General Education

The 9 Highest-Paying Jobs for Recent College Grads

The 9 Highest-Paying Jobs for Recent College Grads
Choosing a major with a valuable real-world application might be underrated, especially when thinking about the fields that lead to jobs that can be particularly lucrative, even for professionals at the bottom of the ladder. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly March 26, 2020

You may not land a six-figure paycheck right out of college, but these careers will put you very, very close.

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If college graduates everywhere had a single regret, what do you think it would be? Before you can imagine their guilt weighing heavily on a four-year diet of ramen or their neglect of textbook rental options, consider a slightly more existential concern: their major.

A report from the Gallup and Strada Education Network helps cement this picture. Published in 2017, it highlights interviews with nearly 90,000 U.S. adults aged 18-65 about their education paths and experiences.

The report indicates that 36 percent of people who pursued or completed a postsecondary degree would choose a different field of study if they could do it all over again. Of those whose highest level of education is a bachelor's degree, 40 percent had second thoughts about their major.

These findings raise questions, such as how and why students select their field of study and why, when looking back, so many would change it. Some graduates may have struggled to use their bachelor’s degree to secure their preferred job, especially if their field of study didn’t directly align with their desired career.

It could also reflect the job market, where liberal arts and humanities graduates have historically had a bad rap when it comes to career utility. The data could also consider post-graduate pay too—and those who believe their undergraduate education set them on a path to a less-than-prosperous bank account.

A possible lesson here is that choosing a major with a valuable real-world application might be underrated, especially when thinking about the fields that lead to jobs that can be particularly lucrative, even for professionals at the bottom of the ladder.

With this in mind, looking ahead at the jobs that offer the highest earning potential right out of college may be a smart move whether you’re a prospective undergraduate student or already working on your degree.

We did some of that looking for you by researching PayScale data for jobs that require a bachelor’s degree. The roles we landed on are listed by entry-level pay, meaning the salaries that employers in these fields typically offer to budding professionals who may have an internship or two under their belts, but not necessarily much professional work experience.

What’s left is a list of entry-level jobs that pay college graduates generously from the get-go, with salaries only increasing over time. Spoiler alert: STEM jobs—that is, positions in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields—dominate our rankings.

The Highest-Paying Jobs for Recent College Grads

9. Aerospace Engineer: $68,701

Aerospace engineers are the masterminds behind aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and weapons systems. These professionals are known for their extremely broad and multidisciplinary skillset and may function within any segment of the engineering process, from design, analysis, and integration, to testing, deployment, and maintenance.

You’ll primarily find aerospace engineers employed at systems and software suppliers, corporate labs, government labs, and universities. Here, a primary part of their job is to create and test prototypes of their designs based on flight safety, fuel efficiency, engineering standards, and environmental impact.

In some cases, they may design any related components and subassemblies too, such as engines, airframes, wings, landing gear, control systems, and instruments. Calculating project costs and timescales, writing manuals on quality standards and design methods, and upgrading and developing new technologies also factor into their day-to-day.

__8. Investment Banking Analyst: $71,025

Investment banking analysts have a reputation as the workhorses of investment banking teams. As such, they’re responsible for a wide range of duties that include raising capital, providing advisory services for mergers and acquisitions and other corporate transactions, completing valuation work, and marketing the value of the banks’ expertise to client companies.

Generally, investment banking analysts execute the bulk of the analytic work needed to facilitate corporate transactions. This typically involves a lot of work with presentations and models, from “pitch books" outlining their bank’s qualifications, recent industry data, and advisory recommendations to discounted cash flow (DCF) analyses used in equity research and other areas of capital markets.

7. Information Technology (IT) Architect:$71,835

You may have heard IT architects referred to as enterprise architects, project architects, and systems architects.

No matter their moniker, these professionals are generally known as solution experts. You can find them at virtually every company and organization that applies software and IT systems to its processes.

The primary duties of IT architects are largely to design and maintain their organization’s computer networks. They do this by monitoring system performance, addressing any networking or server-related issues, and staying up-to-date on industry trends and emerging technologies.

6. Product Designer: $72,317

Product designers design most things we use in our day-to-day lives, from cutlery to computers, as well as specialist products like medical and telecommunications equipment.

Their work commonly refers to the holistic approach of building a new product from start to finish, which can encompass everything from conducting market research and identifying problems, to developing the product and developing solutions to points of user friction.

Although their skillset is typically associated with the visual or tactile aspects of a product, these professionals can sometimes play a role in the information architecture and system design of a product as well.

This is especially true for those working at the intersection of the various UX design disciplines that go into creating digital products like apps, games, or browser plugins.

5. Computer Hardware Engineer: $75,969

Computer hardware engineers, or hardware engineers for short, are responsible for researching, designing, and developing computer hardware, like circuit boards, chips, and systems. This covers stages of initial research, overseeing the manufacturing process, as well as testing.

With project specifications and a final product in mind, hardware engineers draw up blueprints and other models that take a variety of factors into considerations, such as size and power, and the hardware’s compatibility with the software it will run. Throughout the development process, they’ll work with software engineers and other IT professionals to test components of their design and modify them as necessary.

4. Materials Scientist: $77,146

Materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and analyze how they interact with one another. Their work typically focuses on synthetic, natural materials like ceramics, rubber, metals, and glass, which they use to develop new products and technologies or enhance existing ones.

Materials science covers such a range of disciplines and applications that those in the profession tend to specialize in a technique or material type. Some may specialize in paints and coatings, while others will design biomedical materials used in prosthetics and implants. Their research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, cleaners, and countless other products.

Since an increasing number of research projects in the field involve multiple disciplines, it’s common for materials scientists to work on teams with other scientists, such as biologists, physicists, computer specialists, and engineers.

3. Petroleum Engineer: $85,485

The field of petroleum engineering deals with the exploration, extraction, and production of oil and increasingly, natural gas. Petroleum engineers are responsible for determining the most efficient way to drill for and extract oil and natural gas at a particular site, oversee drilling operations, and resolve any operating problems that may occur during the process.

These professionals typically specialize in a particular aspect of drilling operations. Reservoir engineers, for example, decide the most cost-effective approach to recovering oil or gas from a deposit. Drilling engineers, on the other hand, are tasked to figure out the most economically efficient and safe way to drill at a particular site.

Some petroleum engineers may focus on completion, which concerns the process of building wells that allow natural resources to flow upwards from the ground. Others may work in production, in which they’ll monitor the drilling process and implement certain techniques to coax oil or gas out of a well that’s producing below target.

2. Data Scientist: $85,972

Bob Ross is to happy little trees as data scientists are to amazingly detailed predictions of what the future will hold. This isn’t to say they’re psychics, but instead professionals with a deep understanding of statistics and algorithms, programming and hacking, and communication.

In the past decade, data scientists have become necessary assets in nearly every industry and sector. With the rise of big data—the huge data sets that businesses collect—came the need for professionals to parse it, interpret it, and help formulate and execute organizations’ plans based on their findings.

At a social media company, they might wield user data to understand habits and suggest content that customers will enjoy. In advertising, they might focus on targeting customers whose location, interests, and age make them an ideal audience. At news organizations, data scientists may work on election forecasting or upping subscriber revenue.

__1. Perfusionist: $99,517

Perfusionists are highly trained in using the heart-lung machine—or cardiopulmonary bypass machine—during cardiac surgery. This machine is used when cardiopulmonary bypass is needed to manage a patient's physiological and metabolic needs, and their heart needs to be stopped.

During surgery, perfusionists are responsible for maintaining blood flow to the body’s tissues and regulate levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. This is where the heart-lung machine is crucial, acting as a mechanism for diverting blood away from the heart and lungs, adding oxygen to the blood, and then returning the blood to the body—all without the blood having to go through the heart.

Perfusionists are also responsible for measuring selected laboratory values such as blood cell count and monitoring circulation. They may also administer medicine through the heart-lung machine under the direction of the anesthesiologist and surgeon.

To note, most typically complete a bachelor’s degree with courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, as well as additional specialized training through a certification program.

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