What is the Average Salary for a College Graduate?

Advertiser Disclosure

We all have dreams of one day diving into a pile of money Scrooge McDuck style, and this dream is what keeps college goers and college graduates determined once they enter the workforce. Growing up, we have all been asked the question “so what do you want to be when you grow up?”, or for some, the parents decided what the chosen profession would be after you grew up, went to, and graduated college. Regardless of what your beginning looked like, once you graduate and land a job, what kind of numbers should you really be expecting on your first years of paychecks?

Although you may have thought that once you walk across that stage at graduation, you are walking into a 12 figure salary, think again. Below is a breakdown of what recent graduates can realistically expect on their first paychecks and why that number is what it is.


Don’t expect a “Daddy Salary” right out of the gate.

A misconception is that a degree is reason enough to start making the mondo-bucks right at the start. This myth is more false than it is true. While having that degree on your wall is definitely a huge boost in your chances of negotiations for a bigger salary, it does not guarantee that you will be generously provided for right when you are starting out in the real working world.

Think of your parents, provided they aren’t inheritors of some vast family wealth that stretches back for hundreds of generations. Your parents more than likely are making more money at their jobs than you do at yours for one main reason that you need to understand: experience is invaluable.

They more than likely have degrees just like you have, but what they also have is years and years of experience at doing whatever it is that they do. In a negotiation, experience trumps just about everything. It is because of this surplus of experience that they make noticeably more than you will when you are starting out.

So if you landed your first job by using that hot-off-the-press degree of yours and are looking to make a salary that matches Daddy’s, you will probably find yourself disappointed.


College Brand Power.

Although many hiring managers will never admit it, what school you attended college at does in fact bear weight in the process, and can even effect how much money your paycheck will bear come time of salary negotiating.

So if you are making less than the Ivy League graduate down the hall who got hired at the same time you did, don’t feel bad, you’ll even up your salaries in time. You just need to prove yourself to the bosses that just because you didn’t attend a prestigious university doesn’t by any means translate that you are not more capable of producing stellar work. You’ll show ‘em, and when you do, your paychecks will start to deservedly grow.


What is your degree in?

Another aspect that graduates need to be aware of after they finish college and enter the workforce is that it actually does matter what kind of degree you earned. Although the specifics of the degree do not matter, the school of education does.

It’s no secret that Business degree holders are of the few that can expect to make solid salaries at the start, topped only by engineers: According to a compilation of salaries by PayScale.com, a Bachelor’s degree in something like “Petroleum Engineering” could start out with a salary as high up as $101,000 and after 10 years’ worth of gained experience, grow upwards of about $168,000 (After reading numbers like that, I think it is safe to say that we are all reconsidering our chosen professions right about now).

A Bachelor’s degree in “Art”, according to PayScale.com, starts at about $36,500 and after gaining 10 years’ experience stretches up to $57,300. Why do I present these two very different degrees and their possible salaries? Because it presents my point: the school you major in when you graduate college presents specific job opportunities for you to move into.

If you have an Art degree because that is what you feel you are called to live within, then great! Use that to build a life for yourself, but you cannot then decide to use your Art degree to earn a Petroleum Engineer’s salary. If you wanted a Petroleum Engineer’s salary, then maybe you should have switched majors and studied to get the math-covered and headache-inducing Engineering degree (It’s never too late, by the way. You can always go back to school and pick up a degree in something totally different than your first one).


What do you have to offer besides a paper labeled “Diploma”?

I mentioned this concept earlier, but it is worth expanding on: You are being paid by how much experience you have. Although salary jobs have a ground floor (a number they typically won’t go below when it comes to how much they will pay employees), the amount that you will get above that reflects what else you have to bring to the table, that is, how much proven experience you have.

If you have nothing else to offer the company you just got hired at besides your degree and your Uncle who got you this job’s recommendation, then you probably shouldn’t expect to be shocked (in a good way) when you see your paycheck at the end of the week. If you want more money reflected in your salary, then you need to make yourself as valuable as possible. Make yourself worth the money you think you deserve, and prove it to your employers.


Make yourself unignorable.

If you are a recent college graduate, then you are most likely young, and have not had that many opportunities to cut your teeth in your chosen field, so don’t beat yourself up over the thought that you could have done more before graduating so that you could earn more at your first real job. We all have to start somewhere.

If you are lucky enough to have gotten hired somewhere that you really want to be, but aren’t making the money you would like to be, then change that! Work harder and prove yourself to your employers that you are worth every penny of what you are already receiving from them and are in fact deserving of more.

Only those with genuine experience and proven worth are in a place to ask for more money. Your time and attention just isn’t worth that much in weight and value just yet. Although you may have taken countless classes in college that told you how to be the best in your chosen field, it doesn’t always translate into real world experience that you can use to get yourself a raise at the start or your career. The more you prove to yourself and the others around you that you are in fact worthy of a raise and that the body of work that you represent is in demand, the more can expect to be paid.


Value yourself.

College graduates tend to make more than non-college graduates when starting out, but even when it comes to two college graduates competing for the same position, the contender who has the most proven experience will be the one to earn the promotion. Experience is the most valuable currency that any professional can have in their arsenal. It offers them a wide variety of options in what they can do for work, where they can work, and even how often they work because they are unignorable at whatever it is they do. If you really are the best at what you, and can prove it, there is nothing you can’t do.

Value yourself and what you do, and when you can honestly say that you are the best at what you do, then take care of yourself and go to your employer for that raise. Many employers are well within authority to grant you a raise, provided you can show that you are worth it. Ask, or if you really are stellar and unignorable, demand, and you will receive.

Leave a Reply