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STEM Degrees Draw Top Salaries, but So Do Others

Computer science and other STEM studies aren't the end-all/be-all for career success. Visual art, sociology, business management and even journalism degrees can help their recipients earn quite respectable salaries. That's what was uncovered in a new analysis by LinkedIn. Microsoft's professional social network site examined anonymized salary data from 2 million members as well as top skills lists compiled by analyzing the top 25 skills across 1,600 universities in the United States as listed by users on LinkedIn's Alumni pages.

The company found that you don't have to study science, technology, engineering or math to earn more money; however, it doesn't hurt. Also, broadly speaking, the more you learn, the more you earn.

The highest-paying job overall in this year's "State of the Salary" report requires a medical degree. An orthopedic surgeon earns a median salary of $450,000. A doctor of medicine earns a median of $161,200.

From that vaunted educational level, the median salaries begin shrinking:

  • MBA: $118,300;
  • Doctor of Law: $107,000;
  • Research Doctorate: $94,100;
  • Master's Degree: $87,700;
  • Bachelor's Degree: $79,800;
  • Associate's Degree: $57,100; and
  • Secondary Education: $51,500.

However, when the data is viewed from the perspective of how a degree influences salary, across the board, post-secondary education gives a boost.

  • A program director with an MBA will see a salary lift of 104 percent compared to an individual without the master's;
  • A property manager who possesses a bachelor's degree will earn 12 percent more than one without the degree; and
  • A case manager who has achieved an associate's degree will experience a 27 percent jump compared to an employee who doesn't have one.

The research project found that while STEM fields show up four times on the list of the 10 highest-paying areas of study, that still leaves six other majors that aren't in STEM.

  1. Computer Science earns a median salary of $92,300;
  2. Visual Art: $90,390;
  3. Sociology: $87,900;
  4. Industrial Engineering & Management Science: $85,800;
  5. Business Management & Administration: $83,700;
  6. Architecture, Design & Applied Art: $81,200;
  7. Law: $79,000;
  8. Electrical & Electronic Engineering: $78,600;
  9. Physics: $78,400; and
  10. Journalism, Media & Communication: $77,970.

Researchers found that while the degree plays a "big factor" in how much an individual earns, so do the soft skills learned along the way — communication, organization and teamwork — that set individuals apart from others applying for the same jobs, especially in entry-level positions.

The state of the salary report and a rundown on how education affects salary are available on LinkedIn's website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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