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Breaking Down the Average Salaries in San Francisco’s Top Industries

April 23, 2015
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Breaking Down the Average Salary in San Francisco's Top Industries
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There’s more to San Francisco than fog, Haight-Ashbury and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s also a great city for recent college grads to make a living. It can be expensive to live in San Francisco, a fact that really hits home when you’re looking for an apartment. But pay in many industries is higher than average, too.

Annual salaries for full-time employees in San Francisco jumped an average of 2.8% from the first quarter of 2014 to 2015, according to Payscale Inc. Annual pay nationally went up just 1.8% in that time. Your pay and job opportunities will vary depending on the industry you work in, but for lots of grads, working in San Francisco can help kickstart your career — and your bank account.

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San Francisco is known for its startup scene, so it’s no surprise that tech is your best bet for a well-paying job in the city.

“The technology industry is where you will get the highest paycheck,” says Scott Dobroski, a career trends analyst at the career website Glassdoor. “It’s also the one right now with the biggest opportunities for new grads.”

The three highest-paying positions in San Francisco, as self-reported by Glassdoor members, are all in tech. The average salary in San Francisco for a data scientist is $127,000 a year; software engineers make $103,000 a year; and database administrators earn $77,000.

Keep in mind that if you’re coming straight from college, you’ll likely earn slightly less your first year than a more seasoned employee would. But even entry-level salaries for software engineers in San Francisco are high: Their median pay is $97,000 per year, according to a PayScale salary survey.

If you’re not a computer whiz, there’s room at tech companies for graduates with all kinds of backgrounds, Dobroski says. Job seekers will find openings in sales, business development, finance, human resources and facilities management at tech companies in San Francisco.

Plus, once get your foot in the door, equity, stock options and bonuses are additional benefits of working in this industry. Recent grads with a stake in the tech companies they work for will often profit if those companies go public, or sell shares of their stock to investors. When it comes time to negotiate your job offer at a startup, make sure these non-salary benefits are part of your compensation package.

Health care

Tech might be what San Francisco is known for, but the health care sector is the biggest employer in San Francisco, according to a November 2014 study by the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California. More than 120,000 people work in health care in the city, the most of any industry, and construction will start on five new hospitals between 2015 and 2019 — paving the way for even more jobs.

Grads coming out of school with degrees in health care can expect to get paid well, too. Registered nurses in San Francisco make an average of $91,423 a year, according to Glassdoor, compared to the national average of $65,920. Physician assistants in San Francisco earn an average of $115,924 per year, according to, slightly more than the average base salary of $111,376 that Glassdoor members report for the position.

Glassdoor’s annual ranking of the 25 Best Jobs in America placed physician assistant in the top spot, since they make a high average base salary and there’s a strong demand for them nationwide. Software engineering earned the title of second-best job for 2015. It’s a good sign for new grads in San Francisco that there are a lot of opportunities in the city for these high-demand careers.


New York’s Wall Street might be the epicenter of the financial industry, but San Francisco has its own vibrant finance community. San Francisco is home to Wells Fargo’s corporate offices, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and several venture capital firms that invest in tech companies.

The average salary in San Francisco for financial analysts, often an entry-level position, is $73,751 per year according to Glassdoor — almost $10,000 more than the national average. Some of these positions require prior experience, though, and employers in San Francisco often favor candidates who can show they’ve taken on responsibilities during their college years that set them apart, says Glassdoor’s Dobroski.

“Even though there is a lot of opportunity, there’s a lot of competition,” he says.

You can get a leg up on others hoping to build a career in San Francisco by showing employers that you have some work experience in your chosen field. Internships, leadership positions in on-campus organizations and volunteer organizations will all give your applications to tech, health care and finance companies a boost. Whichever route you choose, it’s likely there’s a place for you as a recent grad on San Francisco’s vigorous job market.

How to make your salary go further

There are ways to pad your bank account beyond negotiating for a higher salary. Use these tips to build up extra spending money, short-term savings and retirement funds.

Refinance your student loans: The average monthly student loan payment for 20- to 30-year olds was $351 in 2015, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. That’s a big chunk out of your paycheck. If your credit score is in the 700s or above and you have solid, full-time income, you might qualify for student loan refinancing. A lender will replace your prior loans with a new one at a lower interest rate, saving you money over time.

Send part of your paycheck straight to a savings account: It’s harder to spend money you never see in your checking account. Ask your payroll administrator at work to direct-deposit a percentage of your after-tax pay in a savings account that isn’t connected to checking — perhaps an online, high-yield savings account. That will keep it out of sight, and you might see your hard-earned money grow faster than if you kept it in an easily accessible place.

Get your employer 401(k) match: You won’t necessarily feel the effects now, but taking advantage of matching contributions at work will give your retirement savings a serious boost. When your company matches your retirement contributions, you’ll get free money in your account up to a specified amount that you contribute — say, 3% of your salary. Don’t miss out.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer covering education and life after college for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter.