College Salary Report Methodology
Only nonprofit or public schools for which PayScale had a statistically significant sample were considered for this study. Exclusion from the study is not a reflection on the quality of the institution, but simply indicates that we did not have enough verified data from the school to publish a salary ranking for it. We acquire our data from individuals filling out the PayScale Salary Survey.
PayScale’s public-facing Research Center only samples a portion of our overall database and does not fully represent the sample utilized for calculating the earnings figures in the PayScale College Salary Report. The size of a school’s sample is strongly correlated with the size of the school. Therefore, our samples are larger for larger schools. The average sample size for the included schools is 419 profiles.
PayScale’s core business is building software that utilizes our data and compensation algorithm. Our public Research Center is only meant to give a glimpse of our full data set.
The data used in PayScale’s College Salary Report is collected through our ongoing, online compensation survey. People complete the PayScale survey to understand their price in the labor market. Users provide data about their jobs, compensation, employer, demographics and educational background. In return, PayScale provides them with a detailed compensation report that compares their compensation to others like them.
This data is rigorously tested and verified before it is considered for reporting. Please see the PayScale methodology for more details.
The sample considered for the 2020 - 2021 College Salary Report was 3.5 million college graduates. The sample size for each school included ranges from 28 profiles to over 31,000, depending largely upon the size of the school.
All data used to produce PayScale’s College Salary Report were collected from employees who successfully completed PayScale’s employee survey.
Sample Size: The sample size of degree holding, full-time, civilian employees working in the U.S. is over 3.5 million. The sample size for each school included ranges from 28 profiles to over 31,000, depending largely upon the size of the school.This year, the report includes three types of degree holders:
- Bachelor’s Degree Only: Only employees who possess a bachelor’s degree and no higher degrees are included. This means bachelor’s degree graduates who went on to earn a master’s degree, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, or other advanced degrees are not included.
- All Bachelor’s Degree Holders: This data set contains both those whose culminating degree is a bachelor’s degree and those who obtained their bachelor’s degree from the school in question and then went on to get a higher degree (master’s degree, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, or other advanced degrees).
- Associate Degree Only: Only employees who possess an associate degree and no higher degrees are included. This means associate degree graduates who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, or other advanced degrees are not included.
U.S. Only: All reports are for graduates of schools from the United States who work in the United States.
Full-Time, Civilian Employees Only: Only graduates who are employed full-time, not on active military duty and paid with either an hourly wage or an annual salary are included.
Inclusion Criteria for Schools: The primary criteria for inclusion in this report are that a school offers associate and/or bachelor’s degrees, is located within the 50 United States and Puerto Rico, and has a substantial number of graduates who work for civilian employers in the U.S. To be considered for inclusion, we required (a) at least 25 respondents from each school and (b) at least five respondents from multiple experience cohorts: 0-5 years, 10-20, and over 20.
Schools with few graduates for a degree level and schools that have recently begun offering a given degree level may not be included due to insufficient data.
Additionally, for the bachelor’s only and associate data sets, schools with a large percentage of graduates earning advanced degrees may not be included due to insufficient data. Associate degree holders who further their education with bachelor’s or other advanced degrees are not included in the associate degree sample.
The PayScale 2020 - 2021 College Salary Report includes 1,736 of the 2,167 eligible bachelor’s degree granting schools in the U.S, and 1,624 of the 20,88 eligible associate degree granting schools. This list…
- Includes 98 percent of schools with over 5,000 undergraduate enrollment
- Include 95 percent of schools with over 1,000 enrollment
- Enrolls over 96 percent of all undergraduates at public or not-for-profit institutions in the U.S. based on enrollment data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
A school’s inclusion in or exclusion from the PayScale 2020 - 2021 College Salary Report is not based on school quality, typical graduate earnings, selectivity, or location within the U.S. PayScale greatly expanded the number of schools included in this year”’s report, and plans to expand the number of schools for future versions of this report as data becomes available.
Salary: Combines base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime, and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable.
Salary does not include equity (stock) compensation, which can be a significant portion of pay for some executive and high-tech jobs. In addition, salary does not include cash value of retirement benefits, or value of other non-cash benefits (e.g. healthcare). Salaries were inflation-adjusted to current year dollars to ensure apples-to-apples comparison over the data collection period.
Fitted Pay: Using all available salary data for a school, this is a maturity curve that maps a unique relationship between years’ experience and salary for each school and school-degree combination.
Early Career Median Salary: Fitted pay for an employee midway through the first five years of their career.
Mid-Career Median Salary: Fitted pay for an employee midway through their career.
Confidence Intervals: The average 95% confidence interval for small schools is 6.1% for early career and 6.9% for mid-career.
% High Job Meaning: This is the percentage of people who answer “Very much so” and “Yes” to the question “Does your work make the world a better place?”
School Sector: This is the “Sector of institution” from IPEDS: Public, Private Not-for-Profit or Private For-Profit
- Public School: Any school identified by IPEDS as being publicly funded.
- Research Universities: A school categorized by the Carnegie basic higher education classification system which can be either public or private in one of three categories:
- RU/VH: Research Universities (very high research activity)
- RU/H: Research Universities (high research activity)
- Ivy League School: One of the eight schools in the Ivy League.
- Party School: One of the 20 schools on the 2016 Princeton Review “Party Schools” list.
- Sober School: One of the 20 schools on the 2016 Princeton Review “Sobers Schools” list.
- Liberal Arts School: Any school with a Carnegie basic classification of “BAC/A&S Baccalaureate – Arts and Sciences”. These generally are non-pre-professional, undergraduate-focused institutions, and usually have smaller enrollments. Liberal arts schools include science majors. It does not include pre-professional degrees like business, nursing, and engineering.
- Engineering School: Any school which grants more than 50 percent of their undergraduate degrees in math, sciences, computer science, engineering, and engineering technology majors based on data from IPEDS. The idea is to identify science, engineering and technology-focused schools.
- Business School: Any school which grants more than 50 percent of their undergraduate degrees in business management, marketing and related support services majors based on data from IPEDS.
- Art / Design: Any school which grants more than 50 percent of their undergraduate degrees in visual and performing arts majors based on data from IPEDS.
- Religious: Any school with a religious affiliation based on data from IPEDS.
- For Sports Fans: Any school with a Division 1 Football or Division 1 Basketball team.
- Law School: Any school with a Carnegie basic classification of “Schools of Law.”
- Master’s School: Includes institutions with Carnegie basic classification of “Master’s Colleges and Universities” for smaller, medium, and larger programs.
Division 1 Football Classifications: Current classifications were determined from http://espn.go.com/college-football/standings.
Division 1 Basketball Classifications: Current classifications were determined from http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/standings.
Gender Breakdown: This is the gender breakdown of undergraduates from IPEDS.
Undergraduate Enrollment: This is the undergraduate fall enrollment from IPEDS. An undergraduate is defined by IPEDS as “A student enrolled in a 4- or 5-year bachelor’s degree program, an Associate degree program, or a vocational or technical program below the baccalaureate.”
% STEM: For Bachelor’s or Associate programs this is the percentage of Bachelor’s or Associate degrees that are awarded in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics from IPEDS. For Master’s or PhD programs it is the percentage of respective Master’s or PhDs awarded in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics from IPEDS.
Best Schools by Major: Since major choice plays an instrumental role in your potential salary, we rank schools based on the earnings of graduates within a major group for Bachelor’s only graduates. Inclusion in this list required that a school-major combination met the same inclusion criteria described above. For this reason, the schools included for each major are a subset of the bachelor’s degree lists.
Additionally, similarly to the overall school rankings, these schools are ranked based on the median mid-career earnings of graduates within a major group. The pay values do not control for job choice, only major and school selection. This is important to keep in mind as graduates for one school may select very different jobs than graduates from another school, even if they share the same major.
Major Groupings Included:
- Art (Visual and Performing Arts\CIP Code 50)
- Business (Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services\CIP Code 52)
- Communications (Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs\CIP Code 09)
- Computer Science (Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services\CIP Code 11)
- Education (Education\CIP Code 13)
- Engineering (Engineering\CIP Code 14)
- Health Sciences (Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences\CIP 51)
- Humanities (English Language and Literature/Letters\CIP Code 23, History\CIP Code 54, Philosophy and Religious Studies\CIP Code 38, Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics\CIP Code 16, and Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities\CIP Code 24)
- Physical and Life Sciences (Biological and Biomedical Sciences\CIP Code 26 and Physical Sciences\CIP Code 40)
- Social Sciences (Social Sciences\CIP Code 45)
We provide the median starting and median mid-career salary, maturity curves, and percentage with meaningful work for:
- 356 Associate majors
- 835 Bachelor’s majors
Note: Only employees who possess the specified major at the specified degree level and did not go on to get an advanced degree are included.
Common Jobs for Majors
Due to the great diversity of jobs, even for the most popular jobs it is not uncommon for the job to represent less than one percent of the total respondents for a major. Some jobs are less likely to be represented on our lists due to a greater amount of specialization in the field. The inverse is also true. For example, software engineers who work in a wide range of settings and whose responsibilities can vary dramatically all identify with the same job title, and hence are more likely to appear on the list.
Employees with all years of experience are included, provided they work in the United States as a full-time, civilian employee, hold a bachelor’s degree and no higher degree, and graduated with the given major. As a result, each list contains not only jobs held by experienced practitioners in the field, but also by those who have recently graduated.
Jobs which require advanced degrees, such as doctors and lawyers, are not present. However, those which generally are held by workers with advanced degrees will sometimes appear. For example, an MBA is not required to become a chief financial officer, but it is commonly held by workers in this position. Additionally, despite the fact that many scientific research positions require a PhD, there is bachelor’s-level research done in corporate, government, and industrial settings.
Copyright PayScale, Inc., 2021