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Which tech degrees pay the most from day one?

Carolyn Duffy Marsan | March 6, 2013
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?

Even Flatto admits that his students aren't as math oriented as computer science majors. "Computer science requires a lot more math and physics and calculus. A lot of people can't get through it anymore," Flatto says, adding "there's some technical snobbery" aimed at IS students.

Computer Science

Avg. Starting Salary: $58,400*

Mid-career Salary: $100,000*

*Source: PayScale College Salary Report 2012-13

What differentiates computer science from IT or Management Information Systems is that it's an engineering degree, with harder math and science requirements and fewer business-oriented classes.

"Computer science is hot again, not just for geeky students but also for really talented math, engineering and science students," says Matthew Bauer, director of the undergraduate computer science program at IIT. He added that IIT's undergraduate computer science program has doubled from 30 to 60 majors in the last four years.

Bauer says recent computer science graduates who are commanding $70,000-plus starting salaries have held multiple internships and a summer job in the IT industry.

"We urge students to get internships. It's not just your degree that's important. It's also about summer jobs," Bauer says. "In computer science, a degree is not enough. You've got to show you have talent. You can't go home and be a lifeguard at the pool every summer if you want a job at graduation."

IIT's computer science grads are being hired by Google, Microsoft and Motorola as well as financial services firms such as Goldman Sachs.

"The computer science degree shows an accomplishment in technology and engineering and math, and having that background is more valuable to start than having a business background like an MIS degree," Bauer says. "We're building the communications and leadership skills in our computer science majors so they can become the managers of [MIS majors].''

Software Engineering

Avg. Starting Salary: $59,100*

Mid-career Salary: $90,700*

*Source: PayScale College Salary Report 2012-13

Like computer science, software engineering is a more mathematically oriented degree than alternatives offered in business schools such as IT, IS or MIS degrees. But it's slightly less popular than computer science. For example, Rose-Hulman is graduating 60 computer science majors each year compared to 45 or 50 software engineers.

"In computer science, I am writing languages for computers and lots of algorithms, such as Google's search algorithms. In software engineering, I'm building a system that's larger than I am in computer science. It's like building a skyscraper vs. a house," Bohner explains.

While Google is recruiting Rose-Hulman's computer science grads, Microsoft favors its software engineering majors. Other companies hiring recently minted software engineers include aerospace firms and car manufacturers.

"With a software engineering degree, I can not only write software, I can build systems," Bohner says.


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