The $100K Club


Whether you’re a recent graduate or a grizzled workplace vet (surfing the internet at work, no less), you’ve probably wondered how your old friends and classmates from school are faring these days. Asking someone how much money they make may be taboo, but luckily for us, graduating college students have no qualms about sharing salaries with their alma mater.  NerdWallet went straight to the source and collected starting salary data from the annual reports published at many educational institutions. This data is self-reported by students, usually at the time of graduation or soon after.

Average or median salaries are great for a more “representative” idea of what graduates are actually earning, but let’s face it – realistic can be boring. Is there a future Donald Trump or Mark Zuckerberg in your graduating class? Maybe you’re the one everyone will be talking about at the class reunion. We scoured our data for the schools with the highest reported salaries, where provided, to try to identify some common themes.

1.    Stanford University – $165,000 (2011)

Whoever reported this monstrous salary comes from Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. It’s a school that includes programs from Music to Mathematics and nearly everything in between, so there’s no telling exactly what this student’s educational background is. Stanford also managed another high-earner in 2011 with a Computer Science major reporting a starting salary of $120,000.

2.    Dartmouth College – $150,000 (2010)

Dartmouth’s 2010 Post-Graduate Report first informs us of its fairly reasonable mean and median salaries at $44,902 and $42,000, respectively. But where it gets really interesting is the full range of reported salaries. Apparently, one lucky student made $150,000 the year after graduation. Conversely, however, another reported making a salary of $0, which – depending on the circumstances – might actually be just as interesting.

2.    University of Georgia – $150,000 (2009)

This Bulldog managed to bag a huge sum thanks to a Computer Science major. A graduate of the same program just 2 years later also earned a top spot with a reported $108,000 salary. Looking further down the list, we noted a Marketing student collecting a cool $104,000 (2009) and two more – one Management Information Systems (2011) and another Political Science (2009) – with $100,000 salaries.

3.    Rice University – $125,000 (2011)

Though located in Houston, TX, Rice is apparently sending at least one top student to Wall Street as an Investment Banking Analyst. That same year, another Rice alum went into the workforce as a software developer with a $100,000 salary. These two better keep quiet about earnings around their peers – especially the teachers and writers (averages around $35,000).

4.    Carnegie Mellon University – $120,000 (2011)

CMU students had no trouble taking up 9 slots at $100 grand or more. At the top is a Computer Science student reporting $120,000.  Runner-ups are Mathematical Sciences (2011) and another CS major (2009) both at $105,000. Rounding out the rest of their wealthy cohort with reportedly $100,000 salaries are:

  • 2 Electrical & Computer Engineering students (2011, 2009)
  • 1 more Computer Sciences student (2010)
  • 1 Business Administration major (2010)
  • 1 Information Systems major (2009)
  • 1 Mathematical Sciences major (2009)

4.    Princeton University – $120,000 (2011)

If you hadn’t already noticed the glaring pattern here, we’ll easily lay it out for you with Princeton: technology and finance are the real breadwinners. Their top-earning alum of 2011 went into the hardware/software development sector, and another from the same year reported a $101,000 salary as a computer programmer. Not to be outdone, two Princetonians beginning work in finance and banking pulled their weight in 2011 with $110,000 salaries.  Princeton’s fifth instance of a 6-digit income comes from the consulting sector.

4.    University of Michigan – $120,000 (2010)

This graduate of the UMich’s Ross School of Business sneaks on to the list as a Strategy Consultant.

4.    University of Pennsylvania – $120,000 (2011)

If you thought Carnegie Mellon was really cleaning up, then you won’t likely be disappointed by UPenn’s showing either.  One Penn student was able to snag a hefty $120,000 out of college as a Program Manager in the technology field. For 3 years in a row (2009, 2010, 2011), this school produced financial services prodigies with salaries ranging from $100,000 to $110,000. Penn also saw two graduates (2009, 2010) go on to earn $100,000 in the manufacturing industry. Last but not least, one alum (2009) managed an equal salary as a software developer, and another (2010) in the field of finance.

5.    Vanderbilt University – $110,000 (2011)

Vanderbilt’s 2011 undergraduate students were particularly profitable in the fields of Finance/Real Estate/Insurance, and not surprisingly in Engineering & IT. The max reported salaries in each were $110,000 and $105,000 respectively. As we’ve pointed out before, it can sometimes be curious to check out the lower range of these numbers as well.  With at least one student reporting a salary of less than $20,000 in Engineering & IT, someone should be feeling slighted here.

6.    Bucknell University – $109,000 (2010)

Bucknell stakes a claim for all the liberal arts colleges out there with two alums leveraging their Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree for very agreeable incomes ($100,000 in 2009 and $109,000 in 2010).

7.    Purdue University – $100,000 (2011)

To close out our list, we have Purdue’s Computer Science and Electrical Engineering programs. At least one student majoring in each of these two fields managed to hold their own with a nice round number: $100 grand.

What might this mean for me?

  • If you love money and have any sort of interest in computers, technology, engineering, or finance, pursue it.  You just might find yourself counted among this list of high-earners.
  • If you’re set on going to a liberal arts college to further your education, fantastic!  But know that it might not lead to instant riches after graduation.

To put it all in perspective…

  • A salary of $100,000 means an income of over 8.5 times the 2011 poverty threshold for an American individual, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • It’s also double the median annual household income as measured in January 2012.
  • Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Director James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame) was estimated to have made $257 million in 2010, which makes $100 grand look like the change you find in a car’s ashtray.

Obviously, all of this is relative, and in the long run, it shouldn’t matter what your neighbors or friends are making as long as you can live comfortably within your means.  But just as it’s hard to resist sneaking a peek at someone else’s test answers when you feel unprepared to answer them yourself, we’ll never lose interest in other people’s financial security. Just don’t get too caught up in the fantasy life.

Salary Sources (in order of appearance):
Rice: Document provided by email
Bucknell: Documents provided by email 

Image: 401(K) 2013 / Flickr source