How do students know which college degrees will deliver the best starting salaries once they graduate? That question is more important than ever. With the average cost of a college degree rising every year, the economic implications of choosing a major have ever greater implications for the future. Even if getting a good financial return on your college investment isn’t the only factor in your choice of programs, it certainly should be part of the equation.
Using the most recent (2017-2018) data from Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI), we compiled a list of the bachelor's degrees that lead to the highest starting salaries. CERI projects a 4.3% average increase in starting salaries for 2019-2020. Here are the college degrees that lead to the best starting salaries.
- Degrees in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) are most likely to lead to high-paying jobs today.
- Multimedia and graphic design and law and legal studies are two non-STEM options with strong earning potential.
- Students with the right degree can look forward to average starting salaries in the high $40,000s to low $60,000s.
Engineering degrees are right at the top of the list when it comes to initial compensation. Among the most lucrative majors are aerospace engineering ($62,345 starting salary), computer engineering ($61,326), mechanical engineering ($61,083), and materials engineering ($61,100). It’s a great career path for those with an aptitude for math, a penchant for problem-solving, and strong computer skills.
2. Computer Science
As businesses and other organizations become more dependent on technology to deliver efficiencies, they need qualified candidates who can help maintain and improve their computer systems. Graduates with degrees in management information systems ($59,970 starting salary), computer programming ($58,771), and information security systems ($58,363) are among the most well-rewarded. Software design majors do even better when it comes to earnings, with an average salary of $62,541 upon graduation.
Business is another category with strong earnings potential right off the bat, especially if you choose the right specialty. At the top of the pay scale are grads with degrees in e-commerce/entrepreneurship ($53,949 starting salary) and risk management ($53,919). Supply chain management is another potentially lucrative career, with an average starting salary of $51,185, as is construction management, with a beginning salary of $50,949.
While some fields still require advanced degrees, a bachelor's degree in the right major can lead to a high-paying job right away.
Many jobs as economists require a master’s degree or higher. But graduates with a bachelor’s in economics can find employment as budget analysts, financial analysts, and market researchers, among other roles. The starting pay for economics grads with a four-year degree is $51,154.
5. Mathematics and Statistics
People with strong math skills are needed in any number of capacities: to create complex computer programs, find investment opportunities on Wall Street, or help develop breakthroughs in biotechnology. Graduates are rewarded for that skill set with a solid starting salary. Math majors start at $50,830 a year on average, according to CERI data, and those with a degree in statistics can look forward to $51,892.
6. Multimedia and Graphic Design
So much for the starving-artist stereotype. Companies today need employees with creative skills to help build their brand and tell their story in an effective way across a variety of media. Graphic designers tend to focus on visual imagery, producing marketing materials, packaging designs, and brochure layouts. Multimedia training can involve such skills as computer animation and video production. The average starting salary for graduates with one of these undergraduate degrees is $50,781.
The growing demand for healthcare professionals spells good news for students working toward a four-year degree in nursing. They’ll make an average of $48,783 annually as they begin their careers. And employment in this field is expected to grow at a faster-than-average pace over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Typical coursework includes biology, pharmacology, human anatomy and physiology, and nursing theory. Students also gain hands-on experience through their clinical courses.
In today’s economy, a STEM-based education (science, technology, engineering, and math) usually translates into strong job prospects. Companies hire physics grads for a wide range of roles, from creating models using computer-aided design software to building prototypes and troubleshooting manufacturing equipment, according to the American Physics Society. Students with a bachelor’s degree in physics will find themselves making $48,952 on average in their first real-world job.
Once you’ve earned a degree in biochemistry, the opportunities are wide-ranging. Some grads go on to work in university laboratories, pharmaceutical makers, or food-processing companies. Others find employment in education or healthcare. Employers are willing to pay a relatively generous salary to get people with this background, and an average starting wage of $47,682 reflects that.
10. Law and Legal Studies
Working as an attorney requires going to law school and passing the bar exam. However, that isn’t the only path to a career in the legal field. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in law and legal studies can find work as paralegals, police officers, or in human resources. CERI reported that the starting income for someone with a four-year degree is a respectable $47,323.
The Bottom Line
Many students plan to pursue a master’s or other advanced degree after graduation. But with the right bachelor’s degree, you can bring home quite a nice paycheck—and start repaying your student loans while you decide whether an advanced degree makes sense for you. For a really impressive starting salary, backgrounds in engineering or computer science are among the most promising options. There are also majors you should avoid if a high salary is a deciding factor in your education and career choices, particularly ones in teaching and the arts.