In 2016-2017, the median entry level salary of a college graduate across 10 different kinds of Bachelor’s degrees was $50,556, according to data reported by Money. Considering that the median household income level in the United States was $56,516 in 2015, college graduates with bachelor’s degrees aren’t faring too badly, on the whole.

That said, whether you’re still a student or a recent grad, your entry-level pay is a big deal and probably generally feels like it could always be more. Not only do many of us have student loans to pay off, but we also face realities like rising living expenses and dreams of financial independence. After all, it’d be nice to have a bigger apartment, or simply be able to take a nice vacation once in a while. We found there are at least 5 factors that go into your entry level pay. 

1. First, entry pay levels changes frequently based on market conditions. 

As any post-recession graduate can tell you that the job market is sometimes hot, and sometimes not. For example, the graduating classes of 2009 and 2010 entered a very competitive job market after the Great Recession, and this probably hurt that group’s entry level salaries as a whole -- and maybe even beyond the entry level years if they never managed to negotiate or reset their compensation levels as the economy improved.

2. Entry level salaries also generally depend on location. 

We all know certain cities are more expensive to live in, and in some cases, salaries also adjust to the cost of living. In other cases, some national employers simply pay a similar entry level salary across different offices. This makes it easier to save more if you work and live in a lower-cost city for that company.

3. What you studied in school matters — a lot.

Every year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys employers of recent graduates. Their most recent 2016 data shows that students who had bachelor’s degrees in engineering, computer science, math and engineering or business, all reported average salaries higher than the median entry level salaries across a broader spectrum of degree areas. 

Conversely, for graduates studying education, humanities, social sciences and communications, average salary levels in 2016 were lower than the median entry level. For those studying education, for example, the average entry level, starting salary in 2016 was $34,891. Contrast this to the best paid graduates that year — those who studied computer science — who make more than double that amount, at $71,534. 

4. Your choice of job — regardless of what you studied — also matters.

After all, if you’re not inclined to pursue a job in the area in which you studied, nothing ties to your educational major. You are free to pursue any type of job or position that is more financially lucrative than whatever you studied in school (read: you can still work in marketing even if you majored in history). 

Just because you studied communications doesn’t mean you can’t apply for an entry level business analyst role, for example. And if you land a job in the right place as a business analyst, you may even end up making more than someone who studied math and is working in a less well-paying industry or company.

5. Finally, what you earn is also a function of the industry in which you work and your specific employer. 

Consult a salary calculator to see how company size and industry can impact your entry level salary. Many of these calculators also take into account things like your location, years of experience and even the prestige of your educational degree.

The thing that none of these number crunching salary calculators will help answer for you, however, is how you feel about your job and career. While money may be top of mind for the moment, it may not have been the primary reason you chose your major. Moreover, it may not be the reason you took your entry-level job. There are many non-monetary reasons to work, ranging from self-fulfilment to getting a certain kind of apprenticeship experience. Sometimes, you take less than maximum pay in your entry level job because you’re “paying your dues.”

So, how much should your entry level job pay? It depends on why you are working and whether you’re willing to move, change jobs and companies. While it’s helpful to know the average salary levels of different kinds of entry level positions, it isn’t the only consideration in terms of where you work and what you do for a living. Unfortunately there’s not (yet) a calculator to help you plan a career factoring all these different kinds of variables.


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