The US starting salary of 4 popular degrees

Jun 2024

10 Minute Read

Tagged as: US vs UK, Choosing a School/Program

This article breaks down the salaries for business, engineering, computer science and medical professionals in the US

When deciding what to study at university, one question many people have is how much they can expect to earn once they graduate, then a few years after that. For some fields, this issue is much simpler to address. Further, the answer often differs from country to country.

There is much to cover on this topic. So much, in fact, that we are going to dedicate two posts to this discussion. In this post, we are going to examine US salaries for four popular degrees: business, engineering, computer science, and medicine.


According to the US Department of Education, business was the most popular degree program in 2016. Because there are so many types of careers business are wanted for, there is also a wide range of expected starting salary amounts. A report by the US Department of Education found that salaries ranged between $43,000 and $98,000 USD per year. Finance majors (who often become analysts) tend to earn more than management specialists.

The outlook for business majors is promising. Since the report we just discussed, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released a report in the spring of 2017, which found that salaries for business graduates are growing steadily. The 2017 average starting salary is currently $52,047.1 Further, the NACE summary noted that business graduates’ salaries comprised the largest portion of the total reported, which may constitute proof that business graduates are currently quite in-demand.


NACE conducted a survey in the fall of 2016 on starting engineering salaries. Their data found that the starting salaries for nine engineering fields ranged between $55,635 USD for civil engineers and $73,078 for electrical engineers. further notes that electrical engineering was the most in-demand specialization in 2016, and also that the average starting salary increased by nearly $5,000 USD from the previous year.

The prospects for high salaries later in an engineer’s career are even better. According to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce on the top ten highest mid-career salaries, many engineers can expect to make between $87,000 USD and $136,000 USD per year after they have spent over five years in their field. Similarly notable is the fact that nine out of the top ten were engineers, including chemical, aerospace, computer, and geophysical engineers.

There is one significant anomaly in the data. Out of the engineering nine fields included in the NACE survey, one starting salary experienced a statistically significant drop between 2015 and 2016: petroleum engineering. (NACE) Petroleum engineers could expect to make nearly 7% more in 2015 than they could last year. This field has long boasted the highest mid-career salaries of any engineering discipline. In fact, it was the top-paying field ($136,000 USD) in Georgetown University’s report. However, due to worldwide demand for sustainable energy and updated technology, the mid-career salary for petroleum engineers may soon see a similar drop.

Computer science and information technology

According to NACE, the only graduates in 2016 that out-earned engineers were computer science majors. The average starting salary for those in the many vocations within this field was $71,916, "a gain of 3.9 percent from last year’s overall average of $69,214." (NACE)

People who specialize in building software (called software architects) can expect to earn $117,000 USD mid-career. Front-end developers, who code the part of software programs that users interact with, can expect to make around $89,000 USD mid-career.

With the acceleration of mobile technology and a global interest in efficient transportation, computer science graduates are more in-demand than ever. What’s more, there are many free resources available to help people keep current with computer technology. Because software technologies change so quickly, and because every sort of profession needs information technology specialists, people who can solve problems quickly and creatively will do very well as computer scientists.

Medical professionals

In the US, salaries for physicians (meaning those with an M.D. degree) vary wildly, particularly for those who remain and practice medicine in the US after graduation. There are many contributing factors to this, including which school the graduate attended, what specialization they chose, and the way health care compensation is structured in the US. This may change in the near future, as American medical schools are becoming more competitive and taking a much more holistic approach to how they evaluate future doctors.

All this aside, earnings for medical professionals are consistently promising. In 2016, Medscape found that the average annual salary for residents (meaning those who are in their final years of medical school in the US ) was $56,500 USD. The highest earners were critical care specialists, cardiologists, and oncologists, among others. Mid-career salaries for physicians in any specialization were very high in 2016, with orthopedic specialists earning the most at $443,000 USD per year.

Though the outlook for earnings for medical professionals is excellent, it is important to be wise and thorough when doing research. There are many complicated dimensions to how medical practitioners in the US are compensated, and some are not reflective of a graduate’s actual value.

Today, a potential medical school student is not only judged by their academic aptitude, but by their personal characteristics, leadership skills, and compassion for coworkers and patients. This shift in medical school admissions may change the uneven nature of the medical profession, and in turn, benefit the people whom doctors serve.

Curious about the UK? Check back next week for our UK analysis.


  1. For more information, please consult the executive summary of the NACE Salary Report.

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