2012 Graduates' Starting Salaries Jump 3.4%

Health care viewed as less vital, with grads covered by parents' employers

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jan 17, 2013

The average starting salary for 2012 U.S. college graduates earning bachelor’s degrees rose 3.4 percent over the previous year, according to a report by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

NACE’s January 2013 Salary Survey found that the overall increase has carried the average starting salary for 2012 college graduates earning bachelor’s degrees to $44,455, outpacing the 2011 average new graduates' salary of $42,987.

“We’ve seen a steady increase in the average starting salary for bachelor’s degree graduates over the past two years, indicating improvement in the job market for college graduates,” said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

The highest initial pay went to graduates who majored in engineering; their average starting salary was $61,913, up from $59,591 in 2011.

The highest year-over-year percentage increases went to those awarded bachelor's degrees in education (5.4 percent, to $40,668), business (4.2 percent, to $53,900) and communications (4.1 percent, to $43,717).

Graduates with computer sciences degrees also saw a substantial increase to their average starting salary, while graduates with degrees in math/sciences and humanities/social sciences received smaller increases.

Average Salaries for Graduates


2012 Average Salary

2011 Average Salary

Percent Change





Computer Science








Health Sciences








Math & Sciences








Humanities & Social Sciences








Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The data represent accepted starting salaries (not salary offers), derived from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and a master set of data developed by Job Search Intelligence. Data for the January 2013 report were retrieved in November 2012, and reflect the final results for the class of 2012.

Grads value Salary Over Health Care

Annual salary increases were the most preferred benefit among job-seeking new college graduates, according to a separate NACE study.

Historically, graduating seniors have placed health insurance in the top spot, said Mackes. However, among graduating seniors taking part in NACE’s 2012 Student Survey, health care benefits landed fourth on the list, she noted.

The most likely explanation for the change, said Mackes, was a provision affecting coverage of employees' adult children under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “Graduates know that they can now stay on their parents’ coverage until they are 26 years old, making medical benefits somewhat less critical in their list of priorities,” she explained.

New college graduates top five rewards preferences in 2012 were:

  1. Annual salary increases.
  2. 401(k) company match.
  3. Tuition reimbursement.
  4. 100 percent employer-paid health insurance.
  5. Dental insurance.

Despite the change in order, the top five benefits have remained largely the same over the past several years. “The focus is—and has been—on benefits that provide security,” said Mackes. “Salary increases, the 401(k) match and various insurances provide a financial net while tuition reimbursement supports the graduate’s ability to acquire new skills and gain or retain value in the job market.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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