Even though a college degree is expensive, the economic returns are worth it. College graduates earn much more on average than workers without a degree, and the potential salary increases with each successive degree.
When evaluating your potential salary after college, consider your major, degree level and location.
Average college graduate salaries
According to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers:
- The average college graduate starting salary is around $55,260.
- Computer science majors have the highest projected average salary for 2022, making an average of $75,900.
- Humanities majors have the lowest projected average salary for 2022, making an average of $50,681.
- There is a projected hiring increase of 26.6 percent for the class of 2022.
Average salary by education level
Careers that call for higher skill and education levels pay significantly more than jobs that do not require advanced degrees. Median annual earnings for people with a doctoral degree are more than $30,000 higher than earnings for people with a bachelor’s degree and almost $60,000 higher than earnings for people with only a high school diploma.
|Education level||Median weekly earnings||Median annual salary|
|Some college, no degree||$833||$43,316|
|High school diploma, no college||$746||$38,792|
|Less than a high school diploma||$592||$30,784|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average salary by college degree
The major you choose to pursue has a big impact on your potential salary. In general, the more specialized a major, the higher salary potential it has in the job market. STEM majors also tend to earn more than fine arts and humanities majors.
Degrees with highest average salaries
|College degree||Average salary|
|Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration||$101,000|
|Naval architecture and marine engineering||$100,000|
Degrees with lowest average salaries
|College degree||Average salary|
|Theology and religious vocations||$40,000|
|Human services and community organization||$40,000|
|Cosmetology services and culinary arts||$40,000|
|Miscellaneous fine arts||$38,000|
|Visual and performing arts||$35,500|
Average salary by age
In general, salary increases with age and experience. Median salaries tend to rise until age 55, at which point they start to drop.
|Age||Median annual salary|
|16 to 19||$29,432|
|20 to 24||$34,684|
|25 to 34||$49,920|
|35 to 44||$58,604|
|45 to 54||$59,904|
|55 to 64||$59,540|
|65 and older||$52,416|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average salary by gender
Female graduates, on average, earn less than their male counterparts. There’s a difference of $11,820 for associate degree graduates, $10,980 for bachelor’s degree graduates and $13,130 for graduates with a master’s degree or higher.
|Gender||Associate degree median annual earnings||Bachelor’s degree median annual earnings||Master’s degree or higher median annual earnings|
|Male (age 25 to 34)||$50,000||$64,730||$77,770|
|Female (age 25 to 34)||$38,180||$53,750||$64,640|
Average salary by race and ethnicity
Racial disparities have also persisted in the U.S. economy. White and Asian workers earn significantly more than Black and Hispanic workers at all levels of education. The gap is particularly large for workers with a master’s degree or higher: Asian workers earn a median income of $84,790, while Black workers earn a median of just $53,340.
|Race/ethnicity||Associate degree median annual earnings||Bachelor’s degree median annual earnings||Master’s degree or higher median annual earnings|
|Asian (age 25 to 34)||$50,840||$69,490||$84,780|
|Black (age 25 to 34)||$34,940||$50,030||$53,340|
|Hispanic (age 25 to 34)||$40,500||$49,910||$59,230|
|White (age 25 to 34)||$45,000||$59,970||$69,660|
|Two or more races (age 25 to 34)||$39,610||$49,250||$59,240|
Average college graduate salary FAQ
How can college graduates negotiate their starting salary?
Writing a clear and persuasive cover letter, being passionate in describing your motivation for the role and highlighting ways you can add value to the company are all ways to start negotiating for a high starting salary. You should also go into the interview process with statistics about average salaries for the role in your location; resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics can help here. Don’t be afraid to ask for the salary range of the position early in the process, and be prepared to counteroffer if you’re not satisfied with the offer.
What is the average salary for students who drop out of college?
Students drop out of college for many reasons, one of which is the steep cost of tuition. However, students who drop out of college can expect a lower salary than those who complete their degree. Most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that workers with some college but no degree have a median weekly income of $833, versus $1,248 for workers with a bachelor’s degree. That’s a difference of $21,580 a year.
How does location impact starting salary for college graduates?
Metropolitan regions tend to pay more than rural or suburban areas. For instance, workers in architecture and engineering occupations can earn an average salary of $108,210 in Midland, Texas, but only $75,100 in the North Texas nonmetropolitan area.
The bottom line
When looking for your first job out of college, your potential salary is important. However, you should also consider your potential for personal growth, your interests and the overall work-life balance you expect. In the end, you may forgo the highest salary for a slightly lower-paying job that brings you the most personal fulfillment.