Average College Graduate Salaries by Career Field

Set your starting salary expectations

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If you’re a soon-to-be or recent college graduate, you’ve probably wondered how much your degree is worth in terms of future income. Most college students place a high priority on salary and benefits as they anticipate employment, and with good reason; more than half of recent graduates have large debts (plus interest) to pay back.

Key Takeaways

  • The average starting salary for college graduates is $55,260, with a wide range of variance across majors and fields.
  • Undergraduate students overestimate their starting salaries by nearly twice that much, expecting to make nearly $104,000 in their first job.
  • In addition to salary, recent graduates value flexibility, including remote work and reasonable hours, as well as workplace culture.

What Salaries Do College Graduates Expect?

According to a recent survey conducted by real estate data company Clever, the average starting salary for college graduates in 2022 stood at $55,260, the highest so far on record. Recent graduates, however, overestimate their own starting salaries by nearly twice that much. The survey of 1,000 undergraduate students found that current college students expect to make nearly $104,000 in their first job.

Students aren't only hoping for high salaries, though. They also value:

  • Flexibility
  • Work-life balance
  • Benefits

In one College Pulse survey of undergraduates, 9 out of 10 favored a four-day work week, preferring to work four 9-hour days, rather than five 8-hour days, in order to have a three-day weekend. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) also said it was not okay for employers to expect employees to work more than 40 hours per week.

A separate College Pulse survey found that college graduates have strong feelings about workplace culture. Around 77% of students said they were less willing than previous generations to put up with a toxic workplace in exchange for a paycheck.

Previous surveys by College Pulse had also found that recent graduates place a high value on benefits packages, in addition to salary. A 2019 survey of 2,000 undergraduates (graduating 2019-2023) found that more than half (56%) of students said that a high-quality health plan was the best perk a company could offer to offset a lower-than-expected salary. Almost a quarter (24%) said that extra paid vacation time was a worthwhile counterbalance to below-average pay, and just 4% said they'd take stock options in lieu of a bigger paycheck.

The same survey revealed that a majority (58%) of the polled students would choose a $60,000 annual salary with no stock options over a $50,000 annual salary with stock options. Male students were split evenly, while 63% of female students said they would take the higher salary.


Surveyed students largely viewed stock options as a gamble compared with health benefits, a positive work/life balance, and a fair salary.

Average Starting Salary Out of College by Field

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) projects that in 2022, starting salary will vary sharply by major and field. Those with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees will continue to earn the highest starting salaries. At $75,900, the average starting salary for computer science majors is more than 5% higher than the previous year's salary projection. The projection for the average starting salary of a humanities major, by contrast, was down nearly 15% from 2021.

Based on data analyzed by NACE, the average salaries by bachelor's degree are:

  • Computer sciences: $75,900
  • Engineering: $73,922
  • Math and sciences: $66,760
  • Social sciences: $61,173
  • Business: $60,695
  • Agriculture and natural resources: $57,807
  • Communications: $55,455
  • Humanities: $50,681


A good salary out of college will depend on the cost of living where you live, as well as any debts you have, such as student loans. In 2020, the real median salary of U.S. workers over age 15 was $41,535.

Early Career Majors That Pay the Most

Your choice of major can have an even bigger impact on future earnings than your choice of school. The majors with the highest earnings for college alumni early in their career (less than five years of work experience) are:

  • Electrical engineering and computer science: $108,500
  • Physician assistant studies: $95,900
  • Petroleum engineering: $93,200
  • Operations research and industrial engineering: $84,800
  • Operations research: $83,500
  • Nuclear engineering technology: $83,500
  • Metallurgical engineering: $81,800
  • Computer science and business: $81,100
  • Electronic systems technology (EST): $81,000
  • Welding engineering: $81,000
  • Marine engineering: $79,900

Average salaries for graduates with associates degrees also vary greatly by major. If you have a two-year degree, the highest-paid degrees for graduates are:

  • Dental hygiene: $69,400
  • Nuclear medicine: $66,000
  • Radiation therapy: $65,300
  • Nuclear medicine technology: $63,600
  • Instrumentation and control: $61,100


These rankings do not stay the same in later career stages. After 10 years of experience, the highest-paid major is a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering, with an average pay of $187,300.

Early Career Majors That Pay the Least

According to the same report, the majors with the lowest earning for college alumni early in their career (less than five years of work experience) are:

  • Child and family studies: $36,400
  • Biblical studies and practical ministries: $36,400
  • Early childhood education: $36,100
  • Mental health counseling: $36,100
  • Medical assisting: $36,000
  • Rehabilitation services: $35,800
  • Equine studies: $35,700
  • Psychology and human services: $35,600
  • Painting and printmaking: $34,700
  • Voice and opera: $34,500

Whatever your field of study, having a college degree automatically increases your chances of earning more. The average salary for someone with a four-year degree is more than double that of someone who didn’t graduate from high school.

The exception to that rule, though, is graduates of trade and vocational schools. Plumbers, electricians, and other trade specialists earn generous hourly wages after completing their apprenticeships.

Average Salaries by Age, Gender, and Race

In general, wages tend to rise as you get older, peaking around age 55. After that, they begin to drop off. For all workers, not just those with a bachelor's degree, average salaries by age are:

  • 20-24 years: $35,568
  • 25-34 years: $50,700
  • 35-44 years: $60,060
  • 45-54 years: $60,944
  • 55-64 years: $58,968
  • 65 years and older: $55,484

Wages also vary by gender and race. On average, male graduates outearn female graduates by $10,980 if both have a bachelor's degree. And for 24 to 35-year-olds with a bachelor's degree, Asian graduates tend to be the highest earners ($69,490), followed by White ($59,970), Black ($50,030), and Hispanic ($49,910).

How to Improve Your Salary Prospects After College

No matter what your field, you can improve your chances of getting a higher salary at your first job out of college if you start your job search with research and preparation.

Get Salary Information

It’s important to know what you’re worth, whether you're searching for your first job or you have years of experience. With more information, you will have a better sense of whether a job is offering a reasonable salary range for the area where you will be located. Knowing what others in your field are making will also put you in a position to negotiate your salary with potential employers.

There are free online salary calculators you can use to get estimates, and PayScale offers a free personalized salary report. You can also use a paycheck calculator to estimate your take-home pay.


Your college’s career office can help you research salaries in your field and give you an idea of what to expect in the job market. You can also connect with alumni in your field to gain a better perspective on what's to come.

Prepare Your Materials

If you have work or internship experience to complement a skill set that employers are seeking in college grads, you may be able to boost your total compensation by driving a hard bargain during your job search.

The more you do in college to prepare for the workplace, the higher your paycheck will be. Be sure to include everything applicable on your resume, so the hiring manager can see how well-qualified you are. Take advantage of your college's career office to have someone look over your resume and cover letter. They'll be able to see places for improvement that you, as an early-career applicant, might miss.

Consider Your Compensation Package

Salary isn’t everything, even though it can easily seem like the most important variable when you have student loans that are collecting interest. Total compensation accounts for more than what you see on your paycheck. This includes stock options, retirement planning, and other employer-provided benefits and perks.

Some common items to look for in a total compensation statement are:

  • Salary/hourly rate
  • Medical benefits coverage, including the amount paid by employee and employer
  • Flexible spending account information
  • Paid leave, including vacation, sick leave, parental and family leave, paid time off, holiday pay, bereavement, military pay, and jury duty
  • Disability insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Employee assistance program
  • Retirement benefits, including 401(k)/403(b) and pension plans
  • Educational assistance programs
  • Relocation expenses
  • Learning and development offerings
  • Career-advancement opportunities

The Bottom Line

To make a critical decision when evaluating offers for your first job after college, it’s also important to consider factors like potential for personal advancement within the company, your general excitement about the day-to-day job responsibilities, and the overall work/life balance that employees enjoy. While interviewing, be sure to note how long each of your potential coworkers has been with the company, and ask them about their own motivations for joining (and staying with) the team.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the average salary for someone without a college diploma?

Those who don't complete college make $21,000 per year less than their graduating peers, on average.

Why would a student care about the average salary for college graduates?

There are many ways incoming college students can use average salary data. It can help you calculate the likelihood of being able to quickly repay student loans for example. It can also help you plan for your lifestyle in adulthood and whether your ideal career will support that lifestyle.

How can college graduates negotiate their starting salary?

Researching average salaries for your career and education level is a great starting point for your negotiations. From there, look to highlight any special skills or talents you bring to the table that may make up for your lack of on-the-job experience. Speak confidently, and don't be afraid to ask for a higher figure. The worst they can do is say no.

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