On the basis of earning power alone, the best majors for incoming college freshmen revolve around science, technology, engineering and math -- known in academic circles simply as “STEM.” Not only are starting salaries higher for college graduates in these fields, but demand is higher as companies big and small meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Best-Paying Majors

Nine out of 10 best-paying college majors involve technology, according to "Forbes". For the class of 2012, the most lucrative major was computer engineering, with recent graduates earning an annual average salary of $70,400. Other lucrative majors were aeronautical, chemical, mechanical, civil and electrical engineering, with computer science, construction science, and information science and systems coming in close behind. Entry-level jobs in all these majors paid upward of $60,000 a year. The only non-technical major on the list was finance, with industry entrants starting at $57,300 a year.

The Rise of Technology

Forbes Staff Writer Meghan Casserly attributes the rise of these majors to the technological demands of the modern world, calling it “the race for innovation,” a market phenomenon that affects both start-up companies and large corporations looking for the sharpest competitive edge. STEM-related jobs, Casserly reveals, are growing 60 percent faster than other fields. While tablets and smartphones dominate consumer interest today, wearable displays and 3-D printing will create the jobs of tomorrow.

Alternative Majors

The Princeton Review, a test preparation and admissions consulting company, has a very different list of best majors. From the onset, the company warns that their picks do not necessarily match current demand in the job market. However, they argue that the broad majors included in their list won’t lock students into career paths and will provide a wide range of opportunities, from medicine to journalism. Number one on their list is business administration and management/commerce, followed by psychology, nursing, biology, education, English, economics, communications, and political science. In last place on their list, ironically, is computer and information sciences.

A Brave New World

In U.S. News & World Report, contributor Menachem Wecker lists nine “hot” college majors that show just how quickly entire industries and academic fields can change, noting that some of the majors didn’t exist five years ago. Leading the charge, in the age of gene therapy, is biomedical engineering. Computer game design, environmental studies, health information and homeland security fall into the top five, each representing a relatively new private or public sector of the economy. Cyber-security, nanotechnology, public health and “new media,” such as social networking, are also included.

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