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15 Colleges with the Highest Salaries for Liberal Arts Grads

Oct. 6, 2014
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If you’re worried that your liberal arts degree won’t stack up when it’s time to find a job, fear not: many of today’s driven young graduates are earning just as much as those with more “practical” degrees.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), most 2014 humanities and social science graduates are earning about $38,365 per year at their first jobs—an increase of 3.5% from last year’s starting salary.

In light of NACE’s findings, NerdScholar took a look at where the highest paid graduates are getting their liberal arts degrees from. To get our results, we examined three years of self-reported data from over 130 of the nation’s top colleges. With the help of excellent academics, extracurriculars, and career coaching, these colleges’ young grads are making over $40,000 per year, well above the NACE national average.

Key Takeaways:

  • The top 10 salaries increased by an average of about $2,600 from last year’s reported top salaries.
  • Liberal arts graduates of the top five colleges earn over $50,000 per year.
  • Nine of the top 15 colleges are located on the East Coast.

On top of finding which colleges produce the highest earning graduates, we asked these schools to offer advice on how other liberal arts students can succeed with their degrees. Read on to learn how you can follow in the footsteps of the top 15’s young alumni.


[Read: the Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Liberal Arts College]


1. Carnegie Mellon University — Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

What you’ll make: $60,723

Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences produces the highest-earning liberal arts alumni on our list, who go on to make an impressive $60,723 at their first jobs. This is $3,000 more than the average starting salary last year, telling us that graduates are continuing to land many of the highest-paid positions in today’s competitive job market. Carnegie Mellon, a Pennsylvania research university also known for its excellent engineering and technical programs, enrolls about 12,000 highly talented students each year. As for the school’s liberal arts offerings, Dietrich College provides its 1,300 students with strong research opportunities, diverse study-abroad programs, and hands-on career advising. The college also encourages its students to take on worthwhile internships, regardless of pay, by awarding many of them $2,000 internship grants.


2. Worcester Polytechnic Institute — Arts & Sciences

What you’ll make: $57,235

Though a very prominent science and technology school, Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts produces some of the brightest—and highest paid—liberal arts graduates out there. New grads earn an average of $57,235 per year at their first jobs, largely thanks to the well-balanced education they receive at WPI. “WPI’s hallmark is [its] project-based curriculum and faculty, [who work] diligently to provide students with critical knowledge and learning opportunities,” says Karen Kashamanian Oates, the college’s dean of arts and sciences. “It is through this model of learning that WPI students gain hard-earned confidence and a broader level of understanding which sets them apart and drives their success.”

Their expert advice:

“Students can use their liberal arts degree to succeed in a wide range of opportunities,” says Steve Koppi, the executive director of WPI’s career center. “The trick is to understand where their interests, skills and values intersect, and map these to potential opportunities.  Once they have a sense of direction, then networking and informational interviewing can be their ticket to an increased understanding of how to succeed and how to apply their education in a given setting.”


3. Claremont McKenna College

What you’ll make: $53,583

Claremont McKenna is wholly dedicated to promoting the liberal arts. The college is just one of seven independent schools that comprise the Claremont College consortium in southern California, giving students the opportunity to enjoy the intimate classes sizes of a small college—only 1,200 students are enrolled—along with the perks of the large and dynamic Claremont College community. Claremont McKenna students go on to secure internships and full-time positions in the fields of education, nonprofit management, the sciences, technology, business and public affairs, earning an average yearly salary of about $53,583.

Their expert advice:

Landing a great job after graduation starts with researching the companies you want to work for, explains Diana Seder, associate dean and director of Claremont McKenna’s career center. “The applicants who are best prepared to conduct above-and-beyond research are liberal arts students who know how to find information, synthesize data, draw conclusions and express opinions,” she says.


4. University of Pennsylvania — School of Arts & Sciences

What you’ll make: $52,270

An Ivy League college, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia enrolls more than 6,000 students in their School of Arts and Sciences, making it the largest subset of students at the university. Worth noting is UPenn’s career services center, which offers career guidance tailored to liberal arts students. Its website shares resources on how to market a UPenn liberal arts degree, a list of first jobs previous grads have taken, and even resources for young alumni with liberal arts degrees. These aids plus a robust academic program yield new grads who earn an average of $52,270 per year at their first jobs.


5. Georgia Institute of Technology — Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

What you’ll make: $50,100

A shining star in the South, Atlanta’s Georgia Tech is a prestigious public university known for its success in technology and the sciences—and it also produces some of the highest-paid liberal arts grads in the country. Graduates of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts stand to earn $50,100 right out of college. Unique to the College of Liberal Arts is its focus on bridging the gap between the humanities and technology. With an emphasis on research, engineering and the sciences, along with a culture of innovation and ingenuity, Georgia Tech is an ideal school for those interested in learning about technology through the lens of a liberal arts degree.


6. Cornell University — College of Arts & Sciences

What you’ll make: $48,260

Another Ivy League college, Cornell is one of the leading universities in the country and enrolls 14,000 talented students in Ithaca, New York. It’s not surprising that graduates of its College of Arts and Science go on to earn $48,260 right after acquiring a degree. According to Cornell’s website, 54% of 2013 graduates were employed within six months of graduation, 40% of whom took jobs in business-related fields. Education and teaching, the arts, government, policy and information technology are a few of the other areas Arts and Science grads are currently pursuing careers in.


7. Georgetown University — Georgetown College

What you’ll make: $47,979

Located in the nation’s capital, Georgetown University gives students the chance to explore their interests in the diverse and influential environs of Washington, D.C. Georgetown is also the oldest Catholic and Jesuit college in the country. Georgetown College, the school’s liberal arts division, currently enrolls the most undergraduates on campus. Taking into account the employment statistics of recent alumni, the college’s current 3,800 students will stand to earn a yearly salary of almost $48,000 at their first jobs.


8. Pomona College

What you’ll make: $47,968

As the founding institution of the Claremont Colleges, Pomona was an early pioneer of liberal arts in southern California. It currently enrolls about 1,600 students, slightly more than the other liberal arts-based Claremont schools. Though tuition is high, no student pays the full cost and more than half receive financial aid. For many, Pomona’s generous financial aid packages even cover the bulk of tuition fees. Many graduates entering the workforce are then left with little debt, top-notch degrees and an average starting salary of $47,967.

Their expert advice:

Mary Raymond, director of Pomona College’s Career Development Office, encourages students “to seek new challenges and opportunities fueled by their intellectual curiosity.” She says, “Intentional assessment and reflection on the lessons learned aids in the development of purpose and meaning in creating a life [path].”


9. Notre Dame University — College of Arts & Letters

What you’ll make: $45,700

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are known for their excellent sports teams as well as top-notch academics, with liberal arts grads earning about $45,700 at their first jobs after leaving the Indiana institution. Of the 8,400 undergraduate students enrolled at Notre Dame, about 3,000 major in the liberal arts. The College of Arts and Letters is ideal for students looking for an intimate learning experience, as 70% of classes have 20 students or less.

Their expert advice:

“College is short; life is long,” John McGreevy, dean of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, tells us. “We believe that the most important decision a student can make is to pursue his or her intellectual interests while in college, using this rare opportunity to explore questions of great meaning and to develop the writing, analytical, and speaking skills nurtured especially well within the liberal arts. We know, too,” adds McGreevy, “that employers value exactly these skills, which enable graduates to flourish not just in their first job but well after graduation.”


10. Lehigh University — College of Arts & Sciences

What you’ll make: $45,403

A small research university in Pennsylvania, Lehigh rounds out the top 10 with liberal arts graduates earning about $45,403 at their first job. The university enrolls about 5,000 students annually, of whom nearly 2,000 major in the liberal arts. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences benefit from small class sizes and close relationships with esteemed faculty, in subjects like anthropology, sociology, philosophy and psychology. And according to the university’s website, 66% of all graduates are employed full time within six months after graduation.


11. Boston College — College of Arts & Sciences

What you’ll make: $45,250

A Jesuit institution, Boston College is a small research university just west of downtown Boston. The College of Arts and Sciences is the oldest and largest division of Boston College and enrolls 6,000 of the school’s 9,000 undergraduates. These students, on average, go on to make $45,250 after graduation. According to Joseph Du Pont, associate vice president of student affairs and career services, the College “is committed to being a leader in liberal arts education in the United States.” He tells us the school “has created a community where high-impact experiences such as internships, faculty-sponsored research and service are highly valued, as is the ability to articulate the impact of those experiences to the outside world.”


12. College of the Holy Cross

What you’ll make: $45,151

Another Catholic Jesuit college to make our list, the College of the Holy Cross exclusively enrolls undergraduates pursuing liberal arts degrees. The College is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, making it yet another institution from the Bay State to produce some of the country’s highest paid liberal arts grads, who average a starting annual salary of $45,151.

Their expert advice:

“Know your story,” says Amy Murphy, director of career planning at the College of the Holy Cross. “Who are you? What have you done? What do you want to do? And what do you bring to the table?” These are a few of the questions to ask yourself, she says. “You can network with hundreds of people and apply to hundreds of jobs, but unless you know your story and have a concise, clear and compelling elevator pitch, you’re not going to reach your full potential.”


13. New York University — College of Arts & Science

What you’ll make: $45,129

New York University sprawls in the urban mecca of Manhattan, an ideal location for students seeking internships and full-time employment. The university is one of the largest private institutions in the country, enrolling a total of more than 53,00 students, of which 23,000 are undergraduates. To help students get ahead, the college offers a “’Business Boot Camp for Liberal Arts Students,’” says Trudy Steinfeld, associate vice president and executive director of NYU’s Wasserman Center for Career Development. “Students commit to participate in a two-day conference that brings business leaders from many companies to campus who lead sessions that are intended to give an overview of core skills and competencies that are necessary in their industries and to provide ‘inside’ knowledge to students seeking jobs in the for-profit sector.”

Their expert advice:

“Early engagement in career pathways is key,” says Steinfeld. “[We] reach out to incoming students and encourage them to meet individually with our career coaching team and participate in programs and services even before classes begin.” At NYU, students can partake in what are known as “reality tours,” Steinfeld explains, “which bring students to visit employers in New York City and also at some of [their] abroad campuses.”


14. Stanford University — College of Humanities and Social Sciences

What you’ll make: $44,101

Stanford University is one of the nation’s top research and teaching universities and enrolls only about 7,000 undergraduate students each year. And with its prime Silicon Valley location—perfectly situated near the tech giants of San Jose and San Francisco—it’s no wonder liberal arts grads go on to make an average of $44,101 at their first jobs. Many alumni join the tech industry as entrepreneurs, journalists and experts in media and communication.


15. Texas A&M, College Station — College of Liberal Arts

What you’ll make: $42,823

As a large research university, Texas A&M boasts more than 120 degree programs for students to choose from. Its College of Liberal Arts—having secured the final spot on our list—even has the highest four-year graduation rate of all the Texas A&M colleges. Top-notch students stand to earn about $42,823 per year at their first jobs.

Their expert advice:

“Make as many connections as possible between your coursework and the real world,” says Jennifer R. Mercieca, associate professor and associate department head of Texas A&M’s department of communications. “Everything you learn as a liberal arts student has real-world implications; you just have to know how to make the connections. Roman rhetorical theory seems obscure? You haven’t connected it to our modern political communication.”



Rank University School Average Salary
1 Carnegie Mellon University Dietrich College of Humanities & Social Sciences $60,723
2 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Arts & Sciences $57,235
3 Claremont McKenna College $53,583
4 University of Pennsylvania The College (School of Arts & Sciences) $52,270
5 Georgia Institute of Technology Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts $50,100
6 Cornell University College of Arts & Sciences $48,260
7 Georgetown University Georgetown College $47,979
8 Pomona College $47,968
9 University of Notre Dame College of Arts & Letters $45,700
10 Lehigh University College of Arts & Sciences $45,403
11 Boston College College of Arts & Sciences $45,250
12 College of the Holy Cross $45,151
13 New York University College of Arts & Science $45,129
14 Stanford University Humanities & Sciences $44,101
15 Texas A&M University, College Station College of Liberal Arts $42,823


Data collected from individual colleges’ self reported data by NerdScholar.

Salary image courtesy of Shutterstock.