Graduates’ Pay Ranked for 1,650 Colleges

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Decisions about which college to attend or degree to pursue are increasingly driven at least in part by this consideration: will I be able to pay back my student loans?

Countless things determine how much someone earns – smarts, rich or poor parents, high school or graduate degree, being in the right place at the right time. But LendEdu’s new ranking of starting salaries for graduates with bachelor’s degrees from some 1,650 U.S. colleges is essential information, especially when debt is the only option to finance college.

A degree is almost always worth the investment. Georgetown University estimates workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $1 million more over their lifetime than high school graduates. Post-secondary degrees have even bigger payoffs.

The salary rankings turned up some useful and quirky findings. LendEdu, a personal finance website for consumers that sells advertising to financial firms, compiled the salary data for the first five years of employment from surveys.

  • Ever hear of Harvey Mudd College? The typical recent graduate of this engineering school 40 miles west of Los Angeles earns a bit more ($85,600) than an MIT graduate ($83,600). Harvey Mudd is Silicon Valley’s No. 2 feeder school.
  • Graduates overestimate what a degree is worth. The typical college student expects to earn $60,000 but earns only $48,400 in the work world.
  • Military academies aren’t most teenagers’ top picks. But earnings for graduates of West Point Military Academy ($79,300) and the U.S. Naval Academy ($78,600) rank in the top 15 – above Stanford. The academies are training grounds for career military officers.
  • The Ivy League and other top-drawer schools are appealing not just for the prestige and good jobs after college but for graduates’ minuscule debt relative to how much they will earn. Stanford grads earn an average $76,500 right out of college, but debt per graduate is only $3,637. Stanford’s rank is No. 5 in LendEdu risk-reward estimates for colleges.

There are two explanations for the low debt levels. First, the top schools draw many more students whose parents earn enough to pay the full ride. Their parents are more likely to be in the top 1 percent than in the bottom 60 percent, according to The New York Times data.  Second, large-endowment colleges like Stanford can provide generous aid packages to students.

Again, pay isn’t the only thing college-bound teenagers should take into account when choosing a college. But take a look at how your top picks stack up.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.