Students looking for a college degree that will earn them a lucrative job upon graduation might want to consider engineering. According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employment, six of the top 10 majors with the highest starting salaries for college graduates are forms of engineering.
Computer engineering took the top spot with a starting salary of $70,400, followed by chemical engineering at $66,400, computer science at $64,400 and aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering rounding out the top four with $64,000. Various degrees with computers, engineering and finance rounded out the top 10.
Gary Clark, senior associate dean in the College of Engineering, noted that throughout history, engineers have consistently earned high-paying salaries. He said the rise in demand and an evolving society are the reasons behind such impressive wages.
“It’s a very technical and challenging degree,” Clark said. “It’s not for everybody, just like there’s other fields that aren’t for everybody. There’s an incredible demand [for engineers] and it’s soon to outstrip the supply. We need students who have an interest. The first couple of semesters are very intense with math and science, but we have support programs to help them. It’s hard at first absolutely, but the rewards are there.”
Clark said K-State and engineering departments across the nation are unable to fill the rapidly-growing demand, so companies offer higher salaries to attract more and better-qualified potential employees. The ever-changing world of technology can be credited with the demand.
“The amount of technology that’s in our world today is amazing,” he said. “It takes engineers and computer scientists who can design and develop those kind of systems. We’re trying to become more energy efficient and it’s taking people with that technical background to figure it out. Every sector of our society has engineering and technology built into it, and it’s going to need those highly-skilled people to take those systems to the next level and make sure they’re reliable.”
Kerri Day Keller, director of Career and Employment Services, said K-State is encouraging students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or S.T.E.M. She said research opportunities with K-State’s 2025 initiative and CES employer outreach programs illustrate K-State’s commitment to preparing students for a successful future.
“It is pretty consistent that some of the more technically-skilled graduates are coming out with higher salaries than some other majors,” Keller said. “I would say some of that has to do with the demand in those industries, and some of it has to do with the lack of supply. I guess I would also say most of the students in majors like engineering go into for-profit companies that tend to offer higher salaries.”
There is hope, however, for liberal arts majors. Keller noted the importance of finding the right balance of skills, no matter what degree one pursues.
“I think no matter what kind of major you choose, you need to be able to show you have a broad range of skills,” she said. “A comfort with what’s not your area of expertise, and be able to adapt in the current job market.”
Kristen Svec, sophomore in chemical engineering, said both her classes and the opportunities available for women in engineering made it the right fit. However, she said the major has not been without challenges.
“The undergrad is very intense and very specialized, so you sacrifice a lot to get the degree,” Svec said. “A lot of people don’t stick through it all, and I think that’s why it’s in such high demand. By the time graduation comes around, there’s usually like 35 or 40 in a chemical engineering class. I’ve just always been so interested in math and science that I just look at the income as an added perk.”
Clark, like Svec, said that salary is not the sole motivator for students pursuing engineering degrees.
“I think salary is a component of it, but we’ve always had a strong program of engineering and a strong number of students who are interested,” Clark said. “The majority of them are here because it’s what they love to do, and happens to also have a strong job market. If your goal with going to college is to have a job when you’re finished, then this is a good way to go. If you have that skill set, there are jobs and they pay well.”
Keller reported that K-State has some form of just about every major on the NACE list of top-10 degrees, in addition to the hundreds of other majors offered by the university. Although they may not be as financially rewarding, they certainly can be fulfilling.
“I think there’s very much an interest by K-State to help students be successful in their future careers,” Keller said. “We also know that being successful does not mean the same thing for all students. Being successful for some students does mean a higher-than-average salary, but salaries and earnings are only one part of that success formula.”