My previous research has shown that not all degrees are created equal. Health care, business and the STEM majors (science, technology, engineering and math) are more stable and higher paying for recent college graduates, whereas graduates of the arts, humanities and social sciences face higher unemployment rates and earn lower salaries.
By the same logic, not all degree programs are created equal. Financial literacy website NerdWallet analyzed the senior exit surveys and post-graduation reports of 300,000 graduating students or recent graduates to discover which colleges offer the best financial prospects for their students. In total, the site’s researchers reviewed 240 top-rated undergraduate programs in 100 colleges for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. They discovered that when it comes to salary, it pays to attend a name-brand school.
“Employers are looking for filtering mechanisms,” says Stephanie Wei, vice president of financial literacy at NerdWallet. “The Ivy League has a reputation for rigorous curriculum and for being very selective. Essentially, the institution has vetted you.”
The top 20 highest paid undergraduate programs averaged a starting salary of $61,424, compared to the overall average of just $43,700, while public school grads earned only 80% as much as private school grads.
Which is the best for your bank account? Graduates of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science had the highest starting salaries—a full 82% above the average. Overall, technology, engineering and business programs produced the biggest paychecks, due to the underlying industries they feed into and the schools’ relationships with employers.
No. 1: Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science
Average Starting Salary: $79,551
No. 2: Harvey Mudd College
Average Starting Salary: $67,000
No. 3: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Average Starting Salary: $65,437
No. 4: Carnegie Mellon University’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, College of Engineering
Average Starting Salary: $64,427
No. 5: University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering & Applied Science
Average Starting Salary: $64,033
No. 6: University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
Average Starting Salary: $63,273
No. 7: Cornell University’s College of Engineering
Average Starting Salary: $62,347
No. 8: Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business
Average Starting Salary: $60,970
No. 9: Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Computing
Average Starting Salary: $60,387
No. 10: Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering
Average Starting Salary: $60,000
(See NerdWallet’s list of the top 20.)
The best business school for your bank account is the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where graduates report an average starting salary of $63,273. “Business schools’ primary goal is employment,” says Wei. “They arm the students with resources and have strong on-campus recruiting programs.”
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