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Salaries for Class of 2012 Inch Upward

By Theresa Minton-Eversole  9/10/2012

Sometimes being nickeled and dimed can be a good thing. For example, any salary increase—no matter how small—can be a good one, especially to new college graduates who might be getting sick of a ramen noodle diet. So the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reporting that starting salaries are increasing for Class of 2012 graduates is good news.

Still, few new graduates will be jumping for joy, as the percentages of increase seen are small. NACE’s September 2012 Salary Survey reports that the overall average salary for Class of 2012 bachelor’s degree graduates inched upward 1.7 percent to $44,259, compared with the overall average of $43,521 recorded for the Class of 2011.

Recent survey findings published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also indicate some thaw in new-hire compensation. SHRM’s The Hiring of 2012 University/College Undergraduates and Postgraduates found that although 74 percent of respondents said they have kept total compensation at about the same level for newly hired college graduates, 22 percent said they have had to increase their compensation packages for this group to remain competitive.

Results for postgraduate offers were similar: 71 percent of employers said they have kept their compensation packages the same for postgraduates, but 26 percent said they have had to start offering more.

Only 4 percent and 3 percent of respondents, respectively, said their company has reduced the compensation package offered to newly hired graduates, according to SHRM’s survey results.

“It’s important to note that, while the overall increase is small, all broad categories of majors have seen an increase,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

Show Them the Money

The NACE survey details actual starting salaries for new college graduates compiled from employer-based data from approximately 400,000 employers, gathered from government and other sources. The data are reported by major, industry and position for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Data for the September 2012 survey report were compiled in July 2012.

Among the broad categories or disciplines, the survey data show that business and communications majors receiving a bachelor’s degree saw the largest overall salary increase—2.2 percent. Business majors from the Class of 2012 currently earn an average of $51,541. In terms of individual business majors, those earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing got the biggest bump, with an average starting salary of $53,400. That’s up 2.7 percent over their Class of 2011 counterparts.

Communications majors’ salaries also increased 2.2 percent, now averaging $42,286 for undergraduates compared with the 2011 average salary of $41,367. Within the specific specialties, salaries for advertising majors had the highest gain—a 2.6 percent increase, bringing the average to $47,700, according to NACE. 

Average Salaries for Bachelor's Degree by Discipline


2012 Average Salary

2011 Average Salary

% Change









Computer Sciences












Health Sciences




Humanities & Social Sciences




Math & Sciences








Source: September 2012 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Overall, engineering majors posted a 1.9 percent increase to their average starting salary, which survey data show is now $60,639—up from $59,469. However, the biggest increase—not only among the engineering disciplines but among all majors reported in the survey—went to aerospace engineering graduates. A whopping 6.9 percent increase brings their average salary to $71,300. Chemical engineering graduates also saw a healthy increase of 3.4 percent over the average posted by their 2011 counterparts, raising their overall average salary to $66,200. Graduates earning electrical engineering degrees posted a 1.9 percent increase; their average salary now stands at $60,500, up from $59,400 reported last year.

The average starting salaries for computer science ($60,038) majors all have increased by 1.4 percent, but graduates earning computer-related degrees who landed jobs in the professional, scientific and technical services industries now garner an average starting salary that exceeds $65,000.

Starting salaries for graduates with bachelor’s degrees in health sciences ($46,567) as well as in humanities and social sciences ($36,824) also have increased by 1.4 percent. Education majors’ 1.6 percent jump brings their average starting salary to $39,080.

NACE’s next update on starting salaries for new college graduates will be available in the January 2012 issue of the salary survey. 

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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