Average Starting Salary for Recent College Grads Hovers Near $51,000

Starting pay has not changed much despite tight job market for college graduates

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS August 22, 2019
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Recent college graduates in the U.S. earned an overall average starting salary of $50,944, according to the Summer 2019 Salary Survey report by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The report draws on data reported by approximately 350 colleges and universities nationwide, provided by more than 82,850 graduates with bachelor's degrees.

The average starting salary for Class of 2018 grads increased less than 1 percent from the overall average of $50,516 posted for the Class of 2017, indicating "the sluggish growth in salaries for new college graduates in recent years," NACE reported. The overall average starting salary for new college graduates is up just 1.4 percent from the Class of 2015's average of $50,219.

An early look at salary offers for 2019 college undergraduates, released by pay consultancy Korn Ferry in May, showed that Class of 2019 graduates with bachelor's degrees will earn on average $51,347 annually—about 2 percent more than the 2018 average of $50,390. Korn Ferry researchers analyzed salaries of 310,000 entry-level positions from nearly 1,000 organizations across the U.S.

Top-Earning Majors

For the last three years, computer science graduates have been the top earners among all disciplines, and this remained true for the Class of 2018, NACE reported.

Starting Salaries by Discipline for Class of 2018 Bachelor's Degree Graduates

Undergraduate
 Major
Average Starting Salary for the Class of 2018 Average Starting Salary for the Class of 2017 Change
Computer science$71,411$72,677-1.7%
Engineering$66,638$65,539+1.7%
Math and statistics$61,709$60,631+1.8%
Health sciences$52,076$53,872-3.3%
Business$52,040$52,456-0.8%
Social sciences$46,797$46,707+0.2%

Source: Summer 2019 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Although starting salaries may not have increased much, job offers have. Class of 2019 seniors are benefitting from the best job market for new college graduates since 2007, NACE reported in its Class of 2019 Student Survey reportGraduating college seniors who applied for full-time jobs this year received an average of 1.10 job offers—the highest rate in 12 years. Employers plan to hire about 11 percent more graduates from the Class of 2019 than they hired from the Class of 2018 for positions in the U.S., NACE reported.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Building a Market-Based Pay Structure from Scratch]

Long-Term Earnings Potential

PayScale, which provides online information about salary, benefits and compensation, reported on the colleges and degrees with the highest earning potential in its annual College Salary Report for the 2019-20 school year. Not surprisingly, engineering and math majors dominate the rankings for bachelor's degrees with the highest midcareer earning potential, but two-year associate degrees focused on technology were also at the top of the list for pay. For associate degrees, nursing and health care jobs continue to pay top dollar.

"Higher education is a major financial decision, both in terms of the cost of attending the institution, as well as in the potential for future earnings," said Sudarshan Sampath, PayScale's director of research. "Our labor market is constantly evolving, so having a degree that is flexible across industries or jobs—some that may not even exist yet—is an important consideration."

Below are highlights from the PayScale report, which uses data from more than 3 million college graduates collected through PayScale's ongoing, online compensation survey:

  • The top schools whose bachelor degree graduates earn the highest pay remain the Ivy League, elite technical universities and military academies. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., was again first this year for midcareer pay averaging $158,200, while graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., take home, on average, $155,200 midcareer.
  • Engineering and math dominate the bachelor's degree rankings, but petroleum engineering majors make the most money midcareer. A major in electrical engineering and computer science is second in earning potential, followed by applied economics and management.
  • The majority of the highest-earning two-year programs are from schools with strong reputations and a specific focus in nursing and health care professions. Helene Fuld College of Nursing in New York City held the No. 1 placement this year, with its graduates earning a midcareer salary of $90,600.
  • Some of the highest-paying two-year majors are technology focused, with physician assistant studies in the top spot, followed by radiation therapy, software engineering, project management, computer science and engineering.

Last year, workers with a bachelor's degree earned, on average, $1,198 per week, about 64 percent more than those with only a high school diploma, who were taking home $730 weekly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pay consultancy Compensation Resources Inc., in its 2019 Salary Survey Report of College Graduates and Interns, found that around 43 percent of respondents indicate that grade point average (GPA) is a driving factor in hiring college graduates, with the minimum 3.0 GPA identified. Data was collected between February and May 2019 from 83 organizations that participated in this study.


Related SHRM Articles:

2020 Salary Budget Growth Expected to Notch Just Above 3%, SHRM Online, August 2019

Many Grads Have Regrets About College, SHRM Online, July 2019

Job Offers Up but Salaries Mostly Flat for 2019 Graduates, SHRM Online, May 2019

Why Hiring Managers' Expectations for New College Graduates May Be Unrealistic, SHRM Online, April 2019

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