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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?

Bohner says he'd recommend either a software engineering degree or a computer science degree to any 17-year-old who likes math and technology.

"With these two degrees, the broadness of the jobs you can work on would be greater than studying Information Systems," he says. "With your undergraduate degree, you should always start broad and then specialize in your master's degree."

Computer Engineering

Avg. Starting Salary: $62,700*

Mid-career Salary: $105,000*

*Source: PayScale College Salary Report 2012-13

Computer engineering majors take the hardest math and science classes - including multiple courses in physics and calculus -- because their specialty is hardware, rather than software. Because the degree is so rigorous, demand for recent graduates is high and so are starting salaries.

"The very best job offers are going to the computer engineers," says Professor Charlie Boncelet, associate chairman of the Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering departments at the University of Delaware. "They have the ability to do both circuit design and programming, which makes them more desirable. That combination is a useful set of skills."

Last year, 50 students graduated from the University of Delaware with Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering or double majors. The best starting salaries were around $100,000, with the average at $60,000.

"Our best students are getting very good offers," Boncelet says. "Apple has started recruiting our students because they have better-than-average circuit design skills. ...They're also being hired by small firms. There is no single industry that hires all of our graduates."

Boncelet says the outlook for computer engineering students is solid given the wide range of systems that have microprocessors in them.

"Most of the computer science majors are going into Internet programming, Web applications, social networks and big data, whereas the computer engineers can work on any system with microcontrollers, device drivers, sensors or actuators," Boncelet says. "Almost anything that has a battery or plug has a microprocessor, and it's the computer engineers that program those microprocessors. So they can be employed in a wide range of industries."

Teens who have strong math and science skills and can't decide between computer science and computer engineering should start with computer engineering, Boncelet advises. "It's generally easier to transfer from computer engineering to computer science because generally speaking computer engineering requires more math and science," Boncelet says. "The biggest indicator is how well they can handle calculus."


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