College graduate starting salary - Top earners & their measures

On College Scorecard, there are 13 schools with 2 year medians at $120K or above for CS/SE, Cal Poly, CMU, Cornell, Harvard, HMC, MIT, Penn, Pomona, Rice, Stanford, UCB and Yale.


Many physician salaries can’t compete with those in financial services and engineering, and then when you factor in educational costs, debt service, and opportunity costs (of not being able to earn money for a decade plus), physician ROI trails that of many other career paths.

As another example, both Wharton and SEAS grads reported starting salaries up to $200K in 2020 (which means the total package is larger): Post-Graduate Outcomes – Career Services | University of Pennsylvania

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Sectors (and firms) with highest compensation tend to have the largest component coming from bonuses and other incentives. For new hires fresh from college, one can expect base salaries of $150k or more for these sectors, and the rest from incentive pay (which are typically guaranteed for a year or more for new hires).


S’s friend (social science major, but a 4.0 GPA and the most likable and persuasive student I have ever met) was offered $120K (I assume package not base) from a FAANG company for a tech sales role after graduation next spring.


I’ve seen it and it’s extremely rare. Outliers.

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$200k is an outlier, but $150k for a high achieving student from select CS programs in Silicon Valley is fairly typical.

At Facebook, an E3 — an entry-level “software engineer 3” — should make $166,000 per year total, according to the estimate.

It’s unclear exactly how USNews selected and ranked these.

the 10 majors with the highest median starting salaries for alumni with three years of postcollege work experience whose highest degree is a bachelor’s,

Note that when sorted by “rank”, the #2 Physician’s Assistant major becomes #76. “Rank” appears to be by mid-career pay, possibly the “three years” mentioned above.

(The link also says “2018”, the article says “updated for 2021”, and USN doesn’t specify a date).


The data is self reported, but there’s quite a bit of it, and it’s eye popping! I particularly like that they cover a ton of companies and break out options vs. salary. It is pretty CA centric though.

Exactly. New grad offer in SF for SWE undergrad is $125k base + 50k RSU + 15% bonuses + 20k sign on. Some pay even more. FB has 60k to 80k sign on bonuses.Total compensation for a first year is north of $200k

That might be an understatement. :slight_smile: Search for govt contractors such as Northrop, Raytheon, SAIC, etc and the difference is huge. I will just keep telling myself money isn’t everything.

Remember that total pay should be compared to total pay elsewhere, not base pay elsewhere.

Remember that bonuses and stock-related compensation can be highly variable year to year.

Remember that actual total compensation includes benefits, but the valuation of benefits is not always easy to do (since different employees value the same benefit differently), even though some employers may have better benefits than others for most employees.

The earlier Payscale list I posted was for “earlier career pay”, which Payscale defines as self-reported salaries for Payscale members who say they have 0-5 years experience. This seems more comparable to USNWR list for Payscale “starting salaries” than rank/mid-career pay.

The Payscale list content was updated for 2021, but the link title was not. In 2020, EECS was $101k. This year it is $108k. The specific order changed slightly. For example, Metallurgical Engineering had a slightly higher median starting salary than Operations Research in 2020, but in 2021 the order reversed.

Many CS workers are changing jobs before their stock grants vest. Also, as I told my DD when she was deciding on cities, the really high salary packages are usually in very high COL cities and that has to be factored. Buying (and saving) power is far more important than numerical salary.


I find Glassdoor helpful for this type of review, as they provide a more customizable selection. For example, among the 11,828 Google employees working in the Silicon Valley area with job title “software engineer” and <1 year experience, Glassdoor reports the following:

Google SV Software Engineers with <1 Year Experience
25th to 75th range for base salary – $129k to $152k
Average base salary – $138k
Average total compensation – $148k

Many other companies have similar salaries, which is often necessary to stay competitive for new hires. It’s not just a huge premium for Google / Facebook over everyone else. For example, the first 2nd company I search after Google was Cisco. Results are below. The average total compensation was nearly identical to Google.

Cisco SV Software Engineers with <1 Year Experience
25th to 75th range for base salary – $139k to $149k
Average base salary – $149k
Average total compensation – $149k

This high average salary is reflected in salary surveys for CS majors at colleges where a large portion of grads work in the SV area. Cost of living is extremely high in the SV area, which contributes to why SV starting salaries tend to be higher than elsewhere. For example, UC Berkeley’s salary survey for 2020 shows:

UC Berkeley Graduates: Starting Salaries in 2020
CS – Median = $120k (25th to 75th = $112k to $130k)
EECS – Median = $120k (25th to 75th = $110k to $130k)
College of Eng – Median = $110k
Ind Eng / Op Research – Median = $91k (25th to 75th = $75k to $110k)
Applied Math – Median = $89k (25th to 75th = $65k to $118k)
Statistics – Median = $86k (25th to 75th = $75k to $120k)
Mech Eng – Median = $85k (25th to 75th = $80k to $97k)
Op Research / Mgmt – Median = $85k (25th to 75th = $80k to $86k)

L&S Social Sciences – Median = $67k
L&S Humanities – Median = $50k

$450k, including first-year bonus, for a particular hedge fund in Chicago.


I like levels, because it breaks out options and signing bonuses from salary. I believe College Scorecard reports salary only. So, a L3 SE at Google, might average $131 and there are over ten schools where that’s the median, give or take, at 2 years. It leaves out a big part of th epicture though for sure.

I’ve never found a resource though that also breaks out benefits. As you say, that’s also a huge variable. Health insurance and 401K matching alone can be extremely variable.

The secret to this dynamic, at least early in one’s career, is to continue to live like a college student. My son could buy a house in many part of the US for what he pays for a room and a bath in an apartment in CA. That said, he isn’t spending a lot. Little enough in fact that he can maximally fund a 401K, maximally fund a Roth and still has after tax money to invest. If you get a CA wage, but don’t get caught up in the CA consumptive lifestyle, it’s sort of the earnings holy grail.


College Scorecard gets earnings from “the sum of wages and deferred compensation from all non-
duplicate W-2 forms and positive self-employment earnings from IRS Form 1040 Schedules SE (Self-
Employment Tax) for each student measured” according to . Therefore, any earnings data would include bonuses paid during the tax year in question, but some stock-related compensation may not generate W-2 earnings in a given tax year (for example, many employee stock options do not cause earnings for tax purposes until exercised, and not all of the earnings would necessarily be W-2 earnings). Such earnings data also would not include benefits that do not show on W-2 forms, such as the cost or value of of employer provided medical insurance.


Yes, living below one’s means is the typical way to “automatically” accumulate assets for saving and investment, increasing the chance of joining the capitalist class early (or at all).


I get the pursuit of wealth, but college does so much more than act as a pathway to a job. Education for the sake of learning is never (or rarely, at least) worthless.

I happen to lean right (in the US; classically liberal elsewhere…) economically, and it hurts when i read throngs of people also professing their love of free enterprise denigrating a college education. There are Dems in union jobs doing the same thing – maybe it’s more of a “working class vs. educated class” argument than one revolving around political persuasion… but you know, a college education, if nothing else, will teach a kid to think logically and articulate those thoughts clearly. It’ll teach a kid to argue and perform the research necessary to back up those arguments. It’ll teach a kid to see angles and algebra in everyday life – to sit on an airplane and roughly calculate how far he or she can see into the distance. And – odd facts learned can being an interesting spark to otherwise mundane conversation. Education fir education’s sake is a good thing.

Money is important, sure. But we shouldn’t rank colleges based on that alone or even chiefly. Kids choose their majors, and generally the major chosen determines expected post-grad salary.

If kids graduating from RPI make more than kids from Harvard straight out the gate, does that mean that RPI is a better school than Harvard?

There are also differences in cost of living that head to differences in pay for the same job in two different places. That should be taken into account for grads who studied the same thing but wifi in different places.

While education for the sake of learning is never or rarely worthless, college education in the US costs the student and parents enough that college education for the sake of learning without at least one eye on pre-professional preparation would be seen as an unaffordable luxury by most students and parents in the US today. That the cost burden is expected to fall mostly onto the parents in most cases means that most high school students’ choice of college, if they are able to go to college at all, is heavily based on parental financial circumstances and choices.

Yes, and some majors are very popular because of the (real or perceived) post-graduation pay levels associated with those majors.