Degrees With the Highest Starting Salaries

Learn about the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees and which jobs these degrees lead to.

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There’s good news for 2011 graduates: Job openings and starting salaries are beginning to look up.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Salary Survey reports that employers plan to hire 19.3 percent more new college grads this fall than last year. The average starting salary for all college graduates with a bachelor’s degree is $50,462, which is up almost $3,000 from last year. This is the first increase in starting salaries since 2008.

With the promising job outlook, you might be wondering what the highest-paying degrees are.

While money should factor into your career choice, remember that your passions and interests should be a part of your decision

Degrees That Pay

The health-care field might have the most job openings, but engineering is the profession that pays the best.

Of the fields with the highest starting salaries in the country, nine out of 10 are related to engineering. All the degrees on the list are associated with technology.

According to NACE Salary Survey, the highest-paying degrees are:

  1. Chemical engineering: $66,886
  2. Computer science: $63,017
  3. Mechanical engineering: $60,739
  4. Electrical/electronics and communications engineering: $60,646
  5. Computer engineering: $60,112
  6. Industrial/manufacturing engineering: $58,549
  7. Systems engineering: $57,497
  8. Engineering technology: $57, 176
  9. Information sciences and systems: $56,868
  10. Business systems networking/telecommunications: $56,808

Why are the highest-paying jobs trend in engineering and technology-driven occupations? We live in a product-driven society that is in constant demand for the “next best thing, and engineers are needed to plan, develop and design the products we demand.

In addition, America doesn’t produce a huge number of science- and mathematically minded individuals, which places them in higher demand for the jobs that are out there.

Attending a top school would increase your chances of earning a higher starting salary. Among the best schools are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. These are the top three undergraduate colleges (that offer PhDs) for engineering, according to US News & World Report.

Not sure whether a PhD is in your future? The top three undergraduate engineering programs at universities that do not offer the program at the doctorate level are Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, Harvey Mudd College and Cooper Union.

What are other in-demand jobs?

Nursing is the career with the most job openings and has a starting salary of $55,774 with a bachelor’s degree (BSN). However, unlike engineering graduates, nurses’ salaries tend to reach a plateau during mid-career. Although it comes in 18th place for highest starting salaries, it drops to 66th for mid-career pay.

Business is another good career for those who want a good salary. Students who majored in finance have a starting salary of $53,048, with accounting coming in close behind at $50,316. Human-resources graduates can enjoy an average starting salary of $52,532.

Economics, meanwhile, has a starting salary of $54,634.

There are some in-demand jobs that do not have high starting salaries but offer other intangible benefits. Teachers are in great demand, but Payscale.com reports that the starting salary for a teacher with less than one year of experience is $34,703.

Like teachers, social workers dedicate their lives to helping others grow. Although the starting pay goes up only to $30,000, it is rewarding in other ways.

While money should factor into your career choice, remember that your passions and interests should be a part of your decision. You will not excel in your career if you are not interested in your career.

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