Young technologists have a variety of undergraduate degrees that they can pursue at the collegiate level. But which degree is going to produce the most job offers and the highest starting salaries? Should college students major in computer science, software engineering, IT or some other niche in order to snare the top prize four years from now: a six-figure starting salary, perhaps with stock options?
We talked to colleges and professors across various tech disciplines about industry demand for their graduates. We pored over starting salary data from the PayScale College Salary Report 2012-13. We also looked at unemployment rates by college major compiled by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
One trend is clear: The more challenging the tech-oriented major, the more job opportunities available to newly minted graduates ... as well as higher starting salaries. Students who take more math, science and engineering courses in college, tend to earn higher salaries upon graduation. Of course, whether a senior in college has multiple job offers with signing bonuses and other perks depends on their grades and internships. Also, graduating from a highly selective technical college helps tremendously with on-campus recruitment.
"Our computer science majors last year had upwards of eight to 10 offers, and they could have had more if they would have pursued them," says Kevin Hewerdine, director of career services at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, one of the nation's top-ranked undergraduate engineering schools. In 2012, the average starting salary offered to Rose-Hulman computer science grads was $76,368 and software engineering grads was $71,930.
"This year, 90% of our seniors in those majors have multiple job offers already," Hewerdine says. "They're being hired by Microsoft, Texas Instruments, National Instruments, Amazon, Google and defense contractors. ... There is more demand and salaries are higher for computer science and software engineering than any other major."
Here is our list of tech degrees by salary potential, from least to greatest:
Avg. Starting Salary: $48,900*
Mid-Career Salary: $81,700*
*Source: PayScale College Salary Report 2012-13
The information technology major is geared toward technology-oriented students who don't have the background, ability or interest in math required to pursue a computer science degree. IT majors develop skills such as systems administration, networking and database development, while computer science students delve into the algorithms and programming behind these systems.
"Our folks figure out how to deploy operating systems, while computer science majors write the operating systems," explains Ray Trygstad, director of the IT degree programs at Illinois Institute of Technology's (IIT) School of Applied Technology. "IT majors are going to be implementers of technology."
The job placement rate for graduates with IIT's Information Technology and Management (ITM) major was 100% last year, the highest at the university. The ITM degree is increasingly popular, with 130 undergraduates enrolled out of a total undergraduate population of 2,800.
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