It seems that the top universities deliver on their promises and that a top education very nearly guarantees a successful career and high salary. Princeton graduates, for example, earn $130,000 (median salary at mid-career), while Coker College alumni make about one third of that, or $43,400, according to PayScale's 2011 — 2012 College Salary Report. The report looked at salaries earned by alumni of 1,003 of America's most prominent colleges. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed PayScale's report to identify the 10 schools that offer the diplomas with the highest-earning potential, paying special attention to where they excel.
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Two categories of schools dominate the list of colleges whose graduates end up with highest-paying jobs. The first category is the Ivy Leagues. The top ten colleges with the highest mid-career salaries for their alumni includes Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton. These schools offer top-tier education and have continually produced world leaders in business, politics and more. Perhaps more important, the Ivies have closely-knit networks of successful alumni. Not only does a Harvard grad have the benefit of a Harvard education, but the benefit of Harvard connections with countless future employers.
The other category is top engineering schools. Within the top 10 schools whose graduates have the highest salaries are the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvey Mudd College and California Institute of Technology. This not only speaks to the level of education offered at these institutions, but the high level of pay available to those who specialize in engineering and science.
These are the 10 colleges that guarantee the highest salaries:
1. Princeton University
• Mid-career median salary: $130,000
• Starting median salary: $56,900
• Location: Princeton, NJ
Graduates of Princeton University have the highest median career salary in the country. It is the only school listed as having a mid-career median salary of over $125,000. Among the school's graduates are Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and billionaire investor Carl Icahn. Lucky for Princeton, its alumni give back. On a per-student basis, Princeton has the highest endowment of all U.S. schools.
2. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
• Mid-career median salary: $123,000
• Starting median salary: $69,600
• Location: Pasadena, CA
California Institute of Technology is the top engineering school and the second school overall when it comes to salary potential of its graduates. The school has less than 1,000 undergraduate students, yet there is an exceptionally high rate of success among alumni. Undergraduate alumni have won a number of prominent awards, and have founded or cofounded countless tech-based companies, including Hotmail, Compaq and MathWorks.
3. Harvey Mudd College
• Mid-career median salary: $121,000
• Starting median salary: $64,400
• Location: Claremont, CA
Harvey Mudd College edges out Harvard University in producing students who earn both a higher median starting and mid-career salary. It is considered the top liberal arts college for high earners, as well as the second best engineering school. Additionally, Harvey Mudd College is one of the most popular schools for software developers. Notable alumni include Jonathan Gay, creator of Flash software, and Nabeel Gareeb, CEO of MEMC Electronic Materials.
4. Harvard University
• Mid-career median salary: $116,000
• Starting median salary: $54,100
• Location: Cambridge, MA
Harvard is well known for producing successful, influential graduates. As a result, it is not only the education students receive that benefits them later on, but the connections they make. The school, again, is one that many CEOs attended. In addition to an exceptional number of U.S. presidents and other world leaders, the school has produced many billionaires, including Michael Bloomberg, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Citadel founder Kenneth Griffin and David Rockefeller Sr.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
• Mid-career median salary: $115,000
• Starting median salary: $69,700
• Location: Cambridge, MA
Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates are the fifth highest earners among all colleges and the third highest among engineering school. According to the school, 76 "present and former members of the MIT community have won the Nobel Prize," 36 have received the National Medal of Science, and three have been awarded the Kyoto Prize. Additionally, "there are 73 Guggenheim Fellows, six Fulbright Scholars, and 21 MacArthur Fellows among current MIT faculty and staff." According to The Guardian, if MIT was a country, it would have the 11th highest GDP in the world as a result of its exceptionally active alumni community. Graduates enjoy the highest starting median salary among U.S. colleges.
6. Dartmouth College
• Mid-career median salary: $114,000
• Starting median salary: $51,600
• Location: Hanover, NH
Dartmouth College is another school listed as one that produced many CEOs. The school's alumni include John Danahoe, CEO of eBay, Grant Tinker, former CEO of NBC, and Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE and recently appointed Chairperson of the Federal Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Recent Dartmouth graduates have a starting median salary that is actually lower than many schools that have lower mid-career median salaries. This may have something to do with the fact that a large percentage of Dartmouth grads begin their careers at nonprofits.
7. Duke University
• Mid-career median salary: $113,000
• Starting median salary: $54,400
• Location: Durham, NC
Duke University produces high-earning alumni who work in a number of fields. No doubt because of its Duke University Medical Center, many work in the medical field. Other graduates go into business in high numbers. According to PayScale, many of the country's CEOs attended Duke. The school has successful alumni such as Richard Nixon, Apple CEO Tim Cook, former Senator Elizabeth Dole, as well as a number of Nobel Prize winners.
8. Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly)
• Mid-career median salary: $113,000
• Starting median salary: $61,000
• Location: Brooklyn, NY
The Polytechnic Institute of New York University is NYU's technology and engineering college. It is the eighth-highest ranked school for salary among all colleges and the fourth-highest ranked among engineering schools. The school's graduates also have an exceptionally high starting median salary, as do many of the engineering schools. According to Barbara Hall, associate provost for enrollment services and interim director of student affairs at NYU-Poly, "The field [of engineering] has historically held a place among top salary lists even during times of economic strain. It should continue to do so."
9. Colgate University
• Mid-career median salary: $112,000 (tied with Lehigh)
• Starting median salary: $48,700
• Location: Hamilton, NY
Colgate is tied with Lehigh for having graduates with the ninth largest mid-career salary among all schools — ranking second among all liberal arts colleges. The college produces many lawyers, which are, on average, the school's highest-paid alumni group. "Salary, of course, is just one indicator of how successful our graduates are," Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst is quoted as saying on the school's website. "But this kind of survey does attest to the value of the liberal arts education we offer and the career preparation we provide our students, which is particularly valuable in this economic climate."
10. Lehigh University
• Mid-career median salary: $112,00 (tied with Colgate)
• Starting median salary: $57,200
• Location: Bethlehem, PA
One of the four colleges at Lehigh University is the well-respected P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. According to PayScale, eight of the top 10 most lucrative college degrees are engineering degrees. Lehigh is one of the schools that produced the the most CEOs. More important for engineers, a Lehigh graduate also invented the escalator.
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