Choosing a college isn't a simple task - you want to pick a school that will challenge you intellectually and provide you with life experiences that help you grow as a person. But unless you want to live in your parents' basement for the rest of your life, you want to pick a school that prepares you for a successful career, both in terms of getting hired and equipping you with the skills to properly do your job. PayScale's 2015-2016 College Salary Report has ranked more than 1,000 colleges and universities by the median salaries of their alumni. By knowing how much you can expect to earn after getting your bachelor's degree, you can choose a school wisely and set yourself up for future financial security, especially when evaluating how much to borrow to help pay for your education.
The data used to calculate all salary information comes from millions of people who have taken the PayScale Salary Survey and told us where they received their bachelor's degree. If you want to see salaries based off alumni who only received a bachelor's degree, use the Bachelor's Only tab. To see median alumni salaries that include data from graduates who went on to earn a graduate degree (at any school, not just the university where they obtained a bachelor's degree), use the All Alumni tab.
The Best College By Alumni Salary
You might assume that the highest earners in the country come from well-known Ivy League Schools like Harvard or Princeton, but the truth is, the highest median alumni salaries come from students who attended small colleges with strong engineering programs. This year, SUNY Maritime, a small public college in New York that focuses on engineering and business degrees, took first place for the median salary of alumni with 10 or more years of experience. Experienced SUNY Maritime alumni typically earn $134,000, just $1,000 more than the median alumni salary of second-place Harvey Mudd alumni.
Harvey Mudd College, located in Southern California, took the top spot for highest alumni earnings in PayScale's College Salary Report for the last three years. Harvey Mudd has just over 800 undergraduate students
The median mid-career salary for Harvey Mudd alumni is $133,000 - almost $4,000 more than the runner-up -- the United States Naval Academy (USNA) at Annapolis. Harvey Mudd may not have the name recognition of MIT or CalTech, but its alumni, nearly all (86 percent) of whom graduate with a STEM degree, take top honors for high earning potential.
Graduate School Can Increase Earning Potential
When we include alumni who go on to earn graduate degrees after receiving a bachelor's degree, the rankings change. SUNY Maritime still takes first place with a median mid-career salary of $139,000, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology rises to second place. When alumni with graduate degrees are not included in the data pool, the median mid-career salary for MIT grads is $127,000, putting them in sixth place, but that number rises to $137,000 when alumni with graduate degrees are included. That's a sign that a lot of MIT grads go on to earn very lucrative graduate degrees.
Harvey Mudd, on the other hand, only sees an increase of $1,000 when graduate degree-holders are included. They still remain third overall. This relatively small increase may be a result of the fact that Harvey Mudd grads are in such high demand, especially in fields like computer science, that graduate school doesn't have a big effect on their earning potential.
Highest Early Career Alumni Salaries By School
If we focus on early career earnings, elite military schools reign supreme. For bachelor's-only gradutes, the United States Military Academy at West Point takes first place with a median early career salary of $78,500. When we include alumni with graduate degrees, the Naval Academy at Annapolis ($82,800) is home to the highest earners. The fact that West Point and Naval Academy alumni graduate with military experience probably increases their worth to employers.
Harvey Mudd is a top performer as well for early-career salaries.
The colleges with the highest-earning alumni almost all have one thing in common - they produce a lot of engineers and other workers with valuable STEM degrees. However, that doesn't mean that everybody should become an engineer. PayScale publishes this data to help students understand the typical salaries they will likely go on to earn, and the corresponding amount of student debt they can afford to take on.
Liberal Arts Schools Have Earning Potential Too
But don't count liberal arts schools out just yet. Harvey Mudd and the USNA are both technically liberal arts schools as well because of the curriculums they require of graduates before receiving their degrees. However, even more classically styled liberal arts schools, like Washington and Lee University, Colgate University, Carleton College and Williams College produce high-earning graduates. Prospective students should just be aware that a liberal arts degree may mean it takes them a longer time to get settled in the career of their dreams, but their well-rounded, analytical skillsets and ability to clearly communicate can set them up for successful careers.
Public Colleges vs. Private Colleges
Both public and private schools can produce high-earning alumni. All military academies produce high-earning grads (again, when looking at grads in civilian jobs), and SUNY - Maritime College, the University of California - Berkeley and the Georgia Institute of Technology produce very high-earning alumni, beating out some Ivy League Schools.