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Salary survey for undergrad degress in the United States

  1. Aug 14, 2009 #1
    For those of you aspiring scientists and engineers in the United States, here arehttp://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp" [Broken]. This is the kind of information I wished I had when I was in school, so I wanted to share.

    For those with a bachelor's degree alone [such as myself] the highest starting median pay and highest median mid-career pay are those with degrees in engineering, the hard sciences, and economics. There are important caveats that ought to be considered here. These are for those with only a bachelors. That means no MBAs were included, no PhD Quants, no full professors. Also, there is no estimate here of the width of the distributions. This is often an important consideration. I am reminded of a discussion I had with a college acquaintance at a local bar some years after we had both graduated.

    My friend had originally been studying CS, but he switched to business when he read an article about the much greater potential earnings for the business "career ladder". What my friend meant by this expression was the possible kinds of corporate advancement available, with the perks and pay that go with them. In a certain sense he was very right. Successful businessmen can go very far indeed up the ladder, whereas engineers often stay engineers for their entire careers.

    But what he did not consider is the much wider distribution for business compensation. Some businessmen are successful entrepreneurs, and make millions. Failed entrepreneurs make nothing. Those whose talents top out at managing a dozen people fall somewhere in the middle, and live in a cubicle and can only dream of the corner office. There is wide variation here, depending on luck and talent. Engineers have more pre-selection, and a more limited ceiling, so those who get in tend to do well and everyone is closer in earnings.

    My friend is in fact more suited to the business world, and should do well. I on the other hand, am not much of a salesman, which is the essential business skill, and would rather design the product that someone else sells. The key is to look to your interests and talents, and see whether you are good enough at those things to earn the kind of living you want. It can sometimes be more rewarding to be an excellent engineer than a sub-par middle manager, or for that matter an excellent plumber or electrician.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2009 #2


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    You have to take these surveys with a large pinch of NaCl.
    They are compiled from data from careers services. University careers services tend to have better links to merchant banks and large engineering companies than to web2.0 startups, they tend to be consipicously bad at tracking the people who end up working at McDs
    Chemical engineering was always top of the tables for the last 20years - because 100% of their students go straight into a chem eng job - it doesn't say that 90% of them will still be in the same entry level job years later. Lawyers score low (at least in UK) because after graduating they spend a couple of years as interns.
  4. Aug 14, 2009 #3


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    Thanks for posting this. While I agree that one has to remain somewhat skeptical of the numbers, it is still data. There are a lot of otherwise intelligent people who make significant career decisions based on rumors and myths - like for example that a physics degree will not lead to a high-paying job. The data here puts physics in the top 10.
  5. Aug 14, 2009 #4
    It seems a tragedy that Education, near the bottom, is below things like Drama and "Religious Studies"
  6. Aug 17, 2009 #5
    That's probably because they aren't including the value of healthcare and pensions. That can add as little as $4k and as much as $15k to a teacher's salary. It would easily bump the educators up several notches.
  7. Aug 17, 2009 #6


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    It may also be that they are counting people with 1st degrees in 'education' rather than people with eg science degrees and a teaching cert that work as teachers.
    'Education' teachers may be mostly kindergarten and are often part time
  8. Aug 18, 2009 #7
    In this dataset, part-time workers are excluded, so that figure does indeed represent a measure of the annual salary of someone with a bachelors degree in Education. A twist here is that the averages are by reported major, not career field, so depending on where someone ends up their earnings may be quite different. These are self-reported, and as others have noted, one ought to regard such surveys critically, but nonetheless this accords with personal experience of the low pay typical of teachers in the United States compared to technical jobs. Those with a bent for further information in the US ought to consult the http://www.bls.gov/" [or the relevant equivalent elsewhere] for very detailed wage information.

    For example, if we look at the http://www.bls.gov/oes/2008/may/oes_nat.htm#b25-0000", elementary school teachers have a mean annual salary of $52,240. This is the average of all ranges of education and experience, and it is closer to the reported 15-year median of the Education degree than the 15-year median of the Elementary Education degree in the Payscale survey, but still in the ballpark of those kinds of degrees, so I regard the information as basically sound. In this country, one does not become a teacher for the great pay.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
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