College Graduate Starting Salaries Climb Even in the Face of the Pandemic

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BETHLEHEM, PA — College graduate starting salaries rose, despite the pandemic. Overall, the average starting salary for the college Class of 2020 was $55,260, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

NACE’s Summer 2021 Salary Survey shows that the new college graduate starting salaries average is 2.5% above the average starting salary of $53,889 for the Class of 2019 and a gain of 8.5% from the Class of 2018’s final average starting salary of $50,944.

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 some cases, salary increases most likely reflect these unique times,” says Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director. “For example, the increased demand for nurses as front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic may have fueled the 2.1% increase in the average starting salary for registered nursing majors, from $57,416 for these graduates from the Class of 2019 to $58,626 for Class of 2020 registered nursing graduates.”

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

Source: Summer 2021 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers

About NACE’s Summer 2021 Salary Survey report: The Summer 2021 Salary Survey report provides actual starting salaries and serves as the final salary report for the college Class of 2020. The figures reported are for base salaries only and do not include bonuses, commissions, fringe benefits, or overtime rates. Data were gathered from Class of 2020 graduates through December 31, 2020, and reported to NACE through May 15, 2021. The salary data presented here were reported to NACE through its national Class of 2020 First-Destination Survey and are based on the 249 schools that provided salary data by specific program or major. An executive summary of NACE’s Summer 2021 Salary Survey report is available on NACEWeb.

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