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What Is the Average Starting Salary Out of College?

If you’re on your way to earning a college degree, one of the biggest questions on your mind is probably “how much money can I earn once I graduate?” It’s an important question, and one that you should definitely consider as you look forward to the next chapter of your life. After all, one of the top reasons to go to college is to increase your earning potential. Keep reading to learn more about the average starting salary out of college.

Related: Top 20 highest paying careers

So what is the average starting salary?

We know this is what you came here for, so let’s get straight to the point. A recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that the average starting salary for 2019 college graduates was $53,889. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that this is an average. Your starting salary out of college depends a lot on what you majored in, where you live, and where you went to school. So in reality, you could be earning much less or much more than the national average. We wish we could give you a straight answer, but it really just depends on your personal circumstances. 

To give you a better idea of what your starting salary might look like, in this article we’ll talk about the following key factors:

  • What you majored in 
  • Where you live following graduation 
  • Where you went to college

All of these factors play a big role in determining your starting salary following graduation. Let’s take a look at each one. 

Undergraduate Degree

This is by far the most important factor that influences your starting salary when you graduate college. You’ll automatically increase your earning potential by going to college, but it’s no secret that some majors lead to more lucrative careers than others. Let’s discuss the majors with the highest starting salaries, plus the ones with the lowest. 

Also see: College majors for the future

Highest Paying Bachelor’s Degrees

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that STEM degrees, particularly those in engineering, lead to the highest paying careers. Below we’ve listed the fields of study with the highest median early career pay (alumni with 0-5 years experience), according to PayScale’s College Salary Report.

  1. Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (EECS) – $101,200
  2. Physician Assistant Studies – $92,900
  3. Petroleum Engineering – $92,300
  4. Metallurgical Engineering – $79,100
  5. Operations Research – $78,400
  6. Nuclear Engineering Technology (NET) – $78,200
  7. Welding Engineering – $76,900
  8. Medicine – $75,500
  9. Mining Engineering – $75,200
  10. Marine Engineering – $74,700

Lowest Paying Bachelor’s Degrees

Majors in education and the arts tend to result in the lowest-paying careers. However, you certainly shouldn’t shy away from pursuing a major in one of these fields if it’s your passion. Remember that a rewarding career isn’t measured in salary alone. You should also keep in mind that these are entry-level salaries, meaning your earning potential will increase as your career develops. Below we’ve listed the fields of study with the lowest median early career pay (alumni with 0-5 years experience), according to PayScale’s College Salary Report.

  1. Developmental Psychology – $31,000
  2. Painting & Printmaking – $32,800
  3. Voice & Opera – $32,900
  4. Child & Family Studies – $34,100
  5. Early Childhood Education – $34,100
  6. Rehabilitation Services – $34,100
  7. Elementary Teaching – $34,400
  8. Educational Psychology – $34,600
  9. Psychology & Human Services – $35,000
  10. Biblical Studies & Practical Ministries – $35,100

Now of course, there’s a lot of majors not included here. We’ve simply covered the extreme ends of the spectrum to demonstrate how much starting salary can vary according to your field of study. Check out the College Salary Report from Payscale if you’d like to learn about the salary for your particular field. 


Your major isn’t the only thing that affects your early career salary. The city in which you live has a big impact on your earning potential as well. Some cities are more favorable than others when it comes to cost of living and job opportunities. That’s why it’s never too early to start thinking about where you want to make your base following graduation. Below we’ve listed some of the best-paying cities for recent college graduates, according to a report by Self that analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Note that we’ve included both the median wage as adjusted for the cost of living, plus the actual median wage. 

Rank City Median Earnings for Recent College Grads (adjusted for cost of living) Median Earnings for Recent College Grads (actual) Cost of Living (compared to national average)
1 San Jose, CA $56,827 $72,000 +26.7%
2 St. Louis, MO $53,274 $48,000 -9.9%
3 Kansas City, MO $52,802 $49,000 -7.2%
4 Pittsburgh, PA $52,706 $48,700 -7.6%
5 Detroit, MI $52,466 $50,000 -4.7%
6 Cleveland, OH $52,280 $47,000 -10.1%
7 San Francisco, CA $52,045 $70,000 +34.5%
8 Columbus, OH $51,856 $47,500 -8.4%
9 Dallas, TX $49,407 $50,000 +1.2%
10 Austin, TX $49,345 $49,000 -0.7%
11 Houston, TX $49,164 $50,000 +1.7%
12 Providence, RI $48,853 $49,000 +0.3%
13 Chicago, IL $48,638 $50,000 +2.8%
14 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN $48,591 $50,000 +2.9%
15 Cincinnati, OH $48,565 $44,000 -9.4%

These American cities are highly favorable for recent college graduates, but they’re definitely not the only places where you can earn a good living. If you’re interested in a certain city, check out NerdWallet’s cost of living calculator. That’ll give you a sense of the type of salary needed to maintain your standard of living in different cities. 


While it’s not as big a factor as the previous two, the college you attend can also affect your starting salary. It’s a common belief that the more prestigious school you attend, the higher your salary will be after graduation. And while this is certainly true sometimes, it’s not a hard and fast rule that should be taken to heart. Your starting salary is affected by your field of study more than anything else. With that being said, we’ve listed the colleges that produce the highest-paid graduates, according to PayScale’s College Salary Report. Note that the table is ordered according to highest mid career pay (10+ years experience), but we’ve also included early career pay (0-5 years experience). 

Rank School Early Career Pay Mid Career Pay
1 Harvey Mudd College $91,400 $162,500
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology $88,300 $158,100
3 United States Naval Academy  $79,600 $152,600
4 Princeton University $77,300 $150,500
5 California Institute of Technology $87,600 $150,300
6 Harvard University $76,400 $147,700
7 Stanford University $81,800 $147,100
8 Santa Clara University $71,100 $146,300
9 United States Military Academy $81,100 $146,300
10 Babson College $73,000 $146,200

If you’re curious about the median career pay of any colleges not included in this list, this list might come in handy. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, your average starting salary out of college depends on a variety of factors. Your field of study has the greatest impact on your earning potential, while your location and alma mater also play a part. Not to mention, your salary is greatly affected by your level of education. The general rule of thumb is that the more education you have, the more money you earn. For instance, you can achieve a higher salary by obtaining your master’s degree or doctorate once you have your bachelor’s. Meanwhile, you’ll likely have a lower starting salary if you opt for an associate’s degree instead of a bachelor’s. The bottom line is that not every college graduate makes the same amount of money right out of the gate. It all depends on your individual journey. 

Related: How much student loan debt is too much