4 highest paying degrees for int’l students in the US

Highest-paid jobs in the US
There are many high-paying jobs for international graduates in the US. One college major could help you command a starting salary of over US$100,000. Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

Do you see yourself studying and working abroad in the future? The US is the most popular study destination in the world, and it’s no wonder why. There are plenty of opportunities for international students to stay and work in the Land of the Free upon graduating. Those who are lucky might even secure some of the highest-paid jobs in the employment market. 

You might have a better chance of securing one of the highest-paid jobs in the US with specific degrees, including those in STEM-related fields. If you’re a STEM major, you can apply for the STEM optional practical training (OPT), which would allow you to stay in the US for up to three years after graduation, compared to a regular OPT, which would allow you to stay for a year. 

Before we delve into what are some of the majors that pay the highest starting salaries, it’s important to note that many things can affect how much you earn, including your location, sex and education. For context, the median household income in the US was 67,521 US dollars in 2020; the roles listed below offer salaries of about US80,000 and up per annum, using data from Payscale.

Highest-paid jobs in the US: 4 majors to consider

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS)

Early career pay (less than five years of experience): US$108,500

Mid-career pay (10+ years of experience): US$159,300

Topping our list of majors with the highest starting salaries in the US is electrical engineering and computer science (EECS).

Maryville University notes that both fields of study apply the fundamentals of mathematics and technology. Both of these majors influence the way society interact, but in different ways.

For example, the university notes that computer scientists develop software programs such as web browsers and artificial intelligence, while electrical engineers develop and design tangible technology such as electronic motors and radar systems.

Physician Assistant Studies

Early career pay (Less than five years of experience): US$95,900

Mid-career pay: US$118,500

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), majoring in physician assistant studies could lead you to become a physician associate/assistant (PA) or licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every speciality or setting.

PAs serve patients and support their teams in multiple medical-related functions and practices. They, along with other staff in the healthcare industry, are dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming health and wellness.

To become a PA, you will need to earn a master’s degree and have patient care experience. You must also pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) and meet any state-specific requirements for a license to practice. Gaining a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area, such as health science and nursing is helpful for getting into a relevant graduate programme.


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Petroleum engineering

Early career pay: US$93,200

Mid-career pay: US$187,300

Majoring in petroleum engineering while at university could be a very lucrative option for you in the long run. With the right experience and education, you may be able to take on petroleum engineering roles with the following duties and responsibilities:

  • Evaluate potential oil and gas reservoirs
  • Oversee drilling activities
  • Select and implement recovery schemes
  • Design surface collection and treatment facilities

In simple terms, petroleum engineers help find oil and gas for a country’s energy needs. They typically need a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or a closely-related field, such as mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering.

Operations research and industrial engineering

Early career pay: US$84,800

Mid-career pay: US$170,400

Another major that could lead to you securing one of the highest-paid jobs in the US includes operations research and industrial engineering.

These two disciplines are focused on the operation of complex systems. You will learn the foundations to model and solve systems-level engineering problems.

Industrial engineering is about creating safer, more efficient and more effective processes, notes Berkeley.

Operations research, on the other hand, allows you to harness your analytical and creative skills to develop better systems and operational procedures. There are multiple industries that you can join with a degree in the field, which include, but are not limited to manufacturing, communications, transportation, finance, entertainment, military, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.