The unexpected degrees leading to high salaries for international students

highest-paying degrees
A highest-paying degree doesn't always have to be difficult. Source: Spencer Platt/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images/AFP

Medicine, computer science, law, engineering — these are what often come to mind when you talk about the highest-paying degrees for international students.

But that’s a narrow view.

There is an alternative list of the highest-paying degrees for international students who return to their home country to work or stay abroad.

Many would say these are some of the “easiest” degrees to pass.

There’s some truth in that but only if it is “easier” in the sense that it requires less memorising (like medicine and law) and fewer maths (like computer science and engineering).

Remember that determining if a course is “easy” is subjective and would depend on a few factors such as your likes, dislikes, interests and capabilities. What may be easy for you may not be for others. 

The following may seem like the easiest degrees that lead to the highest-paying jobs for international students at first glance, but a closer look tells us something else.

They require many soft skills that the World Economic Forum has listed as the top 15 skills by 2025:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
  11. Emotional intelligence
  12. Troubleshooting and user experience
  13. Service orientation
  14. Systems analysis and evaluation
  15. Persuasion and negotiation

Thus these following degrees may be perceived as easy for those who are math-and-memory-challenged, but do well with people.

For an introvert, however, they may be the hardest thing he’ll ever have to do. For someone who is bad with technology and stress, it will be tough too.

Ultimately, how easy or how hard a degree feels will depend on you, your interests and your talents.

The following list of the easiest degrees that lead to the highest-paying jobs for international students, however, are chosen for:

  • Having some of the lowest requirements for math and science skills
  • Focus more on practical learning and soft skills, and less on rote memorising
  • Lead to jobs with the highest earning potential if you do well in the subject

Five highest-paying degrees that are the “easiest” for international students

Businessmen and economists tend to earn high starting salaries upon graduation. Source: Angela Weiss/AFP

1. Business Administration 

When it comes to business degrees, a bachelor in business administration is considered one of the most basic and easiest degrees to complete. 

This programme aims to equip students with the comprehensive skills and knowledge needed to operate and grow an organisation successfully. 

As part of the course, students will cover an assortment of topics, from finance and accounting to human resources. This course is considered easier than other undergraduate programmes as students will not need to specialise in a specific field.

A degree in business opens the doors to many possibilities. Graduates will have the privilege of choosing between many career opportunities across various fields. This includes jobs as an accountant, financial analyst, HR specialist, marketing manager and many more.

But don’t be fooled. Just because it is easy does not mean you won’t land a high-paying job. This degree is a popular choice among many students as graduates can earn up to US$111,902 per year.

Arm yourself with a bachelor in business administration from some of the top universities in the world to secure a high-paying job. These universities include:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US
  • University of Oxford, UK
  • University of Melbourne, Australia
highest-paying degrees

HR is one of the highest-paying degrees as it could lead graduates to the C-suite as a Chief Diversity Officer, like Google’s Melonie Parker. Source: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Mighty Dream Forum/AFP

2. Human Resources

If you enjoy solving problems and coming up with solutions, then a degree in human resources is perfect for you. 

Pursuing your higher education studies in human resources is considered easy by many as you get the qualification and high-paying jobs sans having to do math or science. 

This course will prepare you to work in the human resources department, where you will help the business and employees work through payroll, personnel problems, laws and many more. 

The best part is that securing a job should be relatively easy as every company and organisation has an HR department, and experts in the field are always in demand. A human resource manager earns up to US79,449 a year in the US. 

And if that doesn’t interest you, do not worry. With a bachelor’s in human resources, there are many other career paths to choose from that can still secure you a high salary.

These roles include becoming a training and development manager, labour relations specialist, compensation and benefits manager and many more. 

Consider these top universities if you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in human resources:

  • University of Pennsylvania, US
  • University of Bath, UK
  • University of Technology, Australia
highest paying degrees

If you don’t believe marketing is one of the highest-paying degrees today, look at the lifestyle of Chief Marketing officer for Ola Electric mobility Pvt. Ltd., Varun Dubey. Source: Manjunath Kiran/AFP

3. Marketing 

Marketing also makes the list of highest-paying degrees for international students. This degree is a popular choice of study for students who have a passion for advertising, social media and graphic design. 

Those interested in studying marketing have two options when pursuing this degree. Students can choose to earn their qualification through an associate’s degree which is a two-year degree course, or they can earn a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes around three to four years to complete. 

The associate’s degree offers students the opportunity to complete their degree in a shorter time and enter the working force quicker to get a headstart at their careers. 

When it comes to career opportunities for those with a marketing degree are endless.

Marketing graduates are able to work in just about any industry, as almost every business, organisation, and nonprofit around the world needs a marketing team. 

Those with a marketing degree can pursue jobs as a social media manager, marketing executive, sales representative and marketing research analyst, securing a salary of up to USD$65,697 annually. 

If you are considering a degree in marketing, here are the best universities in US, UK and Australia to do so: 

  • University of Pennsylvania, US
  • Lancaster University, UK
  • University of Melbourne, Australia
highest paying degrees

Nursing is a noble profession that pays up to US$92,686 annually in the US. Source: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP

4. Nursing 

If you are interested in the healthcare industry but don’t want to spend four years training to become a doctor, then nursing is the route for you.

You will be happy to know that a degree in nursing can lead to a high-paying job of up to US$92,686 annually. 

This course of study is one of the most popular among students as you are able to immediately begin applying your skills once you graduate.

While not the easiest academic route, a diploma or bachelor’s in nursing is nowhere near as difficult as medical school. (A career in nursing may be just as demanding yet fulfilling.)

As a nurse, you don’t have to worry about employment as the demand for nurses is increasing, and you are guaranteed to find employment. 

Australia is currently facing a shortage of nurses and is in need of about 100,000 nurses. The US is not far behind, with about 203,200 openings every year. These numbers are expected to increase in the next decade. 

So if you have been considering a career as a nurse, there is no better time to do so than now. 

With a degree or diploma in nursing, you will be eligible for roles as a clinical nurse specialist, community nurse, child care specialist, private nurse or social worker.

If you are interested in pursuing an education in this field, here are the best universities in the world to do so:

  • University of Pennsylvania, US
  • King’s Colle London, UK
  • Monash University Clayton, Australia
highest-paying degrees

Culinary arts are one of the highest-paying degrees for international students. Source: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

5. Culinary Arts 

If you have a flair for cooking and creating mouth-watering dishes, consider pursuing a degree in culinary arts that will not only secure employment but a high-paying job as well.

Chefs are currently in demand, so you do not have to worry about securing a job. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the number of jobs for chefs and head cooks is expected to increase by 15% by 2031.

In the US, chefs earn around US$51,972 annually. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, just think about all the delicious food you will enjoy as you cook. 

Here are some of the top universities to pursue a degree in culinary arts:

  • The Culinary Institute of America, US
  • University College Birmingham, UK
  • Le Cordon Bleu, Australia 

Frequently asked questions about the highest-paying degrees for international students:

1. Which country pays the highest salary for Indians?

Choosing to work overseas after completing your education can have many benefits, from advancing your career to earning a higher salary.

According to a survey done by HSBC, Switzerland is considered the highest-paying destination for Indian international students looking to work overseas.

The average annual salary in Switzerland is around US$202,865 for immigrants.

world's top universities in Switzerland

Switzerland boasts some of the best scientific research centres in the world, making it a perfect study destination for international students. Source: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

2. Which job is the highest paid in the world?

Based on the rankings by US News & World Report of the 100 best jobs of 2023, those with the highest pay are in the healthcare field. 

Those working as an anesthesiologist, a surgeon, a gynaecologist and an orthodontist earn around US$208,000 a year.

The high salary isn’t the only benefit of working in this field. Those choosing to enter the healthcare industry are in luck as the rate of unemployment is low and the need for experts in the field is on the rise. 

3. What is a good salary in India?

Your salary depends on various factors such as your educational level, qualification and the industry you work in. 

Those with higher qualifications working in a demanding industry are expected to earn a higher salary. 

In India, a good salary is around RS 25,000 (US$304.84 according to the currency exchange at the time of writing) a month. 

4. What is the quickest degree to get?

A two-year degree or better known as an associate’s degree, is one of the fastest degrees to earn as you will be able to earn the same qualification in just two years instead of the traditional three to four years.

There are many associate degrees offered in a range of fields, such as business, nursing, accounting and engineering. 

5. What is the number one hardest degree?

While the difficulty of a degree is subjective, the assumption is that a course that requires you to be good with numbers and science is usually harder. 

Aerospace Engineering is considered one of the hardest degrees in the world. To qualify in this field, you will need to be good at maths, especially in calculus, trigonometry and algebra. 

For a full list of the 10 hardest degrees in the world, click here.