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

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

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Your salary vs the rest of the world

Shocking number of engineering dropouts at SA universities

SA needs more engineers: Minister

BusinessTech's Staff Writer is directly plugged into the South African Internet backbone, and spits out press releases and other news as they receive it. They are believed to be cl...
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  • Douglas

    Higher national diplomas in engineering (T4) were phased out about 20 years ago. The National Diploma was then academically upgraded to equal the former HND, although the period of experiential training was reduced to one year. These are excellent qualifications as they are academically of a high standard and have a practical component.

  • Skerminkel

    The correct term in South Africa is “Professional Engineer” and the abbreviation is Pr Eng. “Licences” and “Certificates” are mostly British terms and were never used here.
    It is also very strange that medical professionals and lawyers do not feature on the list.

    • iandoug

      Not to mention stock brokers, or people running running supermarkets….

      • Skerminkel

        But there are no specific degrees in stock broking and supermarket running running.

        • Chez

          It’s name is slightly different: CFA/B Comm (Financial Analysis) – only at UCT/Stellies

  • Arthur

    They missed out finance gurus and asset management. They earn more than engineers. And accountants. And politicians.

  • HairyBear

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

    Easy, qualify as a ‘30%’er and ‘work’ for the ANC government.

    • Jimmy

      You are stupid.

      • Hubert Gainsford

        And you have no sense, of humour!

    • Lu Hawk

      Hahaaaa! True

  • That Guy Jon

    I need to get my Pr. Eng damnit… so much work though!

    • Skerminkel

      Stick butt to chair and just get it done!

  • Tom Ford

    Wonder how a Bachelor of Business Science degree compares. They don’t have that qualification on Payscale. Bet Portfolio Managers and the like with this qualification compete or probably get more than engineers.

  • RSF

    Wonder what happened to Medicine and Veterinary Science? Odd that there are no Legal entries on the list as well.

  • Lance Smit

    They did not include the “anything in SA government Sector”

    Where what you earn does not necessarily mean that’s all you get 🙂

  • Hendrik

    What a gorgeous load of bull….. in South Africa you will not have work if you are not BEE… I have a masters in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Environmental Management with more than 15 years experience and cannot find work for 4 years now. “We would absolutely love you use you – your CV is absolutely brilliant – , but we are forced to go for BEE…”. No, I am NOT a racists. I love my coloured friends: we eat, “kuier” and pray together. But let’s start to call rasism what it is. If I cannot get something purely because of my colour (white in this instance), then it is racism!!!! So, yes, get the degree you want and get out of the country….. then this US data will be true. Enjoy!

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