Salaries for College Graduates Climb Despite Pandemic

By Kevin Gray for NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) 

Despite the deeply negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on business, average starting salaries for new college graduates continue to climb, according to results of NACE’s Summer 2021 Salary Survey. The final overall average starting salary for the college Class of 2020 landed at $55,260—2.5% above the final average starting salary of $53,889 for the Class of 2019.

Not surprisingly, technical majors were the highest paid among Class of 2020 graduates earning bachelor’s degrees. In fact, the list of the 10 majors with the highest average starting salary is dominated by those in technical areas, led by petroleum engineering, computer programming, and computer engineering. (See Figure 1.)

In addition, in some cases, salary increases most likely reflect these unique times. For example, the increased demand for nurses as frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic may have fueled the 2.1% increase in the average starting salary for registered nursing majors, despite the overall salary of health sciences majors dipping 0.1% from last year.

Figure 1: Top-Paid Majors Among Class of 2020 Graduates Earning Bachelor’s Degrees

Petroleum engineering $87,989
Computer programming $86,098
Computer engineering $85,996
Computer science $85,766
Electrical, electronics, and communications engineering $80,819
Operations research $80,166
Computer and information science $78,603
Statistics $75,916
Applied mathematics $73,558
Chemical engineering $72,713
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