5 degrees that lead to progressive careers

highest paying university degrees
Looking for a degree that will future-proof your career? Consider these fields. Source: AFP

In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, one question consistently weighs on the minds of international students and their families: “What are the highest paying university degrees?” 

After all, choosing what to study is an important decision that can shape your career and financial future. 

With the rising cost of education, it’s essential to consider the earning potential of your chosen field. 

In fact, one study showed that 40% of students choose a field of study according to its earning potential.

It’s something even Jackson Gruver, a data analyst at Payscale, can attest to. 

“Even more so than the school itself, choosing a major is key in determining what skills a graduate can perform out of school and what professions they’re qualified for,” the analyst shares. 

“Ultimately, the degree you decide to pursue could significantly impact your lifetime earning potential.”

That said, many career paths offer high earnings. 

However, most require you to possess a bachelor’s degree. 

According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the median usual weekly wage for full-time employees who have obtained a degree was US$1,588 in the second quarter of 2023, compared to US$889 for those with only a high school diploma and no college. 

This means the highest paying jobs are usually possible with a degree qualification.

highest paying university degrees

One student advocates for pursuing one’s passion in academic studies rather than focusing solely on potential future earnings. Source: AFP

Should you study something you love or a degree that will earn you a high income?

While pursuing knowledge is undoubtedly important, stagnant income growth has been a persisting issue, especially since living costs are continuously rising. 

Understandably, many would-be university students are looking for college degrees that offer the best starting salaries for fresh graduates. 

In this, student bloggers Aimee Wragg and Kerry Provenzano have contrasting views on this topic

Aimee advocates for pursuing one’s passion in academic studies rather than focusing solely on potential future earnings.

“In the long term, deciding to study the subject of your choice is generally more beneficial. Simple factors such as a person’s happiness and sense of fulfilment are overlooked in this argument, even though they are largely affected by career choices,” she shares. 

On the other hand, Kerry Provenzano contends that a college degree should be regarded as a long-term investment from which you should gain knowledge and financial returns. 

She emphasises that since educational loans will eventually need to be repaid, the dividends of this investment should include both academic and monetary aspects.

“If you are naturally gifted with numbers but passionate about travel, opting to study geography at university might be a mistake,” Kerry explains.

“You may find you aren’t quite sure what to do with your degree once you graduate and find yourself knowing you’re capable of the mathematical jobs you see advertised but have no qualification to prove it.”

The debate between pursuing passion and focusing on potential income growth when choosing a university degree is complex, with valid points on both sides.

In reality, the decision between passion and income potential is not always clear-cut. 

New students need to strike a balance between their interests and practicality.

If you’re keen on the highest-paying university degrees, look no further — here are five degrees that lead to high-paying jobs. 

5 highest paying university degrees for international students

1. Data Scientist

  • Median starting salary for a data scientist: US$103,500

A career as a data scientist is slowly becoming one of the highest-paying jobs. This is because companies realise the power of big data and intend to use it to drive business decisions. 

The number of jobs is expected to skyrocket by 36% between 2021 and 2031 — which is much faster than any other occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Data science relies on professionals who gather, organise, store, and analyse data. Their expertise helps individuals and organisations make informed decisions using insights from data.

What’s more, data science is seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, influencing everything from our online shopping experiences and social media interactions to the music we enjoy and the movie recommendations we receive. It’s a hidden force that simplifies our lives in ways we may not always recognise.

As such, a degree in data science opens the doors to many possibilities, such as data scientists, data engineers, machine learning engineers and data analysts.

If you are considering a degree in data science, here are the best universities to pursue it: 

  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Toronto
highest paying university degrees

During their study, electrical engineering students learn how to design and test electrical products and equipment, including radar, communications, and navigation systems. Source: AFP

2. Electrical Engineering

  • Median starting salary for an electrical engineer: US$$103,390

A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is another popular STEM option for students today and is one of the college degrees that pay well. 

During their study, electrical engineering students learn how to design and test electrical products and equipment, including radar, communications, and navigation systems.

Students pursuing an electrical engineering degree often have the option to specialise in various related fields, including lighting design, energy engineering, power and measurement, smart electrical networks and systems, and electronics.

Upon earning an electrical engineering degree, you’ll be equipped with technical expertise, analytical capabilities, and problem-solving prowess.

These would be crucial when you enter one of these careers: acoustic consultant, broadcast engineer, CAD technician, electrical engineer and network engineer.

Have we piqued your interest? Well, here are the top universities where you can pursue this programme:

  • University of Maryland
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Imperial College London
highest paying university degrees

While doctors earn well, choosing to specialise in a specific field of medicine will increase your annual salary. Source: AFP

3. Medicine

The salaries in the field of medicine vary depending on the career path you pursue, and as you advance in your profession, your average earnings tend to rise.

As per the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the average income for medical professionals in the UK is 69,463 pounds. This figure is notably more than double the average salary in the country, making medicine one of the highest-paid degree paths available.

While doctors earn well, choosing to specialise in a specific field of medicine will increase your annual salary. 

For instance, surgeons who bear immense responsibility for their patients’ lives can command an annual income of approximately US$208,000.

That’s not all. Anesthesiologists, obstetricians, and gynaecologists also have the potential to earn up to US$208,000 annually

The most common role in the medical field that graduates pursue is a General Practitioner (GP). This comes with an estimated salary of US$134,974 per year

Here are some top universities if you want to pursue a medical degree:

  • Harvard University, US
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Amsterdam, Netherlands 
highest paying university degrees

Over 90% of dentistry graduates secure employment within six months after graduation. Source: AFP

4. Dentistry

  • Median starting salary for a dentist: US$160,370 

If you have a strong interest in oral healthcare, a career as a dentist may be an ideal choice for you.

While the median salary is US$160,370, you can command a higher salary of US$208,000 annually if you further your education to become an orthodontist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

The best part? Over 90% of dentistry graduates secure employment within six months after graduation. As such, by pursuing this degree, you need not worry about securing a job and earning well. 

To pursue dentistry, you can consider these institutions: 

  • Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
  • Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA), Netherlands
  • The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 
highest paying university degrees

Want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg? Pursue a degree in computer science. Source: AFP

5. Computer engineering

  • Median starting salary for a computer engineer: US$80,300

A computer engineering degree usually focuses more on designing and developing hardware, software, and networks. These are used in several areas, such as aircraft, self-driving cars like Tesla, medical devices, communication systems, consumer electronics, and more. 

If you’re considering studying in the US, it’s important to note that certain universities offer the opportunity to pursue a double major in computer science and engineering. Nevertheless, this path is even more demanding than pursuing a single major.

The US Department of Labor states that computer tech jobs are expected to grow 14.6% in the next nine years. The situation is similar in Australia, Canada and other destinations around the world.

Those who study computer engineering can embark on successful careers in various roles, including computer engineering, computer architecture development, systems engineering, and many others.

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

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • University of California, Berkeley