7 Majors That Can Put You in the Top 1% of Earners

Ever wonder what the wealthiest Americans studied in college? Some of the answers may surprise you!

By Greg Scott Neuman
Posted 2012

Top 1% of Earners Majors
Top 1% of Earners Majors

When you think about the top 1% of earners, chances are you picture people like Donald Trump and Bill Gates – business and technology entrepreneurs worth billions. But this group, which by definition includes all Americans who earn $380,000 or more annually, actually includes people from a wide variety of fields. They have backgrounds in everything from accounting to zoology.

So what did the top 1% study in college? Some majored in just what you’d expect: business, engineering, medicine. But others have degrees in fields less often associated with the wealthy, including:

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1) Economics. Generally considered a business specialty for the academically inclined, 8.2% of those who hold a business economics degree make it into the top 1% of earners.* A concentration in this field prepares you to study issues and analyze data that impacts the business world, including currency values, cycles of growth and recession, employment levels, monetary inflation and taxation rates. Earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Business Economics or similar degree to get started in economics.

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2) Political science. Political science is often the undergraduate major for those preparing to run for political office or intending to study law. 6.2% of political science bachelor’s degree holders become top earners.* Such programs educate you on a variety of subjects critical to the functioning of government: civics, history, law, politics and much more. To enter the field of political science, earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Political Science and Public Administration or equivalent degree.

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3) Art history. As unexpected as it may seem, 5.9% of those who hold art history undergraduate degrees enter the top 1%.* Studying this major can give you expertise in the historical development of art and how it relates to stylistic contexts such as design, format, genre and style. To enter this field, earn a BA in Art History or similar degree.

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4) Finance. 4.8% of those who earn undergraduate finance degrees achieve top earner status.* Professionals in this field can enter a variety of business careers that involve handling credit, investments, monetary transactions and much more. This includes financial examiners, one of the fastest-growing fields in the U.S. Getting started in this field generally requires a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) – Finance or equivalent degree.

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5) Religious studies. Another surprising major to see in this list is religious studies; 4.3% of those who earn undergraduate degrees in this field become top earners.* Earning a religious studies degree can give you an objective and thorough understanding of the world’s religions. In addition to studying specific faiths, students also gain knowledge about the nature of religion in general and its role in the life of individuals and societies. A BA in Religious Studies or equivalent degree is the starting point of professional practice in this field.

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6) Pharmacy. One of the highest-paying allied health fields, 3.9% of those who study pharmacy at the undergraduate level enter the top 1% of earners.* Such credentials prepare you for work in a pharmacy, dispensing critical medication prescribed to patients by their doctors. To become a licensed pharmacist, you must complete a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree program in addition to bachelor’s-level study.

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7) Accounting. 3.9% of those who earn undergraduate credentials in accounting become top earners.* Completing an accounting degree prepares you for work examining, analyzing, and interpreting accounting records to prepare financial statements. Giving accounting advice, and auditing and evaluating statements prepared by others, is often part of working in this field as well. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree, you must also pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam to become a licensed accountant.

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It is important to note that the median salary of these fields, though higher than what you would earn at most jobs, will not place you in the top 1% of earners. Professionals who achieve such status generally spend decades gaining expertise and achieving recognition before their income rises to that level. Still, the statistics plainly show that it is possible to become a top earner with any of these degrees.

* U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey

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