Best Long-Term Bang for Your Degree Buck

With degrees becoming more expensive than ever, the choice of what to go to university or college for is a tough one. A sound economic choice is to spend as little as possible but without compromising your future earning potential. Here, we'll take a look at which degrees net the best return down the road, and you may be surprised by a few of them.


Forbes lists biomedical engineering as the top choice, with a starting median pay of $53,800 that almost doubles by the time you're in the middle of your career ($97,800). But what really makes biomedical engineering stand out above its peers is projected job growth of 61.7%, a number that's especially important when you consider the Baby Boom population that's about to retire and all the healthcare field jobs that'll open up.

At $51,700, an environmental engineer's salary clocks in at just under a biomedical engineers when it comes to starting median pay, but what drops this degree further down the list is the projected job growth of only 21.9%. It may be quite a bit lower, but a double-digit growth number is still fairly decent.

But the kind of engineering where you'll make the most money? Petroleum engineering, the field in which you solve complex energy problems to keep the world buzzing. Graduates with this degree can look forward to a starting median salary of $97,900 and jump to $155,00 by mid-career.


Whether you choose pure or applied mathematics, the numbers add up to a pretty hefty payday. According to, the Return on Investment (ROI) for an actuarialist's degree is $4,130,308, with a median salary of $70,029. For the biggest ROI, though, an Operations Research Analysis Manager can net $146,456 at mid-career and boast of an ROI of $8,637,969.

Getting a job in pure mathematics may seem a little trickier, but you just have to do a little unearthing. Jobs are readily available in places like universities, colleges, banks, brokerage firms, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals and the government. Your earning potential will depend on the job you land, but salaries are pretty similar to jobs that favor applied mathematics.


This choice may seem like a contentious one, as no doubt there'll be a large segment of the population who'll say a degree isn't needed for an advertising or marketing job. But if you think about who'll be teaching you—professionals who have had years of experience—and the contacts you'll need to make to break into the industry, a four-year education is a pretty good bargain.

Add in a median salary of $107,950—a figure that's built on you're the networks you build and quality of work you amass—and a career in marketing or advertising will have your school loans paid off in an average of six years.