The top 10 highest paying majors numbers are out from the National Association of Colleges and Employers and it’s a very interesting mix. The top slots are all very similar to the highest paying majors from the 2009 salary survey with some minor annual increases. The bottom of the list changed a bit. What I continue to find interesting is the strong demand for engineering degrees at the entry level even though many manufacturing companies are leading waves of layoffs given lack of demand during the recession.
Noticeably absent from the top 10 list are any financial, business or accounting related majors that dominated the list in 2008. Overall, the average salary for 2010 graduates is $48,351 which is down 2% last year’s average of $49,353. However, I noticed that when contrasting these highest paying salaries with last year’s list, most of these showed positive increases year over year for 2010 (hence, “in demand”):
Top 10 College Degrees by Highest Starting Salary
- Petroleum Engineering $86,220
- Chemical Engineering $65,142
- Mining & Mineral Engineering $64,552
- Computer Science $61,205
- Computer Engineering $60,879
- Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering $59,074
- Mechanical Engineering $58,392
- Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering $57,734
- Aerospace/Aeronautical/ Astronautical Engineering $57,231
- Information Sciences & Systems $54,038
Top 10 Degree Analysis
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see petroleum, chemical, mining and mineral engineering degrees as top spots on the list. Even though Wall Street is suffering and the face of the automotive industry has changed forever, given the growth in emerging markets and the insatiable consumption of energy and materials for their commercial/residential buildouts and economic development, these degrees will likely be in very strong demand for years to come.
One of the few things America still leads the world in in terms of manufacturing and development, is computer technology. Be it Intel or Apple, even though many of our wares are subsequently copied and mass-produced overseas, there is incredible demand for cutting edge launches out of the US. Additionally, the knowledge economy is very much demanding programmers and thinkers from top colleges as well. Google is still known as a top employer of choice and even the US government is heavy into data analysis in the post 9/11 world for everything from tracking terrorists to facial recognition technology to developing algorithms to detect suspicious financial activities.
Engineering in General:
Why do Engineering degrees comprise such a large portion of the top slots year after year? It’s basic supply and demand. There are too few engineering graduates each year to meet the demand in the private sector. Contrast that with say, a Communications major (nothing against them, there just seem to be more of these graduates out there than jobs beckoning). Even though it’s a tough job market right now, engineers coming out of good schools have always been able to practically write their own ticket if they had the right skill set, grades, a decent internship and are open to relocating to score an entry-level position at one of the best places to work.
I’m a Chemical Engineer – Starting Salary Isn’t Everything:
The irony in these surveys and how salary levels pan out further into a career are that the engineering degrees tend to be very much in demand in the early years of a career, but the pay increases roughly with overall wage inflation. However, for a business major or any major for that matter, that either goes directly into the Financial industry or snags an MBA along the way and does so, the salaries 10 years later are off the chart.
Consider my experience. I lived in a pretty crazy environment in college. I was 1 studying engineer in a house of another 20 guys studying everything from history and economics to anthropology and accounting. Most of them pretty much did the bare minimum scholastically and the absolute maximum from a party/having fun standpoint. I got out one or two nights a week, but it was a constant party of most of these guys. Funny thing is, even with mediocre grades, many of them ended up on Wall Street or other financial firms in the area and now make double to triple what I make. Why? Wall Street pay skyrocketed for those who stayed in the industry. How’d they get into these roles? Connections.
The nice thing about an engineering degree is that it’s widely recognized as a highly adaptive, “capable” major. For instance, rather than jumping into chemical plants, many of my graduating class went to work as actuaries (even higher starting salary), Wall Street, medical schools and other seemingly unrelated destinations. Once in industry, as unfair as it may seem, chemical engineers especially, tended to command higher starting salaries for the same given job title and raises. Why? If the going rate for a bio major is $50K and a chemical engineer is $65K and rising each year, in order to retain those chemical engineers, a company has to make sure they’re keeping up with the rest of the job market.
On the theme of an adaptive/diverse background, a useful combo, and one that I pursued personally, is the engineer/MBA combo. Basically, I cut my teeth in manufacturing and spent a few years pursuing an MBA at night and then transitioned into a broader strategic/business role. Not only has the role brought me a higher income via promotions, but the diverse background is well-suited to multiple roles now. Given the need, I could work in any one of multiple manufacturing, supply chain, procurement or project management roles.
So, it’s a toss-up. Going after the Wall Street career is no longer a guarantee to either a) even get in or b) lifetime employment or c) high pay. Things are changing. ETFs are overtaking mutual funds so there’s that many fewer fund managers and sales reps. The government will play an ever-increasing role in the regulation and suppression of growth of large firms to prevent another “too big to fail” scenario. some of the regulations that will inevitably be enacted may permanently curtail the profit growth and career potential in the financial industry.
Six Figure Jobs are getting to be harder to come by in the current economic environment. As the supply-demand equation has switched from a shortage of qualified workers and an abundance of firms looking to talent to many talented, experienced employees looking for work, it’s not quite the same as we saw during the boom years. That being said, there are new services and resources that didn’t exist previously. A wonderful resource that I enjoy is The Ladders. If you’re highly qualified and used to earn upwards of six figures, this service can greatly hone your search and it also limits the candidate pool to those with recent six-figure salaries.
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