Key takeaways

  • It is important to consider earning potential when deciding on a college major, as this will impact your financial future.
  • Those with advanced degrees tend to graduate with more debt, but they also earn more than those with just a bachelor’s degree.
  • Location, gender, race and age, all contribute to how much your future salary will be.

Even though getting a college degree is expensive, the economic returns are worth it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degree holders earn about 68 percent more on a weekly basis than those with just a high school diploma. And that gap only widens with time. A report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that those with a bachelor’s degree earn a median of 75 percent more throughout their careers than high school graduates.

However, not all careers are equally profitable. That’s why it’s important to evaluate the salary and career prospects for your major of choice before you enroll. This, in turn, will give you a better idea of how much you can afford to borrow to pay for school, among other things.

Average college graduate salaries

  • The average college graduate starting salary is around $58,862.
  • U.S. employers plan on hiring 3.9% more college graduates this year than in 2022.
  • Petroleum engineering majors have the highest early career earnings with a median salary of $72,500.
  • Architectural engineering majors have the second-highest early career earnings with a median salary of $65,000.
  • Health and medical preparatory programs graduates have the lowest early career earnings with a median salary of $12,000, followed by communication technologies graduates who have an early median salary of $16,500.

“A college degree is akin to an investment that can pay dividends in knowledge, growth, and employment opportunity. But is it also not a guarantee amid the many variables that influence work, careers and life more broadly.  The data on return is instructive and useful, but as the saying goes, your results may vary.  The institution, the alumni network and an individual student’s performance and industriousness also play key roles. Because there is not a guarantee on this return, students should proceed cautiously on the question of borrowing for their education costs. Is there a less expensive institution that provides similar opportunities at a lower cost? What aid can the school provide? Can one work while studying to defray costs? These are among questions to ask.”

— Mark Hamrick, Senior Economic Analyst

Average salary in the U.S.

  • The median weekly earnings of full-time workers in the U.S. is $1,100 — a 5.7 percent increase from 2022.
  • Based on median weekly earnings, the average full-time worker in the U.S. makes about $57,200 a year.
  • Among the major racial and ethnic groups, Asians come out as the top earners, with median weekly earnings of $1,449.
  • Hispanics earn the lowest wages amongst all racial and ethnic groups, with median weekly earnings of $851.
  • Women earn about 19 percent less than men, with median weekly earnings of $993.

Average salary by education level

Careers that call for higher skill and education levels pay significantly more than jobs that do not require advanced degrees. The table below shows the most recent data on median earnings by educational attainment to illustrate the difference.

“Our surveys traditionally have found that student loan debt can prompt individuals to decide to delay other key events in their lives including marriage, having children, or purchasing a home or vehicle. It can also have a negative impact on retirement savings and/or emergency savings.”

— Mark Hamrick, Senior Economic Analyst

Education level Median weekly earnings Median annual salary
Doctoral degree $2,083 $108,316
Professional degree $2,080 $108,160
Master’s degree $1,661 $86,372
Bachelor’s degree $1,432 $74,464
Associate degree $1,005 $52,260
Some college, no degree $935 $48,620
High school diploma, no college $853 $44,356
Less than a high school diploma $682 $35,464

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Median salary by college degree

The major you choose to pursue has a big impact on your potential salary. In general, the more specialized a major, the higher salary potential it has in the job market. STEM majors also tend to earn more than fine arts and humanities majors, commanding six-figure salaries in many cases.

Degrees with highest median salaries

College degree Median salary
Electrical engineering $110,000
Computer and information systems $104,000
Aerospace engineering $100,000
Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and administration $100,000
Computer programming and data processing $100,000
Chemical engineering $100,000
Materials engineering and materials science $98,500
Mechanical engineering $95,000
Engineering and industrial management $95,000
Industrial and organizational psychology $90,000

Source: Bankrate’s Most and Least Valuable College Majors study

Degrees with lowest median salaries

College degree Average salary
Early childhood education $43,000
Film, video and photographic arts $42,000
Theology and religious vocations $42,000
Fine arts $41,000
Music $40,000
Miscellaneous fine arts $40,000
Studio arts $38,000
Drama and theater arts $38,000
Cosmetology services and culinary arts $37,500
Visual and performing arts $35,000

Source: Bankrate’s Most and Least Valuable College Majors study

Bankrate’s Most and Least Valuable College Majors study named materials engineering and materials science as the most valuable college major due to its high salary coupled with extremely low unemployment levels and less need for an advanced degree than others.

Average salary by age

In general, salary increases with age and experience. Median salaries tend to rise until age 54, at which point they start to drop.

Age Median annual salary
16 to 24 $36,296
25 to 34 $54,184
35 to 44 $63,908
45 to 54 $64,116
55 to 64 $61,672
65 and older $57,252

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Average salary by gender

Female graduates, on average, earn less than their male counterparts. There’s a difference of $10,070 for associate degree graduates, $13,830 for bachelor’s degree graduates and $24,850 for graduates with a master’s degree or higher.

Gender Associate degree median annual earnings Bachelor’s degree median annual earnings Master’s degree or higher median annual earnings
(age 25 to 34)
$49,610 $70,000 $89,620
(age 25 to 34)
$39,540 $56,170 $64,770

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Average salary by race and ethnicity

Racial salary disparities have also persisted in the U.S. economy. White and Asian workers earn significantly more than Black and Hispanic workers at all levels of education.

The gap is particularly large for workers with a master’s degree or higher: Asian workers earn a median income of $98,070, while Black workers earn a median of just $61,460.

Race/ethnicity Associate degree median annual earnings Bachelor’s degree median annual earnings Master’s degree or higher median annual earnings
Asian (age 25 to 34) $44,690 $69,670 $98,070
Black (age 25 to 34) $40,600 $49,970 $61,460
Hispanic (age 25 to 34) $42,180 $52,000 $69,180
White (age 25 to 34) $45,470 $65,000 $69,840

Source: National Center for Education Statistics


  • The median weekly salary of full-time workers in the U.S. is $1,100, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means the average full-time worker in the U.S. earns about $57,200 a year.
  • The average starting salary of a college graduate is around $58,862 a year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That said, this number varies greatly depending on your major. For instance, engineering majors are amongst the highest paid, with a starting salary of $74,405 a year, while humanities majors earn around $52,938.
  • Salary negotiations may seem intimidating when you first leave college, however, it’s important to secure a competitive offer as this will impact your financial future. To successfully negotiate your salary, make sure you research salary trends within your industry, taking into account your level of education, additional skills you bring to the table, relevant experience (internships, apprenticeships, certificates, etc.) and location. All of these factors will play a major role in your earnings.
  • To calculate your salary after taxes, you’ll need to know the following:
    • Annual gross income
    • Number of payments within a year (this will be based on your payment frequency)
    • Your state and local tax rate based on your income bracket (if any)
    • Other deductions and their rate: social security, medicare, 401k, etc.
    Once you have all of this information, you can use an hourly paycheck calculator to determine your take home pay.

Resources for college students

Paying for a college education can be a tall order, but the returns are well worth it. If you’re looking to save money on your education, try applying for as many scholarships and grants as possible. Both of these are a form of gift aid, meaning you don’t have to pay them back.

When it comes to borrowing, federal student loans should always be your first option. They don’t require a credit check to qualify and almost anyone in good academic standing is eligible for them. Besides that, federal student loans offer access to income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs that private student loans lack.

If after exhausting all of the above, you still come up short, private student loans could be a good option to explore. Most private lenders require excellent credit and a source of stable income to qualify. However, certain lenders can still offer you a private student loan, even with less-than-stellar credit. If after comparing lenders, you still can’t get the lowest rate, don’t fret. You can always refinance your private student loans later to secure a better rate.

Writer Cynthia Widmayer contributed to a previous version of this article.