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How Much Should I Make Out of College? A Look at Average Starting Salaries

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The average starting salary for Class of 2019 college graduates was $51,347, according to an analysis by consulting firm Korn Ferry. Average starting salaries were about 2% higher than in 2018, when they were $50,390.

But your salary will depend on many factors. Your school, major, the type of company for which you work and where you live will affect how much you earn. If you’ve ever asked, “How much should I make out of college?” or you’re curious about good starting salaries based on certain majors, you’ve come to the right place.

How much will I make after college? 3 factors to consider

Looking at the average college graduate’s salary is a useful starting point, but there are some specific factors you can use to predict your likely pay. Average college graduate salaries will vary widely, so it’s important to keep that in mind.

By breaking down your salary by month, you can explore how much you can afford to pay for housing, student loans, car payments and other items when you’re out of school.

1. Your college’s employment outcomes

The school you attend is one of the biggest predictors of your salary. That’s because colleges have differing graduation rates, approaches to job placement, alumni network sizes and reputations, which can all have an impact on the job you land.

Explore median earnings from your school using the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard:

  • Enter your school’s name on the homepage
  • View the school’s overall “salary after completing,” which measures students’ median annual earnings one year after graduation
  • Click “View More Details,” then “Fields of Study” in the drop-down for the most useful data (we’ll cover more about your major’s effect on salary next)

The salary analysis site PayScale also allows you to search for salaries by school. PayScale’s metrics include not just new grads’ median salaries, but also midcareer salaries, or the median pay among those who have 10 or more years of experience.

Your school’s website may also report average starting salaries. Depending on your school, the “News,” “About” or “Fast Facts” section of its website might contain this information. Using different sources of data will help you develop a more comprehensive view of your school’s salary outcomes.

2. Your major and chosen field

Along with your school, your major also has a large effect on your salary. On the College Scorecard website, you can find out how much those who pursued your course of study at your school are earning one year after college.

After searching for your school, click the “Fields of Study” drop-down, then “Highest Earnings” within that section. There, you’ll see median earnings by major. For instance, at New York University, those who received a bachelor’s degree in registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing earned the highest median salary — $91,800 a year.

Your major and career choice can also affect your level of student loan debt and how it impacts your budget. Some careers, for instance, lead to higher earnings-to-debt ratios, meaning salaries are high enough that borrowers can more easily pay down their student loans. According to a 2019 LendingTree analysis, the fields with the most favorable earnings-to-debt ratios were:

  • Physical sciences
  • Computer engineering
  • General engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Computer science

In your first job out of college, you may receive employee benefits beyond your salary, which can make your full compensation package even more valuable. Non-salary benefits can include common offerings like health insurance and a 401(k) account, but also stock options, charitable donation matching programs, cell phone discounts and gym memberships.

3. Your career and life plans

The type of job you take within your field will also affect your salary. You may have the option to pursue nonprofit work, for instance, which could lead to lower pay but — in certain circumstances — might qualify you for federal student loan forgiveness in the future.

The area in which you live will impact how much companies pay, and it will also determine how far your salary can stretch to afford housing, utilities, child care and other expenses. Use a resource such as Salary.com’s Cost of Living Calculator to explore how much your cost of living and salary could change if you move to a new place after college or later on in your career.

Average starting salaries by major: high-paying, low-paying

A bachelor’s degree leads to higher earnings than completing high school or getting an associate degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That makes college worth it for many students, as long as they’re able to comfortably afford to pay off any student loan debt they accumulate.

The particular college major you choose will partly determine how much money you’ll make over time. According to PayScale data, below are the top 10 highest-paying jobs among bachelor’s degree holders, along with their median early and midcareer salaries:

RankMajorMedian early career salaryMedian midcareer salary
1Petroleum engineering$94,500$176,900
2Electrical engineering and computer science$88,000$142,200
3Applied economics and management$58,900$140,000
4Operations research$77,900$137,100
5Political economy$57,600$136,200
6Actuarial mathematics$63,300$135,100
7Electrical power engineering$72,400$134,700
8Business analysis$57,200$133,200
9Pharmacy$79,600$132,500
10Aeronautics and astronautics$73,100$131,600

And here are the top 10 lowest-paying majors among bachelor’s degree holders:

RankMajorMedian early career salaryMedian midcareer salary
1Vocational rehabilitation$33,700$42,300
2Medical assisting$32,500$42,700
3Child and family studies$33,400$42,700
4Outdoor education$35,200$42,800
5Early childhood education$33,500$43,000
6Early childhood and elementary education$35,800$46,100
7Baking and pastry arts$35,600$46,600
8Middle school education$37,800$47,900
9Counseling$37,500$48,000
10Community and human services$39,500$48,100

What are the highest-paying entry-level jobs?

Like the highest-paying jobs for bachelor’s degree recipients, well-compensated entry-level jobs are similarly concentrated in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Finance and consulting roles, such as investment banking analysts and implementation consultants, are also represented.

According to a 2019 analysis by Glassdoor, these are the highest-paying entry-level jobs for new graduates:

RankOccupationMedian salary
1Data scientist$95,000
2Software engineer$90,000
3Product manager$89,000
4Investment banking analyst$85,000
5Product designer$85,000
6UX designer$73,000
7Implementation consultant$72,000
8Java developer$72,000
9Systems engineer$70,000
10Software developer$68,600

Where recent college graduates can look for jobs

As a recent graduate, you can benefit from quick access to your college’s career services department and its alumni network. Try these strategies:

  • Take advantage of networking events, mock interview prep, resume reviews and other services your school may offer to both current students and new graduates.
  • Reach out to alumni in your field on LinkedIn or through college organizations of which you’re a member. Ask about their career paths and work experience at various companies, and see if they’d be willing to serve as a formal or informal mentor to you.
  • Join professional organizations in your major and attend in-person meetings and conferences so you can make connections and learn about potential careers. Start growing your professional network as early as possible so that you can lean on connections when you come across an exciting job opportunity at their company.

Applying to jobs the old-fashioned way should also be part of your strategy. Check out general job search websites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor, your college’s job board and sites specific to certain industries or fields, such as Idealist (nonprofit jobs) and Mediabistro (media and communications positions).

A successful job hunt likely includes a mix of these approaches, as well as a healthy amount of optimism and enthusiasm about your next chapter.

 

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