Although the opportunity to learn about new subjects and the chance to meet diverse people from all walks of life are major college selling points, you may be attending college with the greater hope of landing a good job. If you want one of the highest-paid jobs, you need to choose your major carefully, ensure that you excel in your classes and pick a field not already overrun by people with your chosen credentials.
Know Your Talents
The National Association of Colleges and Employers publishes an annual list of top-paying majors and ranked petroleum engineering, aerospace engineering and actuarial mathematics as the top three degrees for high earners in the 2012-13 school year. But you should not choose these majors based solely on income if you hate math and the idea of working on complex formulas. Instead, consider your specific talents. If you love writing or literature analysis, for example a degree that puts these talents to practical use -- such as journalism -- may yield more money than a degree such as literature.
Research the Field
Even if people in a given field tend to make high salaries, not everyone who majored in that field will be so successful. Rather than surveying which jobs yield the most money, consider the job market and unemployment rate for the majors you consider. Your college career center can give you an idea of what majors are in demand at your school and can provide you with information about the sorts of careers each major will prepare you for, as well as the kind of salary you can expect.
Consider Professional Degrees
Undergraduate degrees in philosophy, psychology and similar fields typically require students to attend graduate school before they begin their career. A professional degree, by contrast, prepares you for your chosen field right out of your undergraduate training. Bachelor's degrees in architecture, accounting, actuarial science, computer science and mechanical engineering can prepare you for a career directly out of college and tend to yield high earnings.
Graduate School Options
If you want to be a lawyer, doctor or professor, you need to attend a graduate program, and your undergraduate major should prepare you for graduate study. For example, a student wishing to become a doctor should consider biology or a similar field in health or sciences, and a future professor should major in the field they wish to teach. If you have not decided whether to attend graduate school, try adding an additional major as a back-up plan. For example, you might major in psychology and computer science to have a range of potential future options.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.