A Skeptical Engineer
It’s Good to be an Engineering Graduate

It’s Good to be an Engineering Graduate

Image courtesy of Thinkstock.

The young women and men who made it through U.S. engineering colleges last year did quite well for themselves. The good news for most of them started even before they got their diplomas: 60% received at least one job offer before graduating, according to a survey of almost 18,000 grads with bachelor’s degrees in engineering that was conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). On average, those engineering grads pulled in annual starting salaries of about $65,000, which is more than the $50,000 median salary in the U.S.

The grads who did the best majored in petroleum engineering, a degree offered at only 17 universities across the country. They earned average starting salaries of a little over $86,000 for their expertise in getting oil and gas safely out of the ground. With starting salaries that high, it’s not hard to understand why only 7% of the petroleum-engineering grads decided to stay in college to earn graduate degrees. The survey found that about 15% of all 2014 engineering grads remained in school for master’s or doctorate degrees.

The two engineering disciplines with the highest percentage of grads staying on campus for higher degrees were nuclear engineers and biomedical engineers at 40% and 36%, respectively. Grads with biomedical and nuclear engineering who decided to join the job market right out of college averaged about $57,000 and $60,000, respectively.

Biomedical-engineering grads also hold the distinction of having the most people pursuing full-time entrepreneurship at 0.9%. One discipline that had no grads looking to start a business were the computer engineers, a discipline I presumed would be full of eager entrepreneurs. Maybe the hardcore computer students interested in starting a business don’t stick around to graduate, sort of like Gates, Jobs, Wozniak, Dell, and Zuckerberg.

The two mainstay disciplines of traditional engineering, electrical and mechanical, accounted for the most grads at about 40%. Electrical engineers, together with their close cousins, the computer engineers, pulled in about $68,000 per year, while mechanical engineers had to make do with $64,000.

Engineering students who worked hard and made it into the top 10% in terms of first-year salaries, according to National Labor Statistics, did extremely well, nearly doubling the average salary of their fellow engineers. Those who made it into this category among biomedical engineers, for example, averaged starting salaries of $139,000. The top 10% in electrical and mechanical engineering averaged $143,000 and $126,000, respectively. And computer hardware engineers who made it into the Top 10 received an average of almost $161,000.

For comparison, the NACE survey also reveals which college majors garnered the lowest starting salaries. They include psychology, biology, public administration, and English grads at $33,000, recreation majors at $32,000, and theology majors at $29,000.

I have to assume that this year’s engineering grads did similarly to last year’s group. For those who want at see how they and their colleagues stack up in regards to salary, be sure to check out the October issue of Machine Design, in which Carlos Gonzalez breaks down Machine Design’s 2015 Engineering Salary Survey.

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