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Which college majors pay? Engineering now trumps business

February 04, 2013|By Shan Li
  • Starting salaries for college grads majoring in science, technology, engineering and math trump degrees in other areas.
Starting salaries for college grads majoring in science, technology,… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

It's no surprise that a college major could determine whether you're rolling in cash or cobbling together multiple part-time jobs after graduation.

But which degrees really rake in the dough? And which doom you to eating ramen noodles for years?

A new survey found -- surprise! -- that science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors earn the highest starting salaries, handily beating their classmates studying liberal arts. In some cases, so-called stem majors are approaching or even outpacing those with business degrees.

Engineering majors saw a 3.9% rise in their starting salaries from 2011 to 2012, with six engineering specialties ranking among the top 10 at the bachelor's level. Graduates who specialized in aerospace engineering enjoyed the biggest jump, increasing 8.3% to $64,000, according to the survey by the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers.

"This is not surprising since the supply of these graduates is low, but the demand for them is high," said Marilyn Mackes, the group's executive director.

Business majors saw starting salaries increase 4.2% to $53,900, while those in the humanities or social sciences reported their salaries rose 2% to $36,988.

The value of a college degree has become increasingly dependent not only on the major, but also what university a student attended. The 13.1% unemployment rate among people ages 18 to 29 means many recent graduates are struggling to pay back school loans.

Even graduates who are working are, in many cases, in jobs for which they are overqualified. Nearly half of college students who graduated in 2010 are holding down jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree, while 38% are in positions that don't require even a high school diploma, according to a survey from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

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Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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