If you enjoy math and science, engineering and technology, you’ll love our list of the most sought-after degrees for 2020 and 2021. It’s very STEM-heavy, with a majority focused on engineering, health and medical, science, analysis, and computer technology.
Passion vs. Pay
When searching for one of the good degrees to get, it’s important to not overlook your skills, desires, and interests. After all, spending 8+ hours a day (or about 90,000 hours over a lifetime) at a job you don’t like isn’t worth it — no matter how much it pads your bank account. So take a look at the college majors we’ve provided. If you don’t see anything that gets your heart pumping, don’t get discouraged. This list only touches the surface of highly ranked degrees.
Best Degrees to Get
Under each major, we’ve randomly selected three colleges, universities, or technical schools — in no particular order — that offer a bachelor’s. (This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive; it’s only a small tip of the iceberg of the available schools.) When searching for the right fit, be sure to take into consideration factors such as tuition (will you need to take out loans or can you afford per semester costs?), size of campus (large, small, commuter), teacher-to-student ratio (do you prefer more hands-on training?), and where the school is located (in-state or out-of-state, region or city may effect where you decide to go and the associated costs).
Check out the 25 top majors below. We ranked them based on annual salary (highest is best) and they’re prominence across seven “best degrees to get” sites (the most is best).
1. Petroleum Engineering (178 points)
With the global reliance on oil and gas for everything from plastics to tires, petroleum engineers stay busy keeping the supply of energy churning by finding, recovering, and maintaining the planet’s reservoirs. Though it’s the highest paid career on the list, petroleum engineering is also high risk — at the mercy of a competitive field, roller coaster oil prices, (which can slow or limit job openings), and niche areas of the country (Texas accounts for about 50% of the positions). But with an increase in Baby Boomers cycling out of the profession, job prospects are expected to rise over the next decade, making this one of the best degrees in 2021.
- Average Annual Salary: $139,000
- Schools: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Colorado School of Mines, Stanford University
2. Engineering (167 points)
If an engineering career in software systems, flight, computer hardware, sales, or health and safety (or a multitude of other options) is appealing, a bachelor’s in engineering may be the ticket. Students typically get a broad understanding of the subject with courses that include high-level math, physics, statistics, chemistry, and economics, along with elective options such as business law, computer science, supply chain management, sales, packaging, medicine, or media arts.
- Average Annual Salary: $129,000
- Schools: Texas A&M University, Michigan State University, Drexel University
3. Electrical Engineering (164 points)
In our high tech world, it’s no surprise that electrical engineering is one of the best degrees in 2020 — and the most lucrative. From being an airline pilot or toy designer to robotics technologists or technical writer, there are multiple ways to design, maintain, or improve electrical-powered or produced products. In pursuit of a bachelor’s, electrical engineering majors take courses that are heavy in math and science — such as calculus, physics, chemistry, electrical circuits — along with computer science, digital networks, data structures, photonics, and biophysics.
- Average Annual Salary: $127,000
- Schools: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Michigan
4. Chemistry (162 points)
Synthetic fibers, drugs, cosmetics, plastics, fertilizers, flavors, batteries, and cleaners (among thousands of other products) were discovered and developed by chemists. An interest in how properties change when they interact — and the more than 150,000 chemistry jobs posted each year — makes this a good degree to get. Chemistry majors go on to pursue careers as air pollution monitors, brewmasters, clinical data analysts, teachers, or crime lab assistants.
- Average Annual Salary: $126,000
- Schools: University of Wisconsin, Northeastern University, College of the Holy Cross
5. Chemical Engineering (161 points)
After a chemist develops processes, chemical engineers scale those processes up to be mass produced. With demand for emerging technologies in various manufacturing industries on the rise, jobs for chemical engineers are expected to grow along with it — about 4% through 2029. Students seeking a bachelor’s will delve into organic, physical, and inorganic chemistry, computer science, physics, engineering mechanics, and circuit analysis courses to land jobs in the government, biotech, energy and fuels, design and construction, or a variety of advanced materials industries.
- Average Annual Salary: $126,000
- Schools: Elon University, Rice University, United States Military Academy at West Point
6. Software Engineering (157 points)
Software engineering jobs are in high demand and expected to grow another 22% over the next 10 years — reaching almost 1.7 million available positions. Why? Everything’s digital, code expires as new languages are developed, the gaming industry continues to expand, and employers want a workforce that can keep them relevant. Software engineering majors typically have a heavy course load in programming and tech, as well as science and math, with elective options like music programming, graphic design, artificial intelligence, and language translation.
- Average Annual Salary: $123,000
- Schools: Wellesley College, California Polytechnic State University, Davenport University
7. Physics (153 points)
If a job as a nanotechnologist, research scientist, astronomer, patent agent, or a long list of other opportunities in the federal government or private sector sounds appealing, then a bachelor’s in physics might be a good degree to get. More than 88,000 positions for physicists are posted annually and are projected to rise by 16%. This lucrative career attracts those interested in the interaction between energy and matter — conducting research, developing theories using observation and experiments, or analyzing data.
- Average Annual Salary: $121,000
- Schools: University of Arizona, North Dakota State University, City University of New York Hunger College
8. Mathematics (146 points)
Like crunching numbers, analyzing, and finding solutions? Then a bachelor’s in mathematics may be a good degree to get. It’s estimated that approximately 40% of math majors have at least one job offer by the time they graduate in professions like data, intelligence, or investment analytics, economics, accounting, cybersecurity, teaching, software engineering, or many of the other careers on this top 25 list.
- Average Annual Salary: $123,000
- Schools: University of Chicago, Duke University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
9. Computer Science (137 points)
Much like software engineering, computer science is one of the best degrees in 2020, with almost two-thirds of graduates being offered employment before their diploma is in hand. Although software engineers can find jobs in software development and vice versa, typically computer science majors focus on how to apply programs to compute and analyze, while software engineering majors actually create the computer software.
- Average Annual Salary: $106,000
- Schools: Harvey Mudd College, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley
10. Medical and Health Services Management (131 points)
With a medical and health services management degree, students can pursue careers overseeing the finances, personnel, policies, and daily operations of a hospital, clinic, private practice, assisted living facility, health insurance company, or other public health or government organization. Courses for a bachelor’s include accounting, statistics, economics, interpersonal communications, health science terminology, business policy, human resources and management, and ethics.
- Average Annual Salary: $101,000
- Schools: University of Minnesota, Saint Francis University, Mercy College
11. Nuclear Engineering (120 points)
Although recognized as a clean source of energy (with zero emissions), nuclear energy is still under debate as to whether it’s renewable. But one thing is for sure, nuclear engineering jobs could boom in the next decade. With increased developments and improvements in medicine, diagnostic imaging, cancer treatments, and nuclear power, a nuclear engineering bachelor’s is one of the best degrees in 2021. An in-depth understanding of nuclear physics, nuclear chemistry, math, CAD, production and processing, building and construction, and public safety are typically required.
12. Economics (117 points)
One of the best degrees in 2020 and beyond is economics. Though many economic majors land government jobs, there are also those who become market research analysts, compensation and benefits managers, business reporters, or other lucrative positions that require gathering, organizing, and interpreting data. Students in the program can expect to take math, statistics, finance, international trade, and several micro- and macroeconomic courses to complete their bachelor’s.
13. Industrial Engineering (101 points)
Industrial engineers are the backbone of manufacturing — developers of efficient, safe systems that combine people, machines, materials, and information to create or improve a product or service. Although there’s some debate as to whether jobs will slow, increase, or always be in demand, industrial engineering majors are scooped up as business analysts, furniture designers, quality control specialists, maintenance managers, and energy auditors. And with changes in how healthcare is delivered, prospects in professional, scientific, and consulting services are plentiful.
- Average Annual Salary: $75,000
- Schools: Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Clemson University
14. Biomedical Engineering (99 points)
Artificial organs, surgical robots, kidney dialysis, prosthetics, and new pharmaceutical drugs are all the brainchild of biomedical engineers. And with an aging population, the increased need for advancements in medical technology makes a biomedical engineering bachelor’s one of the best degrees to get. Students majoring in BioMed will find jobs as technicians, imaging professionals, researchers, biomechanics, material scientists, physiologists, among many others.
- Average Annual Salary: $74,000
- Schools: Harvard University, Union College-New York, Vanderbilt University
15. Mechanical Engineering (97 points)
Love to tinker on motors to see how they work? Or build contraptions that make a chore a little easier? Then majoring in mechanical engineering may be a great degree to get. Everything from engines, automobiles, and HVAC systems to elevators, medical devices, and escalators are researched, designed, developed, built, and tested by mechanical engineers. By studying thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and integrated design, those pursuing a bachelor’s degree typically have an 85% chance of finding a full-time job when they graduate.
- Average Annual Salary: $73,000
- Schools: Michigan Technological University, Missouri University, Clarkson University
16. Nursing (94 points)
With an aging population, a significant segment of the RN (Registered Nurse) workforce retiring, and fewer students enrolling, the need for nurses is in high demand — and showing no signs of slowing down (almost 222,000 jobs are expected to be added over the next 10 years). Students can pursue a bachelor’s or associates to become an RN and have the skills to administer and monitor patient medications, develop a care plan, supervise LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurse), and maintain documents. To become an LPN all that’s required is a diploma and license to measure vital signs, collect specimens, monitor IVs, and perform physical assessments.
- Average Annual Salary: $71,000
- Schools: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Walla Walla University, Good Samaritan College of Nursing and Health Science
17. Biology (93 points)
Biology majors can find jobs as lab techs, research assistants, genetic counselors, medical or environmental scientists, or health educators, honing their studies of humans, animals, plants, or bacteria, and how they work and are influenced by external factors. Courses in organic chemistry, math, physiology, and several diverse biology classes typically make up a four-year degree.
18. Finance (91 points)
With a growing number of the population reaching retirement age, the demand for individuals who can acquire, spend, and manage money and other financial assets is also on the rise. Over the next decade, finance graduates will see an 11-15% increase in job opportunities in areas like investment banking, real estate, financial planning, and accounting.
- Average Annual Salary: $70,000
- Schools: Bentley University, Georgetown University, Lehigh University
19. Civil Engineering (90 points)
As long as the population continues to grow and out-of-date infrastructure in the public and private sector needs to be repaired, redesigned, and rebuilt, civil engineering will be one of the best degrees to get. With a bachelor’s degree, graduates can take many paths in their career, including positions as a structural engineer, construction manager, consultant, public works supervisor, building inspector, or cost estimator.
- Average Annual Salary: $70,000
- Schools: Stevens Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
20. Dental Hygienist (88 points)
Performing pre-prep for a dentist, a dental hygienist cleans, whitens, and seals teeth, as well as takes x-rays, treats gum disease, and provides preventive care. An associate’s degree and license is all that’s required to work in a private practice, but with a bachelor’s, a dental hygienist graduate may have greater autonomy and can pursue a master’s to teach or do research. As the population ages, the demand for dental hygienist will grow — an anticipated 11% through 2028, making this one of the best degrees to get in 2021.
- Average Annual Salary: $69,000
- Schools: San Joaquin Valley College-Bakersfield, The Ohio State University, Creighton University
21. Political Science (86 points)
In an election year, a political science bachelor’s can seem like an obvious choice for one of the good degrees to get. But policy analysts, legislative assistants, public relations specialists, political consultants, intelligence analysts, and public administrators are just a few of the professions you can get with a poli sci degree during any season. In fact, almost 39% of political science graduates are offered a position before they finish their degree. Students pursuing a bachelor’s get a broad understanding of government and politics, including courses in history, law, foreign policy and relations, theory, and communications.
- Average Annual Salary: $68,000
- Schools: Houston Baptist University, Washington University in St. Louis, Bowdoin College
22. Physical/Occupational Therapy (85 points)
Although physical and occupational therapy are similar in tasks, goals, and overall purpose (enhancing quality of life), they are distinctly different in how they treat their patients. Physical therapists may use a variety of exercises, stretches, or other movements to improve mobility or function of a specific area (for example, knee replacement surgery). On the other hand, an occupational therapist is focused more on improving daily activities and providing an optimal environment (for example, installing a grab bar in a recovering stroke patient’s shower). Both provide entry-level positions with a bachelor’s, but require a master’s degree and certificate to practice.
- Average Annual Salary: $68,000
- Schools: Oakland University, Shenandoah University, University of Utah
23. Management Analyst (83 points)
In the fast-paced business world, many in the C suite don’t have the time or resources to review their operational structure to create more value, maximize growth, and improve performance. That’s where a management analyst comes in. They study current conditions, design new, more efficient systems and procedures, than assist management in implementing them. The need for these consultants is projected to rise, opening up almost 94,000 job opportunities in the next decade.
- Average Annual Salary: $67,000
- Schools: University of Pennsylvania, San Jose State University, University of Texas-Austin
24. Architectural Engineering (80 points)
When people are asked to name a famous architect, they may mention Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry, but few can name any well-known architectural (or structural) engineers (examples: Gustave Eiffel for the Eiffel Tower and David B. Steinman for the Mackinac Bridge). The reason may be attributed to what the eye can see — architects focus more on the aesthetics, whereas architectural engineers work more behind the scenes, ensuring the design is structurally sound. In 2019, there were almost 200,000 architectural engineering jobs in the US. By 2029, that number is expected to go up 3%.
- Average Annual Salary: $65,000
- Schools: University of Miami, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Auburn University
25. Business Management (77 points)
With a bachelor’s in business management, students will learn a broad range of skills — from accounting and business analytics to marketing and business law — to prepare them for a leadership role in a variety of industries. The most in-demand jobs now (and the almost 750,000 projected future ones) for one of the best degrees in 2020 are business analyst, account manager, financial analyst, marketing manager, and sales rep.
- Average Annual Salary: $63,000
- Schools: Babson College, College of William and Mary, Pepperdine University
Our Ranking Methodology
First, we compiled the top 40 sought after majors from seven sources and ranked them based on the number of times they were listed. Then we researched the average salary for each (based on a bachelor’s degree) and assigned them a rank. We added the two rankings together to get a final score, then listed the top 25, along with three randomly selected colleges, universities, or technical schools that offered a bachelor’s degree in that field.
Have Problems With Your Ranking?
If you’re employed by one of the schools listed and disagree with the information we’ve provided, please feel free to contact us and we’ll make the correction.