The best degrees in South Africa if you want to make the most money

With school leavers flocking to universities across South Africa to further their education, many would have had long discussions about which is the best degree to study to maximize their earning potential.

Career and job information platform, PayScale has compiled a list of bachelor degrees which have the highest earning potential– and simply put: if you want earn a lot of money, become and engineer.

While choosing a career path based on salary alone isn’t always the best option, with the cost of university in mind – and the fact that many will spend much time paying back student loans – it is an important factor.

The group’s findings were that degrees in engineering, computer science and maths netted the highest earnings – up to $168,000 (R2.7 million) per year with 10 year’s experience, or up to $101,000 (R1.7 million) just starting out for highly qualified engineers.

This was followed by degrees in science (particularly chemistry and biomedical) and business (finance and economics).

PayScale’s top 10 Bachelor’s degrees, based on earning potential

  1. Petroleum Engineering
  2. Nuclear Engineering
  3. Actuarial Mathematics
  4. Chemical Engineering
  5. Electronic and Communications Engineering
  6. Computer Science and Engineering
  7. Electrical and Computer Engineering
  8. Systems Engineering
  9. Aeronautical Engineering
  10. Mining Engineering

Top sectors, according to top 100 degrees:

  • Engineering (all types)
  • Mathematics
  • IT and technology
  • Science (Chemistry and Physics)
  • Finance and Economics
  • Business and Marketing

While PayScale’s data is focused primarily on the United States, the group has also data for South Africa.

The local available salary data from university graduates reflects the US report, with engineers also raking in the highest median salaries, overall.

Qualification (Across all careers) Median Salary
Professional Engineer License (P.Eng.) R602 157
Certified Professional Engineer (PE) R539 672
Chartered Accountant (CA) R544 385
Project Management Certificate R399 329
Business Analysis Certification R377 117
Engineer in Training (EIT) R305 576
BCom R244 860
Business Certificate R240 876
Higher National Diploma (HND) R214 374
Secondary Teacher Certification (Grade 9-12) R178 574

Looking specifically at engineering, it’s clear that median salaries far outweigh any other type of degree- and with good reason. South Africa desperately needs more engineers – and with an alarming number of students dropping out from the course, there is big demand.

Qualification (Engineering specific) Median Salary
Professional Engineer License (P.Eng.) R722 046
Project Management Professional (PMP) R660 000
Project Management Certificate R600 000
Certified Professional Engineer (PE) R588 114
Industrial Engineering Professional Skills Certification Certification R551 695
Higher National Diploma (HND), Civil Engineering R540 000
Mechanical Engineering Certification R415 884
Certified Chemical Engineer R360 000
Higher National Diploma (HND), Mechanical Engineering R312 623
Engineer in Training (EIT) R301 099

Salary data compiled by CareerJunction in 2015 again echoes the findings above.

The jobs platform found that those working in the engineering field were earning far higher than other sectors.

Other high-paying sectors included the ICT sector, finance sector and construction sector – fields which the aforementioned degrees will give access to.

It’s important to note that the numbers above represent the median salary, based on user-reported figures on PayScale.

Salaries will change massively based on experience and location.

According to PayScale’s data, university graduates with 20 years of experience or more are paid almost four times more than those starting out.


Other interesting information from the PayScale data is that Johannesburg offers the highest average salary for people with tertiary qualifications (R321,233).

This is followed by Sandton (R319,896), Centurion (R283,434) and Pretoria (R261,442).

Degree holders get paid an average of R257,374 in Cape Town; R242,424 in Durban; and R202,098 in Port Elizabeth.

More on salaries and qualifications

How inflation will kill your 2016 salary increase

Your salary vs the rest of the world

Shocking number of engineering dropouts at SA universities

SA needs more engineers: Minister

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