When you’re researching engineering careers, there’s a good chance you look at salary potential. Often, salary potential is communicated using a number such as the median or average salary. However, two people with the same degree and job can receive quite different salaries. This fact is especially true in certain occupations, including some disciplines of engineering.

Factors That Lead to Different Pay for the Same Degree

There are many factors that result in this difference in salary that you will want to keep in mind as you advance in your career. One obvious factor would be your amount of work experience. Typically, the longer you are with an employer, the more money you will make through raises rewarding you for your performance and loyalty to the company. Advanced education and professional certifications can also help boost your earning potential.

There are also some less obvious factors that may surprise you. Even if the job title is similar, the specific employer you work for can affect your earning potential. Typically, government jobs pay better, and depending on the job, the difference can be substantial. Another factor to consider is the geographical location of your job. Different states and even regions within a state can have different earning potential. Some reasons for these differences include cost of living and demand for the job in that area.

What Engineering Degrees See the Largest Wage Differences


While location and employer can affect salary in the engineering field, education is the biggest factor for wage differences. Typically, the higher your education, the higher your earning potential is for this field. Luckily, many engineering jobs don’t have that large of a wage difference, but two areas of engineering do stand out. Petroleum engineers and mining and geological engineers see the most significant differences between the highest paid and lowest paid workers.

Sometimes occupations have similar descriptions, but the required tasks are different, which can also lead to a large difference in wages.

What Does the Wage Difference Mean?

Wage differences are based on salary percentiles. To come up with the wage difference, one takes the 90th percentile and subtracts the 10th percentile from it. The 90th percentile is where 90 percent of workers made less, while 10 percent made more. The 10th percentile is the exact opposite of that, where only 10 percent of workers made less and 90 percent made more. For example, if the 90th percentile salary was $150,000 and the 10th percentile was only $40,000, then the wage difference would be very large at $110,000.

Another measure of wages you might see when looking at salary data is the 50th percentile. The 50th percentile is the same as the median. At the 50th percentile, half of workers made more money and half made less, putting this measurement right in the middle. The median salary is useful as a way to understand how much an occupation pays. Median salary data is less likely to be thrown off by particularly high or low salaries than measurements like the mean or average salary.

With regards to attaining a higher salary, you want to be above the 50th percentile and as close as you can get to the 90th percentile.

Wage Differences for Petroleum Engineers

 Petroleum engineers work with the fuel industry to evaluate oil and gas reservoirs, inspect drilling activities, come up with and put into action recovery schemes and even create collection and treatment facilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for petroleum engineers is $132,280. This figure is significantly higher than the $92,220 median for all engineering occupations and more than three and a half times the $37,690 median wage for all occupations.

However, because there’s such a large gap between the salaries of the highest paid petroleum engineers and that of the lowest paid ones, the median wage doesn’t tell the whole story. At the most lucrative end of the spectrum are petroleum engineers who work in management positions and enjoy a median wage of $167,950. On the other hand, those who work with mining have a comparably low median of $110,280. Overall, the wage difference between the highest paid and lowest paid petroleum engineers is a surprising $113,280.

Petroleum engineers in the 10th percentile only earn $73,990, while those in the 90th percentile make more than $187,200.

 Salary Difference Among Mining Engineers

 Mining and geological engineers work to safely and efficiently remove minerals from the earth by designing effective mines and making sure the mines are both safe and environmentally sound. Mining engineers often specialize in a specific metal or mineral, such as gold or coal. They develop plans for mines that would be best at extracting that specific metal or mineral. Geological engineers, on the other hand, don’t often specialize. Instead, they focus on finding mineral deposits and evaluating potential sites for mines.

According to the BLS, mining and geological engineers enjoy a median salary of $94,240. That’s comparable to – but slightly above – the $92,220 median for all engineers and well above the $37,690 median wage for all occupations. However, though the overall median salary for this occupation may be on par with that of all engineers, the discrepancy between the highest and lowest paid workers in this discipline of engineering is striking. Mining and geological engineers in the 10th percentile earn a median wage of only $52,780, while those in the 90th percentile enjoy a median salary of $106,230. All told, the wage difference for mining and geological engineers is $106,230. In this discipline, industry of employment plays a big role in salary potential. The median salary for engineers in the coal mining field is just $83,820, compared to a $122,030 median salary for engineers who go into oil and gas extraction.

All occupations have wage gaps to some degree, so while other engineering fields do have wage gaps as well, the gaps aren’t as wide as the fields of petroleum and mining and geological suffer from.