College is a major investment that will likely leave you with student debt. As of 2016, the average annual cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a public college was $16,757, and $43,065 at private colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If you want to be able to pay off student loans after graduation, pick a major that will give you the best return on investment.
Sourcing data from PayScale’s Best Value Colleges by Major report, GOBankingRates compiled a list of 13 majors and ranked them by the highest return on investment — which varies depending on the college or university. The study also includes the four-year university costs, the average loan amount and the top three colleges with the best return on investment for each major.
Majors With the Best Return on Investment
Even at some of the most expensive colleges, earning a degree in the right major can pay off your tuition — and more. The majors with the highest return on investment netted a 20-year ROI of over $1 million from the top colleges.
Click through to find out which majors provide the biggest returns.
Computer Science and Math
Computer science and math majors will learn the necessary skills to fill the plethora of high-paying tech jobs that are now available. There’s a shortage of employees who can invent, code and develop new technology, and computer science and math majors can cash in on that scarcity.
Best Colleges for Computer Science and Math Majors
- Stanford University: $1,452,000 ROI
- University of California-Berkeley: $1,264,00 ROI
- Yale University: $1,250,00 ROI
A degree in computer science or math can really pay off — to the tune of a $1.45 million for those who major in those topics at Stanford. If you choose this as your major, perhaps the university’s high four-year cost of $255,000 is worth it.
Economics majors learn skills that have real-world applications to the business world, including statistics, critical thinking and finance. Their analytical, quantitative, writing and thinking skills are sought out by employers in a range of businesses.
Best Colleges for Economics Majors
- Harvard University: $1,330,000 ROI
- Washington and Lee University: $1,135,000 ROI
- Stanford University: $1,100,000 ROI
Earning a four-year economics degree at Harvard doesn’t come cheap — it costs a whopping $254,000. However, the 20-year ROI for economics majors who graduate from the Ivy League school is $1.33 million, making it the best ROI college for this major.
The classes a business major takes could include accounting, marketing and finance. Although the skills learned can be broadly applied, the ROI you’ll get with this major really depends on your school, according to PayScale.
Best Colleges for Business Majors
- University of California-Berkeley: $1,194,00 ROI
- University of Virginia-Main Campus: $947,000 ROI
- Emory University: $887,000 ROI
The average student loan amount at UC Berkeley is $23,900, which is actually less than the average taken out by students at UVA and Emory. However, the ROI at the California state school is the highest of the bunch for business majors. Business alums of the school net an average of $1.19 million in 20 years.
Engineering uses scientific and mathematical principles to determine the best possible outcomes in real-life situations. The versatile skills learned by an engineering major have significant value in the real world. In fact, engineering is one of the hottest, highest-paying STEM careers.
Best Colleges for Engineering Majors
- University of California-Berkeley: $1,188,000 ROI
- Lamar University: $1,082,000 ROI
- McNeese State University: $1,066,000 ROI
With a four-year cost of $139,000, UC Berkeley is the most expensive of the top colleges for engineering majors. However, the 20-year net ROI for engineering majors who graduate from the school is the highest, at just under $1.19 million.
Political science majors can use their knowledge to enter a number of high-paying careers, including public officers, lobbyists, lawyers, journalists or political scientists. It’s important to note that your ROI will depend largely on the career you choose, and not just what school you graduate from.
Best Colleges for Political Science Majors
- Dartmouth College: $1,052,000 ROI
- University of Washington-Seattle Campus: $910,000 ROI
- Harvard University: $835,000 ROI
It costs $265,000 to attend Dartmouth for a four-year political science degree — which is more than the cost to attend Harvard. However, the payoff can be great. The 20-year net ROI for poli-sci majors who graduate from the Ivy League school is $1.05 million.
Nursing is a good choice of major for those who want to work in the healthcare field. Nurses enjoy a high level of job security, plus high salaries. Even more nursing jobs will become available as the baby boomer generation enters retirement.
Best Colleges for Nursing Majors
- California State University-Dominguez Hills: $1,009,000 ROI
- California State University-Sacramento: $1,008,000 ROI
- California State University-East Bay: $946,000 ROI
All of the best value schools for nursing majors are California state schools — which is likely due to the fact that California is one of the states with the highest nurse salaries — with CSU Dominguez Hills taking the top spot. A four-year nursing degree at the school costs $90,000, and the 20-year net ROI for these majors is $1.01 million.
Majors With the Worst Return on Investment
Even at some of the best colleges — both in terms of value and ranking — some majors simply do not have a good return on investment. Think twice before choosing one of these degrees.
Science majors can specialize in chemistry, physics, meteorology, geology, ecology, neurology or biology, depending on their interests. These degrees can lead to careers in medicine or research and development, among other STEM jobs. Although some science disciplines lead to higher-paying careers than others, overall the ROI is on the lower end.
Best Colleges for Science Majors
- Harvey Mudd College: $814,000 ROI
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $799,000 ROI
- Princeton University: $754,000 ROI
Harvey Mudd is the most expensive of the three best colleges for science majors, with a four-year cost of $272,000. But you do get the best ROI there, with science alums earning a 20-year net return of $814,000.
Humanities majors study English, literature, history, foreign languages, philosophy and other related subjects. There’s no set career path for a humanities major, so your ROI will largely depend on what you do after you get your degree.
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Best Colleges for Humanities Majors
- Yale University: $701,000 ROI
- Princeton University: $633,000 ROI
- University of Pennsylvania: $594,000 ROI
All three of the top-value schools for humanities majors are in the Ivy League, but Yale takes the top spot. Even so, the 20-year net ROI of $701,000 is low compared to the ROI with other majors.
A bachelor’s degree in psychology can lead to a job as a research associate, data analyst or a care facility worker. It can also be the first step toward becoming a counselor or psychologist, though these jobs require an advanced degree.
Best Colleges for Psychology Majors
- Harvard University: $660,000 ROI
- Stanford University: $612,000 ROI
- Brown University: $579,000 ROI
Once again, all three of the top value schools for this major are in the Ivy League. Harvard provides the greatest return on investment for psychology majors, with a 20-year net ROI of $660,000.
Social Work and Criminal Justice
Social workers and criminal justice majors usually work with prison inmates, ex-offenders or people identified for prevention or intervention programs. They can provide rehabilitation services or support to family members, as well as enter jobs as parole officers, mitigation or arbitration specialists, transitional case managers or conflict mediators.
Best Colleges for Social Work and Criminal Justice Majors
- Duke University: $596,000 ROI
- Oklahoma State University-Main Campus: $503,000 ROI
- California State University-East Bay: $400,000 ROI
Duke University, another one of the most beautiful colleges in America, is by far the most expensive of the top three schools for these majors — four-year tuition costs $262,000, compared to $89,000 at Oklahoma State and $93,500 at CSU East Bay. And the 20-year net ROI is only slightly higher: $596,000 compared to $503,000 and $400,000, respectively.
Philosophy and Religious Studies
Philosophy majors ruminate on questions of being, knowledge and action, while religion majors study religious texts, beliefs, doctrines, practices and world views. These majors can be invaluable for the mind, but they don’t necessarily lead to large paychecks.
Best Colleges for Philosophy and Religious Studies Majors
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: $364,000 ROI
- University of California-Berkeley: $362,000 ROI
- University of Washington-Seattle Campus: $348,000 ROI
Compared to the other top schools for these majors, University of Wisconsin-Madison has the lowest four-year cost — $98,200 — but the highest average loan amount — $30,300. The 20-year net ROI is low for this major across the board: $364,000 for University of Wisconsin graduates, $362,000 for UC Berkeley graduates and $348,000 for University of Washington graduates.
If you love working with children and teaching others, an education major might be a good fit for you. However, you’re unlikely to make a large salary when you graduate with this concentration as it’s the major with the lowest ROI.
Best Colleges for Education Majors
- Southern Illinois University-Carbondale: $196,000 ROI
- California State University-Chico: $161,000 ROI
- University of Wisconsin-Stout: $152,000 ROI
Across the board at these top schools for education majors, the 20-year net ROI is under $200,000. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale comes out on top, with an ROI of $196,000.
Click through to read about higher-paying jobs you can get without a four-year degree.
More on Colleges
- These Are the Best Colleges You Can Attend for Under $20K a Year
- Ideal Salary You Need to Afford College in Your State — Without Loans
- How Much It Costs to Raise an Ivy-League Kid
- Watch: 3 Things I Wish I Knew About Money in My College Years
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Methodology: GOBankingRates cited data from PayScale in order to determine the best value colleges by 13 majors. GOBankingRates looked at the four-year university costs, the 20-year net ROI for alumni who graduated from that school with that given major, and the average loan amount, in order to determine the top three colleges that will give you the best return on on investment for the 13 selected majors.