What Is the Average Salary for Bachelor Degree Graduates?

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 22, 2021

When deciding on a college major, it's common to consider not only your interests and skills, but average starting salary. Some professions are traditionally known to draw higher salaries than others but, many students may have misconceptions about their earning potential after college. In this article, we discuss the average salary for recent college graduates and outline average entry-level salaries by industry.

What is the average salary for college graduates?

Recent college graduates who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2021 were projected to earn slightly more than in previous years despite tighter and more competitive markets, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The average salary for 2021 graduates is about $72,173, according to a NACE article. Those who earned bachelor’s degrees in humanities, communications, agriculture and natural resources, business, social sciences, math and sciences, engineering and computer sciences range from $50,681 to $75,900 according to the NACE Winter 2022 Salary Survey. The average starting salary for 2020 graduates was $55,260, according to NACE data.

Overall Academic Category2022 Salary Projection
Computer Sciences$75,900
Engineering$73,922
Math & Sciences$66,760
Social Sciences$61,173
Business$60,695
Agriculture & Natural Resources$57,807
Communications$55,455
Humanities$50,681

Expectation vs. reality for college graduate salaries

According to the NACE survey, among graduates with the highest salaries, over 38% expected to earn less than $60,000. The cost of living in most areas is higher than ever, making it an important factor in the lives of recent graduates. Alternatively, those expecting to make less than $40,000 often find themselves with higher salaries as job demand increases.

Additional considerations regarding salary differences also are at play, including gender-based pay equity. For example, the U.S. Social Security Administration calculates that men with bachelor's degrees earn nearly $900,000 more than high school graduates throughout their lifetime. Women earn about $630,000 more than their high school graduate counterparts. Meanwhile, men with postgraduate degrees earn $1.5 million more while women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.

Related: Should You Go to College: 5 Reasons You Should (or Shouldn't)

Average salaries by college major

According to Summer 2021 NACE Salary Survey, the following majors have the highest starting salaries when earning a bachelor’s degree:

  • Petroleum engineering: $87,989

  • Computer programming: $86,098

  • Computer engineering: $85,996

  • Computer engineering: $85,996

  • Computer science: $85,766

  • Electrical, electronics and communications engineering: $80,819

  • Operations research: $80,166

  • Computer and information science: $78,603

  • Statistics: $75,916

  • Applied mathematics: $73,558

  • Chemical engineering: $72,713

Average salary by industry

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at five career fields to predict average salaries by 2030, with median salaries referring to 2020 data. Here are high-paying occupations above $50,000 within each field for those with degrees:

Business, management and sales

All occupations in this list typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. Many also require licenses or certifications:

  • Computer and information systems managers: $134,180

  • Medical and health service managers: $104,280

  • General and operations managers: $103,650

  • Management analysts: $87,660

  • Financial and investment analysts, financial risk specialists and all other financial specialists: $83,660

  • Accountants and auditors: $73,560

  • Market research analysts and marketing specialists: $65,810

  • Securities, commodities and financial services sales agents: $64,770

  • Human resources specialists: $63,490

Computer and engineering

The occupations in this list typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry, and many also require certifications:

  • Software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers: $110,140

  • Information security analysts: $103,590

  • Database administrators and architects: $98,860

  • Computer systems analysts: $93,730

  • Mechanical engineers: $90,160

  • Industrial engineers: $88,950

  • Civil engineers: $88,570

  • Network and computer systems administrators: $84,810

  • Web developers and digital interface designers: $77,200

  • Computer network support specialists: $65,450

Education, social service and legal

Many of the predicted in-demand careers in these fields require some college education, with some needing an associate degree and others master’s or doctoral degrees. The following list only includes occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree for entry as well as potential licensure or certifications:

  • Elementary school teachers: $60,940

  • Secondary school teachers: $62,870

  • Middle school teachers: $60,810

Health care

Each of the occupations in this list typically requires a bachelor’s degree. Most also require licensure or certifications.

  • Registered nurses: $75,330

  • Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians: $54,180

Media, arts and sports

Each of the occupations in this list typically require a bachelor’s degree:

  • Art directors: $97,270

  • Special effects artists and animators: $77,700

  • Producers and directors: $76,400

  • Writers and authors: $67,120

  • Editors: $63,400

  • Public relations specialists: $62,810

  • Interior designers: $57,060

  • Graphic designers: $53,380

  • Interpreters: $52,330

Is college worth it?

Even with tuition on the rise, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates college is still a good investment. About half of the occupations analyzed by BLS typically require some type of college degree. The results are not always immediate, but with time and experience in your chosen field, cumulatively you have more opportunities and a much higher earning potential if you have a college education.

According to the BLS, the average salary in 2020 was $41,950 for those without any advanced education. Employees with degrees earned $55,870 (associate’s), $78,020 (bachelor’s), $76,800 (master’s) and $110,160 (doctoral or professional).

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