As a whole, the field of engineering is a well-paid occupation. The median annual salary for engineers of all disciplines is $92,220, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, not all engineering occupations are equally lucrative. There is a large salary difference between the lowest-paying of the major engineering disciplines, agricultural engineering, with its $74,780 median wage, and the highest-paying discipline, petroleum engineer, where the median salary is $132,280, the BLS reported. If you want to focus your education and career path on the most profitable branches of engineering, then you will need to choose an occupation like petroleum, computer hardware, aerospace, nuclear or electronics engineer.
The highest paying engineering role is that of petroleum engineer. This type of engineer is concerned with the drilling of wells and extraction of oil and natural gas resources. A bachelor’s degree program in petroleum engineering will cover coursework in subjects such as geological formations, reservoir engineering, fluid behavior, risk analysis, drilling fluids and planning and building oil wells.
The most lucrative industries for petroleum engineers include management of companies, with a median wage of $167,950; engineering services, where the median salary is $135,780; and oil and gas extraction, which pays a $134,960 median wage. Even industries where the median salary is lower, like petroleum and coal products manufacturing and support activities for mining, pay six-figure wages.
The top earning petroleum engineers – those in the 90th percentile – earn more than $208,000 per year, according to the BLS.
Computer Hardware Engineer
Computer hardware engineers earn a median wage of $115,120, the BLS reported. Students who major in computer hardware engineering typically study topics like computer and digital systems design, computer networks, issues in computing, programming, software systems design and microprocessors.
The most lucrative computer hardware engineering jobs are in the fields of semiconductor manufacturing, which pays a median salary of $130,150; research and development, where the median wage is $126,670; and computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, with a median salary of $122,060.
Computer hardware engineers also have some of the highest starting salaries, with a median entry-level salary of $72,030 per year.
Aerospace engineers, who design and develop aircraft and spacecraft, earn a high median wage of $113,030. A bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering will provide studies in the most important principles of designing air and space vessels, including aerodynamics, propulsion, dynamics and control, structures and engineering materials.
The top earning industries for aerospace engineers include research and development, with a median wage of $120,170, and the federal government, where the median salary is $117,700. Aerospace engineers in navigational and control instruments manufacturing, aerospace parts manufacturing and general engineering services also earn six-figure median wages, the BLS reported.
Aerospace engineers with an advanced degree and plenty of experience may have the privilege of exploring space in the role of astronauts, the BLS reported.
Nuclear engineers work to devise ways to safely and efficiently harness the benefits of nuclear energy. Nuclear engineers earn a median wage of $105,810, according to the BLS. An undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering usually includes coursework in nuclear materials, nuclear reactions and radiation, fusion power engineering, nuclear reactor theory and design, radiological and biophysics, radioactive waste management and medical imaging.
Again, jobs in scientific research and development are some of the best paying, with nuclear engineers in this field earning a median wage of $118,270. Nuclear engineers in engineering services and electric power generation also enjoy a six-figure median salary, while those working for the federal government make a median wage of $93,510 and those in manufacturing earn a $91,980 median salary.
This specialized engineering occupation is relatively small, with just 17,700 nuclear engineers currently working in the U.S. and the BLS expecting just 700 new jobs to be added over 10 years.
For electronics engineers, whether you specialize in computers affects your pay by thousands of dollars per year. Electronics engineers in industries other than computers earn a median wage of $102,180, the BLS reported, while the overall median wage for electrical and electronics engineers is $97,970.
Electronics engineers in research and development can earn a median salary of $110,150. Other industries employing electronics engineers, like semiconductor manufacturing, navigational and control instruments manufacturing, electric power generation and engineering services, have median wages in the low to high $90,000 range.
Subjects of study for electronics engineering majors include direct and alternating circuits and design, digital circuits, programming and random signal analysis, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Leadership roles in any discipline of engineering can be profitable. The median pay for architectural and engineering managers is $137,720, the BLS reported. Management roles in scientific research and development services tend to pay the most, with a median salary of $159,400, while those in government entities have some of the lowest salaries, with a median wage of $128,450.
Aspiring engineering managers can benefit from earning a master’s degree in engineering management (MEM), technology management (MSTM) or business administration (MBA).