College students often overestimate their starting salaries right after graduation, thus making what seemed to be a dream career something straight out of “Office Space.” Despite how money can be a primary motivating factor for those pursuing a college degree, the reality is that too many students pursue unmarketable degrees. And unmarketable degrees aren’t necessarily bad degrees; they just don’t make money.
Which brings today’s college students some food for thought: With the reinvigorated pace of manufacturing growth since the 2008 recession, and a rising global demand for advanced technologies, engineering is more lucrative than ever before.
The Top 5 Engineering Salaries
If you’re currently in college or want to retrain for a new career path, the data tells us that finding a specialization in engineering can be the key to strong salaries and job benefits.
As an engineering student with only a Bachelor’s degree, you can earn almost twice the average starting salary of your fellow graduates.
Below we break down five of the best starting salary engineer specializations (all data from NACE).
The starting salary for petroleum engineers is significantly higher than that of other engineering disciplines. In 2016, NACE found that the average starting salary for petroleum engineers was projected to be $89,563. That was up from 2015 figures at $80,600.
A rising global demand for oil coupled with an aging supply of petroleum engineers means fresh petroleum engineering graduates are set up for job success.
Petroleum engineering’s job benefits are well-known. With a job outlook of 15% growth from 2016 to 2026 (much faster than average), and a median annual wage of $132,280 as of May 2017, the field is enticing.
Downsides to the profession include long work weeks, work in remote and inhospitable locations, and sometimes a lack of human contact. If you want a comfortable office job in petroleum engineering, expect to sacrifice some of the pay.
Computer engineering’s average starting salary of $65,606 is among the best for engineers. Computer engineers overall earned a median pay of $115,120 a year in 2017.
Computer engineers frequently work in lab environments and test for manufacturing. The job outlook of 5% growth from 2016 to 2026 is fair, and it can be great fun for folks who like puzzle solving all day.
Potential downsides include ongoing education requirements, competitiveness, and, as one computer science commenter writes, “Everyone you know will want you to fix their computers for free.”
Electrical engineering graduates are expected to average $66,269 a year in income, according to NACE.
The job involves designing and physically working on electrical equipment, like generators and control panels. Job growth prospects are fair, with 7% growth expected from 2006 to 2016.
Mechanical engineers are expected to earn $66,269 on average for their starting salaries.
The median pay for mechanical engineers is slightly lower than that of other disciplines in this list, at $85,880 a year. With job growth prospects of 9% from 2016 to 2026, however, the field stays competitive among the top specializations.
Mechanical engineers mostly work in office environments, though they will come to other work sites to troubleshoot problems.
As a mechanical engineer, one’s work week can also vary quite a bit, depending on the projects in one’s wheelhouse and as problems arise. The prevalence of team assignments may also make mechanical engineering work unattractive to certain personality types.
Chemical engineering graduates are expected to earn $69,196 a year on average.
Work is taken up in either office or lab settings. Especially for those pursuing the latter, internship experience is particularly important. Some chemical engineers end up working in computational roles, which involves working behind a screen all day rather than handling potentially dangerous chemicals. The ability to hyper-specialize in chemical engineering sets it apart from other disciplines.
The median pay for chemical engineers is $102,160 per year. Job growth prospects are good, too, at 8% projected growth from 2016 to 2026.
Continue Growing Before and Beyond a Degree
Specialization isn’t just about the degree in which you matriculate. Cross-training to learn a secondary discipline, like machine learning, can serve as a value-added approach to job specialization – especially for those who already have a college education.
There are other engineering disciplines to think about outside of this list, too, like materials engineering. Some fields contain broader sets of job skills and expectations than others, too, so salaries vary accordingly.
No matter your decided choice of engineering discipline, it is important to stay on top of developments in the field and know the desirable characteristics that employers seek out. The standard advice applies: Get good grades in school, break the mold a little, and network to maximize your potential in college. You are your own best advocate.
With Surcle, engineers take advantage of crowdsourcing to boost their professional networks. Whether you are a student, seasoned professional, government official or educator, Surcle connects engineers and innovators to collaborate on manufacturing and hardware challenges.
Learn more at surcle.io to get a head-start on your engineering growth today. It’s a great way to dive deeper into this diverse and fun set of disciplines!