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From Salaries to Benefits: Navigating the Post-College Job Market

Going to college is undoubtedly an excellent way to improve one’s chances of landing a well-paying job. However, graduating and getting that job is not always a straight path.

While some graduates may find themselves in high-paying jobs almost immediately after leaving campus, others may struggle to earn a decent wage. Factors such as major, school, and location could play a significant role in what graduates earn.

In this article, we will explore the average earnings of college graduates, factors that affect starting salaries, and how the expectations students have compare to the realities of earning a living.

Average Starting Salaries for College Graduates

Knowing the average salaries that graduates earn in their fields of study can help students set realistic expectations for their post-college lives and navigate their career paths. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average starting salary for 2021 college graduates is $55,934, up by 1.7% from 2019.

However, the average salaries vary by major, with some degrees commanding higher starting salaries than others. For instance, those with a degree in engineering can expect to earn a starting salary of around $69,188, while those with business degrees earn an average of $57,657.

Although engineering and business majors are known to be among the highest paying fields, other majors such as computer science, mathematics, and economics also earn above-average starting salaries. Factors Affecting Starting Salaries: Major, School, Location

While the major a student chooses can significantly impact their earnings, other factors such as the school attended, location, and experience level also play a role.

Students who attend prestigious schools that have better reputations for producing quality graduates may earn higher salaries than those who attend less prestigious institutions. Location is also a vital consideration when it comes to the salaries earned by college graduates.

Graduates living in large metropolitan areas may earn higher salaries than those in small towns. However, the cost of living and job market in a location must also be considered.

For instance, New York City may offer higher average salaries than a smaller city, but the cost of living could quickly absorb any additional income.

Importance of Determining Diploma Worth

Knowing the realistic worth of a diploma is essential for every student to set expectations and make informed decisions about their future. By knowing what salaries they can expect for different majors, schools, and locations, students can make informed decisions about their college choices.

Whether they choose a school based on its prestige, location, or the college’s reputation for producing top-earning graduates, understanding the job market and the earning potential is essential. Expectations vs.


Although students have access to salary information, their expectations could be different from reality. A survey conducted by NACE survey revealed that students have unrealistic expectations about the starting salaries they can earn in their respective fields.

For example, students with science and Mathematics degrees overestimate their earnings potential by over $10,000. The study also found that students majoring in computer science tend to underestimate their earning potential, with graduating students earning on average $81,039, while those in software development earn an average of $72,228.

Many computer science students may expect lower starting salaries because they hear horror stories about recent graduates struggling to find employment. Still, the job market for these fields is highly competitive, and top graduates are highly sought after by employers.

Realistic Expectations Based on Field of Study

It is essential for graduating students to have realistic salary expectations based on their majors and the industry they want to enter. For example, students with degrees in English, History, and the Arts must understand that their industries tend to pay lower salaries than those in STEM fields.

If students choose a career in the Arts, their earning potential may be less than if they decided to go into finance or engineering. It is also important to note that experience and skill level could impact starting salaries.

Students who landed internships in their field of study, have high GPAs, and gained relevant experience, could likely earn higher salaries than those without extensive experience.


Knowing the average salaries for different majors, schools, and locations can help graduating students make informed decisions about their future. Although students may have unrealistic salary expectations, it is essential to set realistic goals for themselves based on their fields of study and the job market.

With the right expectations, students will be better positioned to navigate their career paths and make the most of their diplomas. 3) College Students’ Job Priorities

Many college students prioritize obtaining a well-paying job after graduation.

While earning potential remains a priority, increasingly, students have also begun to consider other factors such as benefits and workplace culture when evaluating job opportunities. College graduates are often in the early stages of their careers, and they should take steps to safeguard their financial futures.

Importance of Insurance Plans for College Students

One way in which they can do this is by prioritizing insurance plans when evaluating job opportunities. College graduates tend to be young and healthy, but accidents and illnesses can happen to anyone.

A good insurance plan can protect graduates from the possibly astronomical costs of medical care should they require medical attention. Employers may offer health insurance or other types of insurance that mitigate specific risks that an employee may face.

For example, a comprehensive health insurance plan can cover routine care as well as emergency care, specialized treatments, and prescription medications. Other types of insurance that college graduates might consider when evaluating job offers include dental insurance, vision insurance, or disability insurance.

When considering job opportunities, graduates should assess their insurance needs based on their individual circumstances. Some may need coverage for specific areas of health care, while others may have dependents that require coverage as well.

Salary Ranking as Secondary to Insurance Plans

When evaluating job offers, college graduates should prioritize insurance plans over salary rankings. Earning a high salary is undoubtedly a priority for many graduates, but it may not always be the most important consideration.

A comprehensive benefits package that includes insurance plans could ultimately provide more long-term value than a higher salary. Failing to obtain insurance coverage could have long-term financial consequences should graduates require medical treatment.

A single unexpected hospitalization or surgery could inevitably result in medical bills that reach tens of thousands of dollars quickly. Health insurance coverage can lessen the burden of this unfortunate circumstance.

Retirement Plan Prioritized Over Student Loan Repayment Assistance

When considering job opportunities, it is also essential for college graduates to make retirement planning a priority. Most college graduates are young and likely have decades of their professional careers ahead of them.

Saving for retirement can seem like a daunting task, but addressing it early on is necessary to ensure a more financially secure future. Employers may offer retirement benefits such as 401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), or other types of retirement savings vehicles.

Employers may also offer matching funds or other incentives that can help graduates save for retirement. While student loan repayment assistance is an attractive benefit, college graduates should prioritize retirement planning over student loan repayment.

Paying off student loans is undoubtedly important, but it should not be prioritized over the need to save for retirement. Saving for retirement early on in one’s career can help graduates harness the power of compound interest.

By prioritizing retirement planning, graduates can set up a secure financial future for themselves. 4) The Full Scoop: Average Salary for College Graduates

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average starting salary for Class of 2019 college graduates was $53,889, an increase of 5.8% from the previous year.

However, COVID-19 has affected the job market in unforeseen ways, including for recent college graduates. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates with a bachelor’s degree increased from 4% pre-pandemic to 9% during the height of the pandemic.

As a result, graduates with a bachelor’s degree may find the job market harder to navigate. However, certain fields of study tend to have higher-paying jobs, and graduates in these fields are more likely to secure employment quickly.

For instance, graduates with degrees in engineering, computer science, and business tend to have higher starting salaries than those in the liberal arts or education. The following is a breakdown of average starting salaries for various fields of study, as reported by NACE:

– Engineering: $68,558

– Computer Science: $67,539

– Business: $58,275

– Physical Sciences: $56,942

– Mathematics and Statistics: $56,365

– Agriculture and Natural Resources: $53,761

– Social Sciences: $52,928

– Health Sciences: $52,063

– Communications: $50,598

– Humanities: $49,062

– Education: $44,933

Of course, there are many factors that can influence a recent graduate’s starting salary, such as location, industry, and individual job performance, but these averages provide insight into the earning potential for various majors.


Graduating from college is a significant achievement that can lead to a successful career. However, just earning a diploma is only one step in a graduate’s journey to financial security.

Evaluating job opportunities based on a wide range of factors, including salary, insurance coverage, and retirement planning, is essential for establishing the foundation for a strong financial future. Furthermore, understanding the average salaries for different majors can provide insight into starting salaries for various fields of study.

5) Highest Paying Bachelor’s Degree Majors

For many college students, the earning potential of different majors is a critical consideration when deciding on a career path. Earning a bachelor’s degree usually means a higher earning potential than not having a degree, but the specific major pursued can have a significant impact on earning potential.

Here are the top 10 highest-paying majors in early career, according to a study by PayScale:

1. Petroleum Engineering: $92,300


Computer Science & Engineering: $82,800

3. Applied Mathematics: $81,500


Physics & Mathematics: $79,500

5. Nuclear Engineering: $78,300


Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering: $77,900

7. Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering: $77,700


Electrical & Computer Engineering: $77,200

9. Systems Engineering: $76,400


Environmental Engineering: $75,800

As this list demonstrates, many of the highest-paying majors are in STEM fields, with engineering and mathematics being particularly lucrative. The study indicates that those with degrees in these areas have excellent earning potential early in their careers.

Mid-Career Earnings and Overall Earnings Potential

While it is beneficial to earn a high salary early in one’s career, mid-career earning potential can be just as crucial. Many majors, such as those listed above, have a relatively solid earning potential throughout a graduate’s professional career, but others may have high earning potential early on with less potential for growth as a professional’s career progresses.

For example, a graduate with a degree in nursing, which has an average starting salary of $67,800 according to PayScale, may earn significantly less than a graduate with a degree in petroleum engineering early in their careers. However, a nurse’s strong earning potential may continue to grow throughout their career with additional education and experience.

In contrast, those with a degree in petroleum engineering may have less opportunity for upward mobility later in their career. It is also important for graduates to consider factors beyond earning potential.

Some professions offer opportunities for job satisfaction, creativity, and work-life balance, which can provide long-term fulfillment that may be more important than high salaries. 6) Lowest Paying Bachelor’s Degree Majors

While earning potential is a major consideration for many college students, other students prioritize their passion for a field even if or because it may yield lower earning potential.

Here are the 10 lowest-paying bachelor’s degrees in early career, based on a study by PayScale:

1. Early Childhood Education: $35,600


Child & Family Studies: $36,400

3. Human Services: $36,800


Studio Arts: $36,900

5. Social Work: $37,000


Mental Health & Counseling: $37,300

7. Elementary Education: $37,500


Youth Ministry: $37,600

9. Child Development: $37,800


Family & Consumer Sciences: $38,000

As demonstrated by this list, many of the lowest-paying majors are in fields that focus on social work or education. It is crucial for students to consider their passion for a field in addition to the earning potential when deciding on a major.

Importance of Passion in Career Choices

Despite the lower early career earning potential, many students pursue these careers with passion and dedication to making a positive impact on their communities. Graduates with these majors often enter into jobs with a high degree of personal fulfillment, and the sense of purpose they receive from their work may provide personal benefits that go beyond earning potential.

Furthermore, while these fields may not have high earning potential early on, it is possible for professionals to progress and increase their earnings potential with experience and further education. Graduates of these majors may also seek additional education and certifications, which can increase their earning potential and pave the way for fulfilling careers.

In conclusion, while earning potential is an important consideration when deciding on a field of study, other factors such as passion, personal fulfillment, and impact in the community should be taken into account. Graduates have a range of majors to choose from, and by considering a variety of factors, they can make informed decisions that lead to fulfilling and rewarding careers.

7) Know Your Worth

When entering the job market, it is crucial for college graduates to research fair salaries for specific positions within their chosen field. Knowing one’s worth and understanding market rates can help graduates negotiate competitive compensation packages and avoid being taken advantage of.

There are several resources available to help graduates determine fair salaries. Online salary calculators, such as Glassdoor or Salary.com, provide estimates based on industry, job title, location, and level of experience.

These calculators can give graduates a general idea of what they should expect in terms of compensation. Another valuable resource is a school’s alumni network.

Speaking with alumni who have similar degrees and job positions can provide graduates with realistic salary expectations. Alumni can share insights into their own career paths, including salary progression, promotions, or additional certifications that have led to higher earning potential.

It is also important for graduates to consider the value of internships and volunteer experience. While such experiences may not come with a substantial salary, they provide opportunities to gain valuable skills, network, and enhance the resume.

This can be particularly crucial in a competitive job market, as employers often place significant value on practical experience when evaluating candidates. 8) Salary Isn’t Everything

While earning a competitive salary is important, there are other factors to consider when evaluating job offers.

Non-salary compensation and benefits can significantly impact job satisfaction and overall quality of life. Graduates must prioritize the benefits that align with their personal and professional goals.

Non-salary compensation can include various perks, such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and flexible work schedules. These benefits can have a significant financial impact and provide a level of security that goes beyond a paycheck.

For example, a comprehensive health insurance plan can save graduates thousands of dollars in medical expenses, while a generous retirement plan can set them up for a more secure financial future. Other non-salary benefits may include professional development opportunities, tuition reimbursement for further education, transportation or childcare subsidies, and a supportive company culture.

Graduates should evaluate these benefits to determine their value and how they align with their long-term goals. However, personal priorities should not be overlooked.

A job that offers a higher salary but lacks work-life balance or aligns poorly with one’s values may ultimately lead to dissatisfaction. Graduates should consider their personal aspirations, long-term career goals, and the company culture when making decisions about job offers.

It is also worth noting that salary negotiation should not be overlooked. Once graduates have done their research and have a clear understanding of their worth, they should not hesitate to negotiate for fair compensation.

Many employers expect negotiation and may have flexibility in their compensation packages. By advocating for themselves, graduates can potentially secure a more favorable salary and benefits package.

In conclusion, while salary is an important consideration when evaluating job offers, it should not be the sole determinant. Graduates must research fair salaries, utilize online resources and alumni networks, and consider the value of internships and volunteer experience.

Non-salary compensation and benefits, as well as personal priorities, should also factor into the decision-making process. By understanding their worth, considering the full compensation package, and prioritizing their personal and professional goals, graduates can make informed decisions that lead to fulfilling and rewarding careers.

In conclusion, understanding the average starting salaries for different majors, researching fair salaries, and considering non-salary compensation are vital for college graduates entering the job market. By knowing their worth and setting realistic expectations, graduates can navigate their career paths more effectively.

It is essential to prioritize factors beyond salary, such as insurance plans, retirement benefits, work-life balance, and personal fulfillment, when evaluating job offers. Remember, a well-rounded compensation package and a career that aligns with personal values and goals can lead to long-term satisfaction and success.

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