Highest Paying College Majors

Choosing a college major means carefully balancing a variety of idealistic and practical aspirations. On the practical side, many college-bound students – and their parents – want to know which majors yield the highest starting salaries after graduation. As it turns out, the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known by the acronym STEM, in K-12 and higher education is more relevant than ever. A recent report released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds that technology and engineering subjects lead the list of the top five highest-paying entry positions after college.

1. Computer Engineering – $70,400

The NACE report pooled data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau as well as Job Search Intelligence to rank salaries of different college majors. As of late 2012, the average starting salary for a computer engineer was $70,400. With expertise in hardware and software design and integration as well as electronics, these graduates have a healthy range of job choices. They may work in telecommunications, computer hardware, software, robotics or similar fields as applications or systems engineers.

2. Chemical Engineering – $66,400

These modern-day alchemists apply their extensive training in physics, chemistry, life sciences and industrial applications to create valuable substances and processes out of raw materials. They are key players in sectors ranging from biomedical engineering and pharmaceuticals to consumer products and foods. The average salary for new college graduates is $66,400.

3. Computer Science – $64,400

Underlying the work of computer engineers is the science of computing itself. Computer scientists may focus on theoretical topics such as information and programming theory, automation, algorithms, data structures and programming language theory. They may instead specialize in practical computer science applications such as artificial intelligence or software engineering. Newly minted computer science graduates can expect to an average starting salary of $64,400.

4. Aerospace: Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering – $64,000

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that employment growth will be lower in aerospace engineering than in red-hot computing sectors, but those who do enter this field can expect an average starting salary of $64,000. Aeronautical engineering involves designing and building aircraft, missiles and defense systems that operate within the earth’s atmosphere. Astronautical engineers, on the other hand, focus on spacecraft. In both cases, the work involves the science and mechanics of flight itself rather than mechanical or electrical engineering.

5. Mechanical Engineering – $62,900

The sheer breadth of this field and its innumerable ongoing contributions to modern life may account for mechanical engineering’s robust average starting salary of $62,900. This field uses principles of physics and the science of materials to design and build mechanical applications that solve problems and get the job done. These solutions may be tools, machines, manufacturing equipment, engines, tiny devices or large-scale industrial systems.

If your major isn’t one of the top five listed above, take heart; the report also indicates that average starting salaries for college graduates in all majors rose by 3.4% in 2012 when compared to 2011 data.

Highest Paying Jobs for Recent College Grads

May is fast approaching, leading many soon-to-be college graduates to ask the question, “What next?” As you ponder whether you should enter the workforce right away, take a year off or continue on to graduate school, consider these five highest-paying jobs for college graduates.

All of these jobs require only a bachelor’s degree, not an advanced degree. They’ve also been chosen with higher-than-average starting salaries in mind. Under each of these five jobs, you will see the median wage as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These median wages represent roughly what you can expect to earn within this occupation after gaining a few years’ experience.

5. Mechanical Engineer

Median wage: $78,160

According to a Forbes article from February 2013, students with a degree in mechanical engineering have an average starting salary of $62,900. Mechanical engineers work in a wide variety of work environments, from working with architectural and engineering firms to design buildings to working for NASA designing satellites.

4. Chemical Engineer

Median wage: $90,300

Chemical engineering is another college major that lends itself to a high starting salary. In fact, their starting salaries tend to be even higher than mechanical engineers; chemical engineering jobs usually start around $66,000.

3. Software Developer

Median wage: $90,530

You may notice that software development is the only occupation on this list that does not require a degree in engineering. A creative, resourceful computer science major who is not an engineer can find a job as a software developer that starts at around $64,400.

2. Aerospace Engineer

Median wage: $97,480

Aerospace engineers are the people who design, manufacture and/or test planes, jets, space shuttles and their related components. They often work for companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing; they also work for the U.S. military or another “wing” of the federal government. Entry-level jobs for aerospace engineers start at around $64,000.

1. Computer Hardware Engineer

Median wage: $98,800

Computer hardware engineers develop the hardware that makes everything from cell phones to supercomputers run. Most computer hardware engineers work for private companies like Intel; some hardware engineers work in scientific research; a small percentage work for the government. The starting salary for a computer engineering major is typically just over $70,400.

Conclusion: Beware, These Jobs Include Stiff Competition

Before you rush to switch your major to computer engineering, you should be aware that almost all of these jobs have very stiff competition. According to BLS, four out of the five of these jobs are expected to grow at a rate “slower than average” over the next decade. In essence, that means that they are such desirable jobs that there are more people qualified for them than there are positions available.

The one exception on this list is software development. The BLS projects that this occupation will grow by 30 percent over the next decade, a rate it calls “much faster than average.” The slowest-growing of these occupations is aerospace engineering, which will grow by only 5 percent between 2010 and 2020.

How To Afford College

In the modern economy, a quality college education is more vital than ever, but the cost of college tuition continues to soar. Many of today’s college graduates leave college with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. However, if you plan early and make smart choices, you can avoid the burden of hefty student loans.

Choose Your College Wisely

Your choice of school has a major impact on the cost of your schooling. A year’s tuition at an elite university, such as Harvard or MIT, can cost you and your family more than $35,000. Once you factor in fees, textbooks and other expenses, the final annual cost of some universities can exceed $50,000.

However, it’s possible to save money by choosing an affordable university. Although private schools are almost invariably expensive, many public universities are affordable for in-state students. Nationally, the average tuition cost for in-state students at public universities hovers around $4,500. By attending a community college, you can save even more money; the average tuition cost for community colleges is only $2,000.

Pursue Alternative Schools

Before the growth of the Internet, brick-and-mortar universities possessed a monopoly on higher education. However, the Internet has allowed alternative educational models, such as online universities, to grow and thrive. These types of schools are much more affordable than traditional universities. Online schools don’t have to pay for grounds, housing, facilities and the other expensive trappings of universities.

Finding Affordable Schools

If you’re trying to find an affordable school, don’t delay in starting your search. Elite universities are household names, but it may be more difficult to find an affordable university that still meets your qualifications. If you’re still attending school, ask your counselors for help; they may know of several affordable colleges that would be a good match for you. Spend some time each night searching for schools online. Many independent websites rate universities using several different factors, including cost.

Different Types of Financial Aid

Even if you have found an affordable university, you still need to pay for your schooling. If you don’t have a large trust fund set aside for you, you can pay for college through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans. There are thousands of different scholarships, if not more, and many of them are tailored to students in specific situations. Search through online databases to find scholarships; in addition, your prospective school will likely offer several scholarships that you may qualify for.

Grants, like scholarships, do not need to be repaid. Unlike scholarships, however, grants are largely based on financial need. Competition for grants can be very fierce, so apply early and often for as many grants as you can. Most grants come from the federal government, and you can find out if you’re eligible for a grant by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

You can take out loans to cover your tuition and living expenses, but every dollar you borrow will eventually need to be repaid with interest. While at school, you’ll likely only need to make nominal payments on your loans. However, you’ll have to begin making regular payments within a year of your graduation. You can find government-backed loans by filling out the FAFSA, and you can also find student loans through many private banks.