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Latest Most Lucrative Degree Report

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Back in April, CNN reported the year over year jumps in salaries for certain degree holders, declaring marketing majors the clear winner from a year over year perspective. The overall winners of the best paid degree list were still chemical engineers, over $5,000 a year past the 2nd place winner electrical engineers. So, CNN, a scant three months later, has yet another report out and yet again chemical engineers own the top spot. The report is based on a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which did the survey the last time around.

So what can we learn from this list? It pays to be an engineer! The top six degrees are engineering degrees (you can argue computer science doesn’t have the word engineer in it but it’s engineering) and every single classic engineering discipline is represented. Chemical ranks as top dog with a salary of $59,361 and sixth place Civil clocks in with a very respectable $48,509 a year salary. Each saw increases that outpaced inflation, which is a great sign.

The balance of the list has a healthy mix of fine or liberal arts and business/economics related degrees… so everyone is feeling the prosperity. It’s just that engineers are feeling more of it. One interesting statistic I’d like to see coupled with this increase is the number of actual hires in these fields, that would give the numbers some context. The survey did glean that competition was up but that doesn’t explain whether demand was up or supply was up or perhaps both and supply merely outpaced demand.

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13 Responses to “Latest Most Lucrative Degree Report”

  1. saladdin says:

    I always wonder when I see these types of articles.
    How many people are in the same boat as me and have a job with NO regards to their degree? I have a marketing degree and spelling “marketing” is as close to that career as I have gotten.

  2. matt says:

    I also wonder… because I’ve NEVER seen an entry level job advertised with pay near 45,000. NEVER.

    And these are the “average” starting salaries? FOR WHOM? I could understand if it said that the brightest and best students receive these offers, but it says “average,” meaning some are below, and some are above.

    I’m seeing a huge bias here, and it’s swimming laps in their data pool. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’m not getting wet.

    • jim says:

      It may be because of your geographic area but the average engineering salary here in the Baltimore/DC area at a defense company (and thus most other companies) for someone with a BS is 55k. With a masters that jumps up to $65k.

  3. MossySF says:

    My first job after graduating from college was advertised for 33K-38K — I brought in a portfolio of projects I had worked on during my sparetime during college and they offered me 40K. Apparently, the 10 people who interviewed before me couldn’t even pass a simple programming test so they probably were feeling desparate about the lack of candidates. 40K + 3.5% inflation over 12 years is about 60K now.

    Back then, I considered this salary average because my friends with similar computer skills all got better job offers than me after graduating.

  4. Alex says:

    The engineers start out high because they bring a tangible skill. However, there is a ceiling they hit pretty quickly unless they get on the upper management track or use their technical training to go into sales.

  5. Pat says:

    I can’t figure why they don’t include pharmacists. It might be because when I went it was a 5 year bachelor degree and now it’s a 6 year degree so they can get graduate tuition but I would say 125,000 stomps the competition.

  6. Dennis says:

    I wonder how this varies if you factor in graduate degrees. Is it worth it to get graduate degrees (cost and time vs. salary increase).

  7. kitty says:

    “I also wonder… because I’ve NEVER seen an entry level job advertised with pay near 45,000.”
    There is very little if any advertising for starting level engineering jobs. Most people get the jobs via college recruiting – companies send representatives to all major universities to interview seniors and graduate students in their last year, and most.

    I got my first job in 1983 via college recruiting. I was getting MS in CS and in my last year. I had several offers ranging 28K-32K (I took a 28K one because I thought I liked it better.Take inflation into the consideration, and you’ll easily get over 45K in today’s dollars.

    “I wonder how this varies if you factor in graduate degrees. Is it worth it to get graduate degrees (cost and time vs. salary increase).”
    I think it depends on the field. There is not much cost in getting grad degree in engineering, as you can always get an assistantship which gives you tuition waiver regardless of how high the tuition is and a salary. Not a huge salary, but enough to live on. In addition, if your field is subject to outsourcing, you are in a much better position to compete with folks in India and China. Starting salaries are higher on the average with an MS, and there are more jobs per person as there are fewer people with grad degrees. It also gives more choices in the type of work your can do. For example, for a CS graduate getting a job in software R&D may be easier with an MS while it may make little or no difference in applications programming jobs. So it also depends on the type of job you’d like to do. As to the PhD, it is really for people who want to work in research. IMHO, if you are really interested in research and like to write papers or want to work in a university, then you may want to pursue a PhD. Otherwise, it is probably not worth it.

    “I can’t figure why they don’t include pharmacists”
    It doesn’t include doctors either. I think the fact that they used year-to-year increase in salary rather than salary itself may have something to do with it. I am not sure it is the right criteria though. A salary may have increased one year by 10% but if it was 70% lower to begin with, it’ll take many years of such increases to catch up. As job market changes year over year, nobody can guarantee that the rate of increases is going to be consistent in the long run.

  8. MoneyNing says:

    It seems like North American Engineering jobs are very prestiges but it is not nearly as good to be an engineer in Asia.

  9. Melissa says:

    I’m a civil engineer in LA and can give some input at least for this market. First based on my experience I’d say their numbers sound about right, also keep in mind there is a BIG shortage in engineers right now making for big salary increases. When I started 8 years ago $45k was the starting salary for an engineer with the City of LA so it’s gotta be more now. I made less starting out in the private sector but that quickly went up. Whomever said engineers quickly top out salary wise is wrong, at least in the private sector. I started at $38k (which was good at the time) and had a 13% pay raise the first year, 8 years later and I’m at $88k plus with OT I’ll make another $5-$10k. Plus with shortage of engineers right now I negotiated a $20k signing bonus with my latest job. Topping out right now means the low $100′s, I’d say that’s not a bad move up. Though keep in mind to get a good bump you have to leave your current company for a better offer, otherwise they just give piddly yearly raises like most corporate jobs. Most engineering jobs are not advertised per se, I got my first job cause I worked there as an intern. They approached the school looking for interns, I wasn’t even looking for a job. Every other job the company has recruited me/poached me, most companies rely on employee’s referring friends and former co-workers. For some perspective on the current hot job market, a former boss literally staked me out today and ambushed me coming back after lunch wanting to know if I’ll come to his current company. I turn down unsolicited offers regularly.

    I think the jobs in the article, as opposed to pharmacist or doctor, are also jobs that only require a 4 yr BS not a graduate degree. In civil I know very few people with graduate degrees, they’re always structural engineers, and it hasn’t been a barrier to my advancement. Heck I know people making more than me who have yet to pass the EIT (engineer in training) exam! If someone interested in civil asked me should they get a MS or PhD I’d answer only if it’s personally fulfilling, it’s not needed professionally. Oh and lastly, I believe the term “engineer” is used a little more loosely in Asia than in the US. It was in an article noting how many more engineers asia produces than the US each year, but went on to say that there the term engineer included mechanics and technicians not just us nerdy people with our pocket protectors.

  10. tekottin deeoss says:

    fresh out of college I went to an interview arranged by the college that I attended, and recieved an offer for 60 straight out of the starting gates. I accepted the offer and the rest was history. I have been employed with the same company for a number o years now.
    In fact they really can’t get along without me. I’d just like to see them try it! besides who is going to have the expertise to get the job done as I do?

    I am the man! I wrap myself in duct tape, and stsnd near the trash recepticles,and I catch all of the companies FLIES!!!!

  11. electrician says:

    This is hilarious. I think maybe apprenticeship would be a good option in this country for engineering training. When I started my electrical apprenticeship it was at 25k. By the time I hit fourth year it was at 72k. Now this is all PAID FOR training. I never had to pay for classes as all the companies I worked for took care of that. Also of course I was making money in the meantime. Really my only expenses are tools ( 2k for the first year and 500 dollars a year after that ), books for class ( 125 dollars a year ), and gas if you don’t live close to the job.

    After graduating, provided you are wise enough to only look for prevailing wage jobs, I make 118k at $57 dollars per hour ( not including overtime ). So basically you accrue no debt, get paid well to train, learn as you go, and graduate as a competent and qualified professional. Apprenticeship is a wonderful way to go and in my personal opinion perhaps some industries should look into that instead. Another benefit would be that as you enter the trade you get to see first-hand what a working day is like and whether that particular discipline is for you in the long run, as I’ve seen people drop out and go back to school.

    The reason for this post is that I am going to give up being an electrician to get a degree in computer engineering, as I find computers so fascinating and I love learning how they work. I would love to be able to start an apprenticeship all over again in the computer engineering field, but I know there is a slim chance for it. Now I will be forced to accrue a large debt and have to start at the bottom with that debt. I guess that’s the price to pay for doing something you like and of course to have a front row seat to watch as many jobs get outsourced.

    As a disclaimer there may be many things I did not take into consideration before promulgating apprenticeship as the way to learn a profession. And some dressing down by bloggers as to why would be welcome and then digested…

  12. michael5711 says:

    In my experience, it is better to work than to go to graduate school in engineering, unless as someone said, it is for personal gratification, etc. Also, unless you work and go to graduate school. By the time you can earn a grad degree, you have two or three years of practical experience, much more valuable to an employer than an extra degree. At least this was the case in my field of chemical engineering.


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