Back To Career News

The Best Colleges Based on Salary Potential, According to PayScale

Topics: Data & Research
best colleges
Baim Hanif/Unsplash

Today, PayScale released its updated College Salary Report, an annual ranking of the colleges and majors that lead to the highest-paying jobs after graduation.

Why is salary potential important? In part, because college is so expensive in the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a four-year degree in the year 2016-7 was $17,237 at public colleges and $44,551 at private nonprofit colleges. It’s no wonder that about 69% of students in the class of 2019 had student loan debt. In 2017, the average balance on those loans was $26,900 for grads of public four-year schools and $32,600 for grads of private nonprofit four-year schools, per the College Board.

In fact, a recent study from TIAA showed that 84% of Americans say that their student loan debt is preventing them from saving as much as they should for retirement — and it’s not just the recent grads who are suffering.

Per USA Today:

In fact, 73% of borrowers say that they’re putting off maximizing their retirement plan contributions, or don’t plan to contribute to a retirement account at all, until their student debt is gone. And among Americans who haven’t yet started a retirement fund, 26% point to student debt as the reason why.

Furthermore, it’s not just younger Americans whose retirement savings are impacted by student debt. Though 39% of 25- to 35-year-olds are prioritizing student debt over building a nest egg, 43% of parents and grandparents who took out loans for their kids or grandkids say they’ll only ramp up their retirement savings once that debt is paid off. And that’s problematic, because while younger borrowers are at least multiple decades away from retirement, older borrowers have less time to catch up.

It makes sense, then, that prospective college students and their families would factor in potential earnings when making their educational plan. While money isn’t everything, most grads will want to be sure that they can meet their financial obligations while starting their new careers.

“Higher education is a major financial decision, both in terms of the cost of attending the institution as well as the potential for future earnings. Our College Salary Report can be an important resource for students and their families when making decisions about which school to attend and which major to study,” said Sudarshan Sampath, PayScale Director of Research, in a statement.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Bachelor’s Degrees: The 5 Best Colleges Based on Salary Potential

How to Negotiate a Pay Raise

Engineering and math majors lead the pack when it came to bachelor’s degrees that lead to high-paying jobs after graduation. Harvey Mudd College took the top spot once again this year, leading to higher earnings by mid-career than Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the No. 2 top-earner. In addition to STEM-focused schools, Ivy League and military academies topped the rankings.

1. Harvey Mudd College

Based in Claremont, Calif., this small engineering and liberal arts school has a study body of around 1,000 people. Common careers after graduation include Software Engineer, Electrical Engineer and Data Scientist. Median Mid-Career Pay: $158,200

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Among its alums, MIT boasts 90 Nobel laureates, 75 MacArthur fellows and 59 National Medal of Science winners. Based in Cambridge, Mass., this private research university is famously selective, with a 7% acceptance rate. Common careers after graduation include Software Engineer and Mechanical Engineer. Median Mid-Career Pay: $155,200

3. Samuel Merritt University

A small, private not-for-profit university focused on health sciences, Samuel Merritt University (formerly known as Samuel Merritt College) is based in Oakland, Calif. Common job titles among graduates include Physician Assistant, Family Nurse Practitioner and Physical Therapist. Median Mid-Career Pay: $154,100

4. United States Naval Academy (USNA)

Based in Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy educates future officers of the Navy and Marine Corps. Prospective students typically receive a nomination from a member of Congress, as well as applying directly. Tuition is free in exchange for five years of active duty service upon graduation. Common careers after graduation include Project Manager, U.S. Naval Officer and Vice President, Operations. Median Mid-Career Pay: $152,800

5. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Based in Pasadena, Calif., Caltech is a private research university with an undergraduate student body of around 1,000 students. Caltech accepts only 8% of applicants and boasts Nobel laureates and National Medal of Science recipients among its alumni. Common jobs for graduates include Software Engineer, Mechanical Engineer and Research Scientist. Median Mid-Career Pay: $151,600

Want to know more about which colleges and degrees lead to high-paying jobs? Check out PayScale’s College ROI Report, and learn the best colleges that offer the most value for your tuition dollar.

Associate Degrees: The 5 Best Colleges Based on Salary Potential

Nurse Practitioner

Nursing and other healthcare-related degrees ranked highly on the list of high-earning associate degree programs. As it did last year, Helene Fuld College of Nursing held the top spot with mid-career earnings of $90,600.

1. Helene Fuld College of Nursing

A whopping 83% of Helene Fuld College of Nursing alums say that their jobs make the world a better place — no surprise, given that their jobs are in healthcare. A private, not-for-profit college based in New York City, Helene Fuld College accepts Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses who want to advance their careers. Typical job titles for graduates include Registered Nurse, Nurse Case Manager and RN Supervisor. Median Mid-Career Pay: $90,600

2. Pacific Union College

Pacific Union College is a private, Christian, liberal arts college located in Angwin, Calif. Serving approximately 1,600 undergraduates, Pacific Union College offers associate and bachelor’s degrees in over 70 concentrations, including Nursing, Business and Psychology & Social Work. Popular careers for alumni include Nursing Director, Financial Analyst and Accountant. Median Mid-Career Pay: $90,400

3. Laboure College

Based in Milton, Mass., Laboure College is a private college focused on nursing and healthcare. Founded in 1892 as the Carney Hospital Training School for Nurses in South Boston, the school relocated to Milton, Mass. in 2013. Laboure offers bachelor’s and associate degrees in nursing, and associate degrees and certificates in other healthcare professions. Typical job titles for alumni include Registered Nurse, Director, Nursing and Case Manager. Median Mid-Career Pay: $85,400

4. Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing

Based in New York City, Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing is a private, not-for-profit college focused on nursing degrees. The school offers programs that can be completed in as little as 15 months and that feature both online and in-person instruction. Their Accelerated Bachelor of Science Nursing (ABSN) is open to students who previously received non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing Completion Program (RN to BSN) allows licensed nurses to attain a bachelor’s degree in nursing, which prepares them for managerial roles or jobs in hospitals that require a BSN. Typical job titles for alumni include Nursing Instructor, Staff Nurse and Registered Nurse. Median Mid-Career Pay: $82,800

5. Lawrence Memorial/Regis College School of Nursing

Lawrence Memorial Hospital School of Nursing (a.k.a. Lawrence Memorial/Regis College School of Nursing) is a private, not-for-profit institution granting associate of science degrees in nursing. Based in Medford, Mass., LMH offers clinical experience in city and suburban hospitals in and around Boston. Typical job titles for graduates include Registered Nurse and Dialysis Registered Nurse. Median Mid-Career Pay: $80,900

Other Insights From the Report

The College Salary Report offers estimates of early and mid-career median salary for 2,537 associate and bachelor’s degree-granting institutions throughout the United States. Users can sort associate and bachelor’s degree programs by state or type (or see the full lists).

The report also offers insight into the earnings and career potential for various majors, including which jobs are most common for which concentrations. And because money isn’t everything, PayScale also created a ranking of most meaningful majors, i.e., those majors whose graduates described them as making the world a better place.

Finally, because not everyone knows what they want to do after graduation until, well, graduation, this year’s College Salary Report also includes a list of the most flexible majors. The good news? There are a lot of majors on that list.

“Over three-fourths of the majors studied were relatively flexible,” said Sampath. “Business, social science and humanities majors are more flexible than majors within education, computer science and math. And while STEM degrees tend to pay the most, having a STEM degree doesn’t lock workers into a STEM career.”

Business majors topped the list for transferable degrees, but students who focus their education on social sciences, humanities, physical & life sciences and other disciplines may find themselves changing careers with (relative) ease.

Want to know how flexible your major will turn out to be? Try PayScale’s interactive tool and learn more about your career prospects.

Do you know your worth? Find out how much you could be earning at your next job. Take the PayScale Salary Survey and get your free salary report today.

Tell Us What You Think

Did your school make one of our rankings of best colleges? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
Read more from Jen

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.