For college freshmen and sophomores, August means plenty of shopping for dorm room decor and overpriced textbooks. Juniors, however, have a much more crucial task at hand -- choosing a major.

And with studies showing that college degrees still hold their value, despite the economic downturn, choosing a major that yields the right post-graduate rewards is more important than ever.

According to a study published in the June issue of Research in Higher Education, majoring in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) proves to be the most profitable for minority students, whether they actually pursue the STEM field professionally or not.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, followed more than 1,000 Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino and black students over a period of nine years in an effort to determine the profitability of STEM degrees and help bridge the gap of minorities in those fields.

Among the students surveyed, those who majored in STEM subjects earn at least 25 percent more than their peers who majored in humanities or educational fields, the study found. In addition, those who pursued jobs related to their STEM majors earned at least 50 percent more than their humanities and education counterparts.

“Among the high achieving minority students we studied, Latinos not only reported the highest annual earnings overall, but also reported the highest annual earnings among STEM majors,” study co-author Gregory Wolniak said in a release.

“Preliminary findings suggest this may partially be due to Latino students’ ability to find jobs related to their major," he added.

Wolniak, a senior research scientist at the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, believes that, based on these findings, strengthening the pipeline of underrepresented students into STEM careers offers a viable solution to our nation’s growing competitiveness problem in engineering and science fields.

“We need to educate students that if they get a job in a STEM-related occupation, they have an even higher earning premium," said Tatiana Melguizo, a professor at USC and lead author of the study. "Otherwise, students aren’t reaping the economic benefit of all the hard work they went through as undergrads.”

Through his Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton previously also addressed the dearth of not only minorities in STEM fields, but women as well.

"The big challenge is women have only 14 percent of the engineering jobs in the U.S. and currently make up only 15 percent of all engineering students," Clinton said during a media telephone briefing in March, just weeks before the White House Council on Women and Girls released a study supporting Clinton's claim.

What's more, children of color are set to make up 75 percent of those born by 2030, as reported at U.S. News STEM solutions 2012 summit in June, a three-day event in Dallas gathering leaders across the nation in an effort to solve the STEM crisis.

"This shift from minority to majority means that race, ethnicity, and culture will play a more important role in science, technology, engineering and math fields," said Antonio Flores, CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities at the summit.

Based on data gathered by the 2011-2012 Payscale College Salary Report, we've rounded up the most well-paid college degrees in the country. From petroleum engineering to statistics, not only do STEM majors play a major role in the future prospects of the U.S., but come with a hefty paycheck as well.

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  • Petroleum Engingeering

    Starting Median Pay: $97,900 Mid-Career Median Pay: $155,000

  • Chemical Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $64,500 Mid-Career Median Pay: $109,000

  • Electrical Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $61,300 Mid-Career Median Pay: $103,000

  • Materials Science & Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $60,400 Mid-Career Median Pay: $103,000

  • Aerospace Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $60,700 Mid-Career Median Pay: $102,000

  • Computer Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $61,800 Mid-Career Median Pay: $101,000

  • Physics

    Staring Median Pay: $49,800 Mid-Career Median Pay: $101,000

  • Applied Mathematics

    Starting Median Pay: $52,600 Mid-Career Median Pay: $98,600

  • Computer Science

    Starting Median Pay: $56,600 Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,900

  • Biomedical Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $53,800 Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,800

  • Nuclear Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $65,100 Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,800

  • Mechanical Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $58,400 Mid-Career Median Pay: $94,500

  • Statistics

    Starting Median Pay: $49,000 Mid-Career Median Pay: $93,800

  • Industrial Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $57,400 Mid-Career Median Pay: $93,100

  • Civil Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $53,100 Mid-Career Median Pay: $90,200

  • Mathematics

    Starting Median Pay: $47,000 Mid-Career Median Pay: $89,900

  • Environmental Engineering

    Starting Median Pay: $51,700 Mid-Career Median Pay: $88,600

  • Food Science

    Starting Median Pay: $43,300 Mid-Career Median Pay: $83,700