Pay & Salary

What Is the Average Salary for College Graduates?

January 8, 2021

When deciding upon a college major, it's common to consider interest obviously, but also average starting salary. Some professions are traditionally known to make more than others, such as business. However, many students have slight misconceptions regarding their earning potential right after college. In this article, we discuss the average salary for recent college graduates, explore student expectations versus reality and break down average entry salaries by industry.

What is the average salary for college graduates?

Recent college graduates still make about the same amount of money they have for the last several years despite tighter and more competitive markets. While there are a few outliers, the general average salary for college graduates comes to about $50,000 according to a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) salary survey. Those who majored in computer science, engineering, mathematics, health sciences and business were the highest earners, with salaries ranging from $52,000 to $71,000.

Related: Average Salaries for Jobs Related to an Associate Degree in Business Administration

Expectation vs reality of salaries for college graduates

Graduates often enter the workforce with decent pay, but not always in accordance with their expectations. According to the NACE survey, among the 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 demand appears to also be higher.

There are other considerations regarding salary differentials. For example, The United States Social Security Administration calculates that men with bachelor's degrees earn nearly $900,000 more than high school graduates throughout their lifetime. Similar is true for women, although they're only increased by around $630,000. Alternatively, men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more, and women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.

The following lists explain which majors pay the most and which pay the least:

Majors that pay the most

NACE explains that the top paid professions include majors in:

  • Engineering: $69,188
  • Computer science: $67,539
  • Math and sciences: $62,177
  • Business: $57,657
  • Social sciences: $57,310
  • Humanities: $56,651
  • Agriculture: $55,750
  • Communications: $52,056

Majors that pay the least

A report by Georgetown University says the least paid professions include majors in:

  • Drama and theater arts: $44,538
  • Fine arts: $48,871
  • Music: $48,686
  • Studio arts: $41,762
  • Visual and performing arts: $42,465
  • Neuroscience: $48,190
  • Art and music education: $45,613
  • Early childhood education: $39,097

Is college worth it?

Even with tuition on the rise, the Federal Reserve says that college is still a good investment with graduates earning an average of $78,000 per year. A college education still leads to premium earnings in comparison to a high school diploma. 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.

Additionally, The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that United States citizens with bachelor's degrees take home about $1,173 on average each week. Those with only high school diplomas earn an average of only $712 per week in comparison.

Related: How to Write a Successful College Graduate Resume (With Job-Winning Sample)

Average salary by industry

The following list breaks down recent graduate salary by industry:

  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Health
  • Finance
  • Technology


According to NACE, on average, business majors at the bachelor's degree level start around $54,019. Business majors reside on the lower end of the starting salary spectrum with most salaries ranging much closer to $60,000. This is much lower than many business majors expect to make after high school, even with an MBA.


Marketing majors at the bachelor's degree level start at around $52,988, according to NACE. This is lower than general business degrees, but marketing major salaries rise to the top at the master's level, earning around $86,318.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that health majors earn a median salary of around $66,440. This may be slightly higher than starting salaries, however. Health major salaries vary widely depending on the expertise level as some become assistants and others become full doctors.


Finance majors earn around $55,609 at their first job, according to NACE. This number jumps to about $70,957 at the master's level. Finance majors also have a wide range of salary expectations depending on their career goals. For example, some individuals remain in consulting roles while others open their own businesses.


Technology majors, such as those who work in management information systems, start at around $59,642, according to NACE. At the master's level, this number rises to about $75,433. Similar to previous entries, technology degrees vary widely and not all positions follow these numbers.

Related: Average Salary by Age

Tips for earning more money

Knowing your own worth is the best way to ensure you get the best salary possible after college. The more information and data you collect on salaries within your career field, the better position you're in during an interview. Look online for free salary calculators or check Indeed's Salary Guide for more information on your field. You can also consult your academic advisor or career office. Other tips include:

  • Internships and other forms of early work experience make more competitive resumes. Many graduates leave college with little or no work experience. If you completed any volunteer work during your time there, you have a competitive edge. You may even be considered for higher salaries as well since you're immediately more valuable. Look for additional opportunities as they come and put all of this information within your resume. It proves to hiring managers you are highly qualified.

  • When considering your first offer, think beyond the initial salary. For example, ask about the potential for advancement, consider what your overall satisfaction at this company might be and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of the work and personal life balance they provide.


View More 

Jobs That Pay Well

Wonder what it takes to get a high-paying job? Here are details on 17 jobs with high salaries including positions in healthcare, technology, the financial sector and more.

How to Share Your Salary History

How should you provide your salary history if an employer asks? Here is some background about why employers ask for your salary background and examples of how you can share this information.