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Who’s Really Making the Big Bucks?

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For those deciding which career path to follow, two surveys provide more evidence that engineers have the brightest prospects.

Employees with STEM-related degrees—science, technology, engineering and math—have the highest salary potential, according to the 2014 – 2015 College Salary Report from Payscale.com. The survey asked non-military U.S. graduates with bachelor’s degrees about their employment and compensation.

The top spot went to petroleum engineering, with a median mid-career salary of $176,300. Actuarial mathematics was next, with mid-career salary potential of $119,600.

Professions requiring education degrees landed at the bottom of the 207-job list. Child development was last, $36,400.

As for the most recent college graduates, the majority has landed jobs. Sixty-five percent of 2014 college grads are employed, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. But half of those—51%–say they have jobs that don’t require their college degrees.

Who is most likely to be employed using their degrees? Easy question. STEM graduates, as well as those in health care, reported higher levels of full-time employment (40% vs. 34%).

The results for female graduates were divided. Women were both more likely than men not to be working (34% vs. 26%), and more likely to be in a full-time position (38% vs. 34%).

The survey hints at another factor harder to quantify: motivation. Those who graduated with student loan debt were more likely to be employed, and 51% of those who said “making a lot of money,” is more important than “making a difference,” are employed, compared to 28% of those who said the reverse.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.