The Best Colleges for High Starting Salaries

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Choosing a college is not a small decision. There are many things to consider, including courses offered, the school’s sports programs and its overall level of prestige. While many prospective students often want a well-rounded experience, it’s important to think about it from a financial perspective, too.

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The cost of college has increased dramatically in recent years; thus, you should also think of college as an investment. In other words, what kind of return can you expect on your investment? If the numbers don’t work, it may be best to consider other options. This list will take a look at the very best four-year colleges for high starting salaries so you can be sure your investment doesn’t go to waste.

10. United States Naval Academy

  • Early-career pay: $79,600

USNA is located adjacent to Annapolis, Maryland, and is commonly referred to as the Navy. Military schools have some of the highest earners in civilian jobs for those who earn bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, tuition, room, board and even medical and dental expenses are free for USNA students. In exchange, five years of active duty are required after graduation. Common careers for graduates include project manager, operations manager and business development director. The acceptance rate is only around 8%.

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9. United States Military Academy

  • Early-career pay: $81,100

Also known as West Point for its location in West Point, New York, USMA is a fantastic value. Not only does it have one of the highest starting salaries in the country, but it also has free tuition, room, board and fully paid expenses. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get accepted, though; admission rates are only around 10%. Students at West Point must serve at least five years of active duty in exchange for their scholarship. Three years in the reserves is also required. Common career choices include project manager, operations officer and director of operations.

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8. Webb Institute

  • Early-career pay: $81,500

Webb Institute is a private engineering college located in Glen Cove, New York. It is often the case that small engineering colleges produce some of the highest starting salaries, and Webb is no exception. For the 2020-21 academic year, the college had just 101 students. Nevertheless, 100% of those students earn a STEM degree, and career choices include naval architect, account manager and design engineer.

7. Stanford University

  • Early-career pay: $81,800

You might expect Ivy League schools to fill out this list, but the reality is that Stanford is the only one that makes it, at least for starting salaries. Still, Stanford manages to secure a spot at No. 7. Notably, Stanford’s top-10 position doesn’t change for mid-career median salary. With an emphasis on research and engineering and 51% of students earning STEM degrees, new grads of Stanford earn nearly $82,000. Graduates go on to become software engineers, mechanical engineers and data scientists.

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6. United States Merchant Marine Academy

  • Early-career pay: $84,300

At No. 6, we have another military school in the United States Merchant Marine Academy. USMMA is a public institution located in Kings Point, New York. The academy has a heavy focus on engineering, and students are sworn into the U.S. Navy Reserve. Like the other military schools mentioned here, tuition, room and board and other costs are covered by the federal government. Similarly, there is a five-year service obligation. Graduates become project managers, mechanical engineers and operations managers.

5. Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science

  • Early-career pay: $85,700

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science is a medical school located in Willowbrook, California. Charles R. Drew is a historically Black college that was established due to the lack of adequate medical access in Watts, Los Angeles. The school is a private nonprofit, and tuition for the 2019-20 academic year was $13,972. As a medical school, this is one of only three schools on this list where the majority of students do not earn STEM degrees. Careers include physician assistant, clinical research nurse and nurse practitioner.

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4. California Institute of Technology

  • Early-career salary: $87,600

California Institute of Technology is a private research university in Pasadena, California. Given the school’s name, it should come as no surprise that it has a STEM focus; 97% of students earn STEM degrees. Specifically, there is a heavy focus on engineering, with career choices including software engineer, research scientist and mechanical engineer. The total cost of attendance for 2020-21 is $79,947. CalTech has under 1,000 students in total but receives thousands of applications every year, making it a very competitive school.

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Early-career salary: $88,300

MIT has a long-standing reputation as one of the most prestigious schools in the U.S., so it’s not surprising to see it highly ranked. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT is a private research university. Engineering is the focus here, too, with common careers including software engineer, mechanical engineer and research scientist. Sixty-nine percent of students earn STEM degrees overall. The total cost to attend, before aid, is $77,020. MIT students have the second-highest mid-career median earnings in the country at $158,100.

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2. Harvey Mudd College

  • Early-career salary: $91,400

Harvey Mudd College is a small private college located in Claremont, California. It is part of Claremont Colleges and shares adjoining grounds and resources. Harvey Mudd has a focus on science and engineering, and 85% of students earn STEM degrees. Common careers include software engineer, electrical engineer and mechanical engineer. Total enrollment for 2020-21 is 827 students. The estimated total cost of attendance for 2020-21 is $79,539.

1. Samuel Merritt University

  • Early-career salary: $93,900

Topping the list for starting salaries is Samuel Merritt University, a private university focused on health sciences. SMU is the only school on this list from which 0% of students receive STEM degrees. With a focus on health sciences, its graduates go on to become registered nurses, nurse practitioners and occupational therapists. It is worth noting that although SMU has the highest starting salary in the country, it drops all the way down to No. 47 when it comes to median mid-career salary, at $129,300. The other medical school on this list, Charles R. Drew, has the same median mid-career salary.

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Last updated: Oct. 21, 2021


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