This year's list of the top 10 highest-paying college majors includes some that may not be widely recognized.

Jackson Gruver, a data analyst at Payscale, emphasizes the critical role of choosing a major in determining a graduate's skillset and job prospects, stating, "Even more so than the school itself, choosing a major is key in determining what skills a graduate can perform out of school, and what types of professions they’re qualified for."

Gruver also points out, "Ultimately, the degree you decide to pursue could have a significant impact on your lifetime earning potential."

Although students pursuing majors in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (collectively referred to as STEM disciplines) are projected to have the highest overall earning potential, Payscale's college salary report for 2023 reveals that petroleum engineering currently holds the top position as the highest-paying bachelor's degree.

Graduates in this field can earn nearly six figures right out of college and surpass $200,000 in earnings with 10 or more years of experience. Following petroleum engineering, the next highest-paying majors are operations research, industrial engineering, interaction design, applied economics and management, and building science.

Gruver from Payscale notes, "STEM degrees dominate the rankings for highest-paying majors, and STEM careers continue to offer highly competitive salaries in the job market." He adds that these in-demand positions rely on specialized skill sets that are in short supply, which drives up both the demand for these workers and their salaries.

Payscale's college salary report is based on salary data from nearly 3.5 million alumni nationwide.

Determining the 'real return' on your academic investment is crucial. Robert Franek, editor in chief of The Princeton Review, acknowledges that not every student knows their major when applying to college. However, he advises students to consider their field of study before taking on student loans.

"As a general rule, students should not accumulate more debt than what they expect to earn in their first year after graduation," Franek suggests. This approach encourages a thoughtful consideration of the actual return on their academic investment.

Even as college application season is in full swing, many families are still questioning the value of a four-year degree. Some experts argue that the value of a bachelor's degree is diminishing and advocate for greater emphasis on career training. Many companies, particularly in the tech sector, are eliminating degree requirements for various middle- and higher-skill roles.

Nonetheless, earning a degree typically pays off, according to "The College Payoff," a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Completing college sets workers on a path to earn a median of $2.8 million over their lifetimes, compared to $1.6 million for those with only a high school diploma."