of us need a little nudge. To help guide you in the right direction, here is Forbes’ list of the “15 Most Valuable College Majors” in 2012, along with a few tidbits about each one.

Biomedical Engineer

Avg. Starting Salary: $53,800

Are you strong in biology and engineering, but you’re not quite sure how to combine the two? This is a tough major in a small industry, but the payoff is rewarding. Take part in the development of medical devices and procedures such as artificial hearts, injury recovery techniques, and product performance testing.

This career usually leads to jobs with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and universities.


Avg. Starting Salary: $41,700

This degree requires strengths in science and math. Biochemists can be involved in jobs such as improving crops, ensuring the safety of consumer food products, or even researching possible cures for known diseases. People in this field usually work in hospital or government laboratories, research facilities, pharmaceutical companies, or agricultural businesses.

Computer Science

Avg. Starting Salary: $56,600

Do you love computers and all of their endless possibilities?  Computer science majors can get jobs in any sector, including education, industry, or government. They perform functions such as computer networking, systems development, technology consulting, and teaching.

Software Engineer

Avg. Starting Salary: $54,900

Software engineering is a more specialized form of computer science. Software engineers develop and maintain computer software, design user interfaces, and serve as systems consultants. Additionally, because of their expertise, many software engineers go into software sales.

Environmental Engineer

Avg. Starting Salary: $51,700

Environmental engineers need an understanding of multiple disciplines. Jobs are most prevalent in consulting, research, and government sectors. Environmental engineers have been known to design water treatment facilities, development regulation strategies, and predict the impact of human activity on the environment.

Civil Engineer

Avg. Starting Salary: $53,100

Civil engineers usually work for any level of government, engineering firms, or as general contractors. They plan, construct, and maintain city or state infrastructures such as highways, bridges, dams, or power facilities. Civil engineers can also work on the same projects as environmental engineers.


Avg. Starting Salary: $45,300

Geologists study the history and physical makeup of the earth, including the ocean, rocks, and fossils. Once working, geologists tend to pick a specific of study such as petroleum (oil and gas), hydrologist (water), mineralogist (minerals) and paleontologist (fossils). Work can be in the industry or the government sector.

Management Information Systems

Avg. Starting Salary: $51,000

A degree in MIS is comparable to a degree in computer science. When comparing computer science to MIS, the latter has more business courses in their curriculum. Work in management information systems takes computer science and applies it to a business and their organizational needs.

Petroleum Engineer

Avg. Starting Salary: $97,900

Petroleum engineering is one of the highest paying engineering degrees today. Petroleum engineers are involved in finding and recovering oil and natural gas from the earth. Because technology in the production and development of oil and gas is constantly changing, petroleum engineers need to be prepared for continuous education.

Applied Mathematics

Avg. Starting Salary: $52,600

Applied mathematics is mathematics with a specialization. They excel in identifying and solving problems, as well as communicating those results to the appropriate parties. Applied mathematics can is useful in a wide range of industries. Jobs can range from studying the growth of bacteria to determining the most efficient routes for cargo transport.


Avg. Starting Salary: $47,000

Most will tell you that there is not much difference between applied mathematics and mathematics. For the most part, they are right. A degree in mathematics usually leads to a job in academia. Even with a major in mathematics (versus applied mathematics), anything outside of academia is considered “applied” mathematics.

Construction Management

Avg. Starting Salary: $50,200

Had a gift with your Legos and building blocks as a kid? There might have been a good reason for that. Construction management degrees can lead to work with architectural firm, real estate companies, and other companies needing general contractors. This degree also creates a lot of self-employed individuals who open their own construction or general contract companies.


Avg. Starting Salary: $46,500

Take advantage of those math skills and that business mind. Finance degrees are most common in banking, insurance, real estate, and corporate finance. This degree comes with a lot of commission-based work, but there are also opportunities to have a more traditional salary. Popular jobs in this field include financial planners, mortgage broker, traders, and investment bankers.


Avg. Starting Salary: $49,800

Because physics degrees develop quantitative and analytical skills, there are a wide range of careers available. The most common field for a physics graduate is teaching, but other options include industrial and government research, health care, and science-related journalism.


Avg. Starting Salary: $49,000

Like several of the other majors on the list, statisticians have a love for numbers. Because statisticians formulate results from their research and turn it into data for the average user, they are in high demand for jobs in government, business, and pharmaceuticals. More specifically, they manage risk for insurance and financial companies, use biological data to solve medical problems, and use the nation’s demographics to generate information used for public policies.

Still not sure?

If the Forbes' list did not help you, do not feel pressured to make a choice immediately. Many students go into college “undecided”. With this plan, students start off taking all of their general education courses. Hopefully, one of these courses will tug at your heartstrings and helps you decide on your future career path. But don’t take too long! General education requirements typically take the first two years of college. It may seem like a long time, but the time will fly by!

Do you know your major? If so, what is it? If you have already graduated, are you happy with your career choice?

Updated: 08/13/2012, JessicaHawkins
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JessicaHawkins on 08/24/2012

Mira ... I completely agree. I've always thought there was this matrix to be used in career choices. It ranges from doing what you love and getting paid very little to doing what pays well (even if you hate it). Then there is the crappy doing what you hate and getting paid nothing. On the other hand, there is the American dream of doing what you love and getting paid handsomely for it.

Wrapitup4me ... from looking at the name, I'm assuming it has something to do with underwater plants or specimens? I'll be googling that one ... lol

wrapitup4me on 08/22/2012

The combinations available today are mind boggling. My daughter is just starting her doctorate in ecological microhydrobiology. I'm so proud of her - I can't pronounce most of the words she uses.

Mira on 08/14/2012

Hi Jessica, apparently the majors that pay off the best are hard science majors. It saddens me to see nothing about the humanities and the social sciences, without which I simply cannot envision the world :). Thanks for a great post, though. I think it will give some directions to young teens who are already interested in science -- and turn to science some who aren't!

JessicaHawkins on 08/13/2012

It can be a tough decision! Some of us are already grown and still don't know what we want to be when we "grow up". I hope this helps her!

katiem2 on 08/10/2012

A very good resource for students. My daughter is a Junior in High School this year and is a bit panicked about knowing what she wants to do. I will share this with her. Thanks for the great guide. :)K

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