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Which Degree Leads to the Most Predictable Salary?

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When picking a major for a bachelor’s degree, many students will consider the career paths that they will be best prepared to walk down after graduation. Some majors have very clear career paths, while others might leave more room for interpretation.

We took a look at a couple of popular majors among clients who refinanced their student loans with Earnest to see which had higher degrees of variance and how that changed over the years.

Computer Science vs. Mechanical Engineering

Many people will tell you that becoming an engineer is a smart move if you want to have a clear career path and high salary potential. To see how that held up for Earnest clients, we decided to compare the salary variation over time for computer science majors vs. mechanical engineering majors. 

computer science and mechanical engineering

The graphic above shows the standard deviation from the median salary each year after graduation based on Earnest clients who obtained a computer science or mechanical engineering degree. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for Americans over 25 is $49,920, so computer science and mechanical engineering degree holders are ahead of the crowd. However, entry-level computer science degree holders will have higher earning potential over time, and there is slightly less variation in the top and bottom.

Mechanical engineers, on the other hand, see more variance from the median salary. If you have an interest in either career path, but we’re optimizing for stability and income, you might want to declare your allegiance for computer science.

Median Salary Growth for Business Degrees

Know that you want to get a business degree, but not sure which? Curious if a major in finance or accounting is more lucrative than a broader major like business? We got the median salaries for Earnest clients with a variety of business degrees to see the average salary growth of each over time. But for a twist, we also added how all of these compare to a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). 

median salary growth for business degrees

An MBA can help you command a higher salary compared to an undergraduate education in a business field, but they can be a major investment. Some of the top schools cost over $100,00 for a two-year program. Unless your company is sending you to school, that could put a large dent in your savings or require taking on student loans.

You will see that all undergrad business majors are packed together. This could be because many of the skills that you would learn in any business degree are fairly transferable among business segments, and entry-level employees are expected to learn a lot on the job.

It is important to remember that not all MBAs had business majors as undergrads. Let’s now compare the change and variation in salary over time with a master’s degree that is a clear progression from a bachelor’s degree.   

Nursing Bachelor’s Degree vs. Master’s Degree

Trying to decide if you want to get a master’s degree to advance your nursing career? Here we highlight the standard deviation range from the median salary over time for Earnest clients who obtained a bachelors, vs those who went on to get their masters.

nursing bachelors vs masters

As you would expect with most advanced degrees, the median income is higher, but you also see more variance in the expected income. This could be highly dependant on the facility that you are working in, your years of experience, other certifications you hold, etc. 

You also have to consider if a higher salary will outweigh the debt you might take on for a master’s degree. Consider the salaries in your local area to get a better sense of what you could expect.

Comparing Medical Degree Salary Ranges Over Time

Speaking of debt for higher earnings potential, getting a graduate degree in any medical field can be extremely expensive. However, hopeful dental, pharmacy, and medical students are betting on an outsized take-home paycheck.

So if we look beyond the median salary, what is the variation for each degree? How does that change over time as you advance in your field?

medical degrees

Dentists can see a wide variation in salary over time, but the upper and lower bounds hold pretty steady after a couple of years in practice.

Pharmacists are the most consistent and safe bet, with little variation in salary. This also comes with less potential for growth over time but is consistently cited as the degree in the medical field with the greatest return on investment

Doctors see the largest variance from the median salary of any degree profiled. It is also important to keep in mind that residency directly after medical school is when you see the lowest salaries as a doctor.

Should You Consider Degree Salary Variance When Picking Your Major?

If you are considering multiple options and value stability and predictability, you might want to look into a career path the less salary variance and the most relevant degree for that. 

It is important to keep in mind that life is rarely a clean and linear progression, so embrace the variance as it comes!

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.