While there are ways to generate income to pay off your college debts through side gigs, nothing compares to a steady paycheck to bolster your finances, especially through high paying entry-level jobs.
The good news for former students entering the workforce is that the average entry-level salary for new college graduates is increasing. The class of 2020 has an average starting salary of $55,260 — a 2.5% raise over the previous year, according to the Summer 2021 Salary Survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Landing well-paying jobs with ample room for advancement is also one of the best ways to pay off your student loans — though, it often depends on the field in which you earned your degree. While wages look to be rising across the economy, the very highest-paying positions seem to be dominated by the sciences.
Here are the 10 highest paying entry-level jobs, according to data from NACE and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning you the most money straight out of college:
1. Petroleum engineer
2. Computer programmer
3. Computer engineer
4. Computer scientist
5. Electrical, electronics and communications engineer
6. Operations research analyst
7. Computer and information scientist
9. Applied mathematician
10. Chemical engineer
Plus: How to get that first job
What are entry-level jobs?
Entry-level jobs are positions suited for young professionals or recent college graduates who have little to no experience in the workforce. Many entry-level jobs come with lower pay and require more training than other positions. But the ones on the list below pay significantly more than what most people make right out of college.
Average starting salary: $87,989
Petroleum engineering comes in as one of the top high paying entry-level jobs with an average starting salary that isn’t far off from being six figures.
Petroleum engineers are responsible for developing ways to extract oil and gas from the earth that will be used toward energy production. Many employers in this field look for recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. This can include petroleum, mechanical, civil and chemical engineering.
The average annual salary for a petroleum engineer is $137,330 and the position has a projected 3% growth rate — which is heavily determined by oil prices — an average percentage for most jobs.
Average starting salary: $86,098
Computer programmer positions are a bit unusual because, while they are among the most high paying entry-level jobs, the projected growth rate is -9%. This may be due to the fact that because computer programming positions can be done remotely, some companies hire out internationally where they don’t have to pay as big of salaries.
Computer programmers write code for software programs and operating systems, and analyze them to ensure that they work. In these types of roles, you’ll need to be well-versed in programming languages such as SQL, C++, HTML, Python and Java. The average annual salary for a computer programmer is $89,190.
Average starting salary: $85,996
Computer engineers design, create and test components used to make a computer run such as circuits, routers and processors. To become employed as a computer engineer, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in computer or electrical engineering or computer science. Many employers also look to hire those who attended programs accredited through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).
On average, computer engineers make an annual salary of $119,560. While computer engineer jobs pay well, unfortunately, they only have a projected 2% annual growth rate which is a slower pace than most industries.
Average starting salary: $85,766
Computer scientists create and assess software programs and can find positions in places like Silicon Valley or at large technology companies. To work as a computer scientist, employers look for those with computer science or similar types of degrees.
With a 15% projected growth rate, there are plenty of career opportunities as this is a much higher rate than most fields. Computer scientists typically make a wage of $126,830 a year.
Average starting salary: $80,819
Electrical, electronics and communications engineers work hands-on with electrical products. It is their responsibility to research, create and improve the manufacturing of electrical equipment. These types of engineers make an average salary of $103,390 a year, and can work in a variety of industries including automotive, communications and energy.
Positions as an electrical, electronics and communications engineer have a projected 3% growth rate which is average for most jobs.
Average starting salary: $80,166
Operations research analysts help businesses run more effectively by utilizing data mining and statistics. Employers typically seek those with degrees in mathematics, computer engineering, business, engineering or other types of technical degrees.
With a projected growth rate of 25%, work as an operations research analyst offers a wide range of opportunities for new college graduates going into this field. Operations research analysts typically make a median wage of $86,200 per year.
Average starting salary: $78,603
While working in the computer and information science field, people in these types of positions can usually expect to make a median annual salary of $126,830. Computer and information science workers must have a well-rounded knowledge of how computers work as well as their programs so they can best help manage a company or organization’s computer system.
Aside from high salaries, positions in computer and information science also offer plenty of room for expansion with a 15% projected growth rate, much higher than the average job growth rate.
Average starting salary: $75,916
As the gathering and application of data is in high demand across many industries, the need for statisticians is growing at a top speed. Work as a statistician is one of the fastest growing jobs on this list with a 33% projected growth rate. Statisticians collect and study information and data to help guide companies and organizations in their decision making.
Statisticians make a median wage of $92,270 a year, and will need to have strong analytical, technical and communication skills.
Average starting salary: $73,558
With a degree in applied mathematics, mathematicians in this field focus on the theory and application of mathematical data to address questions and issues in the scientific and engineering fields. These mathematicians should be familiar with subjects such as statistics, probability and computation.
Those going into the applied mathematics field can expect an eventual median annual salary of $110,860. With a 33% projected growth rate, like statistics, applied mathematics offers the most opportunity for growth on this roundup of high paying entry-level jobs.
Average starting salary: $72,713
As a chemical engineer, there are a wide variety of industries available to explore such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. Chemical engineers are responsible for researching and testing manufacturing processes, sometimes working with dangerous chemicals. People in these positions need a strong grasp on mathematics and chemistry as well as other areas of science.
Chemical engineers make a median annual salary of $108,540. The field has a 4% projected growth rate which is on track with the average growth rate for all jobs.
Of course, none of the jobs above will necessarily fall straight into your lap. While some students are lucky enough to be recruited by interested employers, the vast majority of graduates will need to put in the time and effort to apply for their first post-graduation position.
If you’re nearing the end of your academic career, or have already matriculated but haven’t yet found work, there are things you can do to get that first career opportunity. For one thing, check out our guide to 12 tips for making yourself a marketable job candidate.
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