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.