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Average College Graduate Salaries

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Report Highlights:

  • The average college graduate salary is $55,260 in 2021.
  • Petroleum engineers have the highest starting salary $87,989.
  • Technical majors have the highest starting salaries with an average of around $80,000.
  • $85,000 was the most common starting salary expected by college students.
  • 39% of students are not worried about COVID impacting their job search.

college graduate salaries

Average Starting Salary for College Graduates

The average salary in 2021 for college graduates is $55,260, according to a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey. This figure is 2.5% higher than the starting salaries of the past year. Technical majors have the highest starting salaries with an average starting salary of $87,989 for petroleum engineers.

Average starting salaries for college graduates are a reflection of the value of their combined skill and knowledge.

Several factors affect these numbers including the cost of living, the area in which the graduate lives, and demand for the skill that a graduate possesses. The numbers reflected in this report are averages and may vary slightly depending on these various factors.

  • The national average salary for college graduates (overall) has remained steady over the last few years at around $50,000 to $60,000.
  • Business, mathematics, health science, engineering, and computer science majors are shown to make a higher average salary at between $52,000 and $71,000 per year.
Top Paying Professions Average Starting Salary with a Bachelor’s Degree
Engineering $69,188
Computer Science $67,539
Math and Sciences $62,177
Business $57,657
Social Sciences $57,310
Humanities $56,651
Agriculture $55,750
Communications $52,056

The above figures are according to a study done by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers)

Those salary averages reflect the need and demand for the skills that these college graduates have when they enter the job market.

Although the average starting salary is $50,000 to $60,000, some professions have an average starting salary much lower than the national average.

Lowest Paying Professions Average Starting Salary With a Bachelor’s Degree
Fine Arts $48,871
Music $48,686
Neuroscience $48,190
Art and Music Education $45,613
Drama and Theater Arts $44,538
Visual and Performing Arts $42,465
Studio Arts $41,762
Early Childhood Education $39,097

The above figures reflect a study done by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Salary Averages Shown Per Industry

While the figures above show the average salary according to a student’s major and specific professions, there are also figures to be shown across certain industries, as a whole.

When looking at these various industries, it has to be understood that there can be a wide variety of starting salaries. This variation is a direct result of the education level of the individual. It also depends on the profession within that given industry.

  • Health majors are shown to earn an average salary of around $66,440. This can vary widely across this industry as it includes everything from doctors to assistants.
  • Technology majors are sought as a high commodity in our economy today. Those with a bachelor’s degree can make an average of around $59,642 and $75,433 at the master’s degree level.
  • Business majors tend to land on the lower side of the starting salary range at around $60,000. Many graduates expect to make much more than this and are surprised by what they find in the job market.
  • Marketing majors start with around $52,988 with a bachelor’s degree. When they hit the master’s degree level, that salary can jump to around $86,318.
  • Finance professions range from consulting to owning a personal business. These majors can, realistically, expect to make around $55,609 with their bachelor’s and around $70,957 with a master’s.

Looking At College as An Investment

Overall, college is seen as an investment in a person’s future. The return on that investment is shown in many ways and is affected by several factors. Three factors that will dictate the success of that investment include sex, educational institution attended, and the level of education that is pursued.

A survey of 20,000 college students was conducted on the expectations that current college students and recent graduates have for their starting salary and their job prospects.

  • Around 17% of students and recent graduates expect to earn around $85,000 upon graduation.
  • Around 50% of those in the survey are stressed about finding a job in the current conditions.
  • 39% of those in the survey are not worried about Covid impacting their job search.
  • Most of the 39% were freshman and sophomore students.

Men vs Women

When looking at the role that the sex (biologically speaking) of a graduate has on salary, these figures reflect earnings throughout a graduate’s complete career (average of around 40 years).

There is a large disparity between the earnings of men and women, at both the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree levels. This has been a topic of discussion and activism across all industries within the United States economy and around the world.

  • It has been shown that men with a bachelor’s degree can earn upwards of $900,000 more than a man with just a high school level education.
  • A man who goes on to receive his master’s degree can make $1.5 million more.
  • A woman with a bachelor’s degree can earn upwards of $630,000 more than a woman with a high school level education.
  • A woman with a master’s degree can earn upwards of $1.1 million more.

By Educational Institution

Degrees earned by certain institutions carry more prestige, clout, and respect than others and it is shown in the salary. There is much to be said about starting average salaries for those who have recently graduated from prestigious colleges and universities, but the true value of an investment is shown in long-term results.

Here is a list of the top 5 colleges with the highest average salaries. These salaries are the salaries earned 10 years after enrollment at the college or university.

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is ranked the 6th best college in America but has the graduates earning the best average salary after 10 years, $91,000. This world-renowned engineering school has 22% of undergraduates go on to get jobs in their field of study.
  2. Harvard University is ranked as the 2nd best college in America and one of the oldest. Graduates of Harvard earn, on average, about $87,000 10 years after enrollment.
  3. Georgetown University is ranked the 11th best college in America. Graduates earn around $83,300 10 years after a graduate’s enrollment.
  4. Stanford University is ranked as the 4th best college in America and graduates make, on average, around $80,900 10 years after enrollment.
  5. The University of Pennsylvania is ranked as the 7th best college in America. Graduates of this university make around $78,200 10 years after their enrollment.

By Education Level

Education level is another major factor at play when it comes to the average salary for a college graduate. As the level of knowledge grows, so do the earnings that an individual can expect to make.

Associates Degree

  • Graduates with an associate degree earn weekly, on average, about $887 and around $46,124 yearly.
  • They see a lower rate of unemployment than those with just a high school education at around 2.7%.
  • Many who earn an associate degree tend to go back to earn their bachelor’s and this additional education can add $18,772 to their yearly average earnings.

Bachelor’s Degree

  • A bachelor’s degree holder earns an average of $1,248 a week and about $64,896 yearly.
  • Their rate of unemployment is lower than those with an associate degree at about 2.2%.
  • This will net a graduate with a bachelor’s degree about $750,000 more than an associate degree holder throughout a 40-year career.
  • It is thought that the work put in to earn a bachelor’s degree, and higher degree levels offer graduates invaluable skills as well as resilience and self-confidence.

Master’s Degree

  • A master’s degree translates into an average weekly pay of around $1,497 and around $77,844 yearly.
  • The unemployment rate at this level stands at around 2%.
  • Graduates with a master’s degree can expect to earn around $13,000 more than a bachelor’s degree holder.
  • To get to this level, graduates must have the prerequisite of a bachelor’s degree.
  • The financial difference between a bachelor’s degree holder and a master’s degree holder is not as substantial as the difference between an associate and a bachelor’s.

Professional Degree

  • A professional degree prepares a graduate for work in a specific field such as pharmacy, law, or medicine. A doctoral degree (which will be discussed next) has an increased focus on research and other scholarly work.
  • A graduate with a professional degree can expect to make around $1,861 a week and about $96,772 yearly.
  • Their rate of unemployment is extremely low at around 1.6%.
  • Professional degree holders can expect to earn around $19,000 more than a graduate with a master’s degree.
  • Over the course of a 40-year career, they can earn around $760,000 more than a master’s holder.

Doctoral Degree

  • Those holding a doctoral degree can expect to earn around $1,883 a week and an average of about $97,916 a year.
  • Their unemployment rate is the lowest of all at 1.1%.
  • Those with a doctoral degree will earn an average of about $20,000 a year more than a graduate with a master’s degree.
  • This yearly increase translates to about $800,000 throughout a 40-year career.
  • Doctoral degrees can be earned in a multitude of different disciplines with a serious focus on original and unique research in their field.
  • These degree holders are considered experts within their given field.

Sources