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Go Beyond Your Degree to Get the Salary You Want

Go Beyond Your Degree to Get the Salary You Want

Lynda M. Bassett, Monster Contributing Writer

When people ask you what your college major was, they want to know about more than your interests. What they really mean is, “How much money do you make?” Indeed, when it comes to salary, your major can make a big difference.

No matter what you majored in, the news is good for the class of 2009: Healthcare is one of the most in-demand fields, and employers are hiring rapidly. But there are “certain majors that translate into higher-paying jobs,” says Sunny Ackerman, regional director for Manpower Professional.

Engineering, Finance, Math and Science Pay Off the Most

“Anything in engineering, especially in the fields of civil and petroleum, is really hot right now,” Ackerman says.

John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, agrees, adding that along with engineering majors, “finance and technology graduates usually get paid more than liberal arts majors. Anybody who has an orientation toward math, science and engineering – those jobs are in great demand.”

What’s even more encouraging is that these hot jobs are also pulling in higher entry-level salaries, Ackerman says. “In these fields where employers are having trouble filling positions, it’s likely that salaries are on the rise as companies become willing to fill the gaps,” she adds.

If you work in certain industries, like healthcare, you’ll start out with a lower salary but see an increase after you gain specialized skills and about five-plus years of experience. People who go into sales may start at about $30,000 to $40,000, but they end up earning “well into six-figure salaries” based on commission and experience, says Challenger.

Time Is on Your Side

According to PayScale, an expert on salary issues and data compensation, in 2005, economics majors were offered about $40,000 a year to start. Engineering majors brought home entry-level salaries of about $55,000, while English majors pulled in about $30,000 the first year.

After five to nine years’ experience, those who majored in English saw an increase to about $50,000 a year. Economics majors can expect to make about $66,500. Engineering leads the pack, with salaries of about $70,000 five to nine years after graduation.

For any career, 10 or more years after college graduation is peak earning time. At this point, the economics majors have caught up with electrical engineering majors; the difference in average total compensation is not statistically significant.

English majors have also made gains. While the low end of the salary scale is still much lower than it is for engineers, the top 25 percent of English majors earn incomes “just as good or better than half of the engineers,” says Joe Giordano, founder and vice president of product development at PayScale.

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