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Highest-earning grads majored in math and science, study finds

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Recent college graduates looking for entry-level work will have an easier time job-hunting than earlier alumni, recent reports are finding. But the students who will make the most money when they emerge from school will be the ones with math- and science-related majors.

Engineering, business and science graduates often end up commanding some of the highest salaries, according to a new study conducted by three Yale University professors for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Software engineers were deemed by CareerCast last week to have the best jobs.

A Wednesday report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas concurred, finding that new job seekers familiar with fields such as accounting were entering an employment market with projected double-digit growth and median pay above $55,000.

Other occupations that require a four-year degree and are forecast to add at least 50,000 new jobs by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Computer and information systems managers: Up to a 19% growth rate with median pay of $75,000 or more
  • Financial analysts: Up to a 28% growth rate with median pay of up to $75,000
  • Market research analysts and marketing specialists: At least a 29% growth rate with median pay of up to $75,000

Across the board, the job market for this year’s 1.7 million college graduates looks more promising than in past years -- though finding work will still be difficult, according to Challenger.

Private-sector employment has grown for the last 25 months, with the number of employed 20-to-24-year-olds jumping by 939,000 between March 2010 and March 2012. The only demographic with more gains was the over-55 set, which boosted its employment numbers by nearly 2.9 million over the period.

Companies, however, will be hiring new graduates at a slower rate. The National Assn. of Colleges and Employers found that companies will boost hiring of spring grads by 10% -- less than last year’s 21% increase.

In part, that’s due to competition from a growing pool of graduates from previous years. Many young job seekers are still looking for ideal positions after being forced into less-desirable work during the recession and the slow recovery.

“The key is to avoid setting too many limitations on your search,” Challenger Chief Executive John A. Challenger counseled in a statement. “Just because you studied accounting does not mean you have to work for an accounting firm … do not hesitate to look outside your comfort zone.”

New graduates, however, may have an advantage: They’re more flexible about where and when they'll work.

Even graduates who have been out of school for just a few years “probably have established friendships and other ties, including professional relationships, which make it more difficult to relocate,” Challenger said.

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