Job Offers Up but Salaries Mostly Flat for 2019 Graduates

Pay offers for graduates differ among major U.S. cities

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS May 22, 2019
Job Offers Up but Salaries Mostly Flat for 2019 Graduates

Salaries for newly minted college graduates are virtually flat from 2018 despite the lowest unemployment rate in a decade and an uptick in job offers for graduating seniors.

2019 college undergraduates will make on average $51,347 annually—about 2 percent more than the 2018 average of $50,390, according to a new study by pay consultancy Korn Ferry, for which researchers analyzed salaries of 310,000 entry-level positions from nearly 1,000 organizations across the U.S.

"With the U.S. inflation rate for the last 12 months hovering at about 2 percent, real wages for this year's grads are virtually the same as last year," said Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner Tom McMullen. "In the race to attract top graduate talent, it's critical that companies pay competitively, provide a differentiated work experience and engaging culture as well as provide clear paths for advancement."

Salary Differences by Major Cities

The study includes an analysis of average entry-level salaries in several major U.S. cities. As with the national average, the typical starting salaries in these cities each increased by about 2 percent from the previous year, which makes for stagnant wage growth when inflation is taken into account.

"Of course, the cost of living in some cities—like San Francisco and New York—is much higher than in other parts of the nation, so it stands to reason that salaries would also be higher," McMullen said. Regardless of location, "it's imperative to continually assess compensation to stay competitive," he advised.

City Average 2019 New College Graduate Salary Average 2018 New College Graduate Salary
Los Angeles$57,663$56,386
New York$61,668$60,972

Source: Korn Ferry.

Entry Roles

Korn Ferry also reported average national wages for new graduates for these positions:

Role Average 2019 New College Graduate Salary
Call Center Specialist$39,082
Customer Service Representative$32,669
Graphic Designer$47,964
Marketing Analyst$52,557
Registered Nurse$57,639
R&D Scientist$62,083
Sales Associate$46,454
Software Developer$68,145
Staff Accountant$48,833

Source: Korn Ferry.

"Graduates should keep in mind that averages can mask variations," said Ally Van Deuren, Korn Ferry university relations center of excellence lead for North America. For example, within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related careers, "there are some specialized areas that pay significantly more than average. Job seekers must still do their homework to understand fair pay for their location and area of expertise," Van Deuren said.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What factors should I consider when determining where to place a new hire within the pay range?]

Most Job Offers for Grads Since 2007

Despite flat wage growth year over year, Class of 2019 graduating seniors are benefiting from the best job market for new college graduates since 2007, according to recent surveys by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Results from NACE's Class of 2019 Student Survey show that graduating college seniors who had applied for full-time jobs received an average of 1.10 job offers—the highest rate of average job offers in 12 years. The survey, conducted from February through April with responses from 3,951 bachelor's degree students graduating through June 2019, also showed that:

  • 53.2 percent of all graduating seniors who applied for a full-time job reported receiving at least one job offer. Among them, 57.5 percent of students who had an internship reported receiving a job offer, which is nearly 14 percentage points higher than the share of graduating seniors who did not have an internship (43.7 percent).
  • Graduating seniors who applied for a full-time job and participated in an internship received an average of 1.17 job offers, while those who did not have an internship received an average of 0.98 offers.

The pay status of internships is a significant factor as well, NACE found. Among Class of 2019 graduates who had an internship, nearly two-thirds of paid interns (66.4 percent) received a job offer, while just 43.7 percent of unpaid interns were offered a job.

In May, NACE released its Job Outlook 2019 Spring Update, which indicated that employers plan to hire 10.7 percent more graduates from the Class of 2019 than they did from the Class of 2018 for positions in the U.S. This survey was conducted from February through March, with responses from 155 organizations nationwide that hire new college graduates.

Looking forward to the Class of 2020, "Employers are preparing for a robust recruiting season this fall, which is in line with results of recent research that highlight the growing focus on fall recruiting," according to NACE. Whether 2020 graduates will be offered paychecks that outpace inflation, however, remains to be seen.

Related SHRM Articles:

Competition for Talent Drives Savvier Total Rewards, SHRM Online, May 2019

Pay Won't Rise Much Despite Low Unemployment, Researchers Say, SHRM Online, January 2019

Keeping Compensation Fresh in 2019, SHRM Online, January 2019



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.