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What is Salary Score, and Why Does it Matter?

By Taylor Nichols | Updated 5/16/2022

We believe students shouldn't have to choose between pursuing their interests or a major that will lead to a high-paying job. That's why we created Salary Score, a ranking system that allows students to quickly and easily compare colleges to find out which schools produce top-earning graduates across majors.

Table of top colleges by Salary Score, including Harvard, MIT, Fordham, and University of Pennsylvania.

We give each school a Salary Score by comparing alumni starting salaries for each major to salaries for graduates with the same degree from other colleges. Since some degrees net much higher salaries than others, we only compare earnings from the same field of study to identify the schools where graduates see the highest payoff for their degree.

Students need to know what they can expect to earn after graduation to make informed decisions about where they go to school and what they study. In our rankings, we highlight schools whose alumni earn higher starting salaries for their field of study to help students maximize their earning potential while still pursuing their interests.

How is Salary Score Different from Other Rankings?

Other Rankings

Compare median salaries for all alumni, not salary by major

Rank based on prestige and selectivity rather than student success

Elevate schools with more STEM students and other highly paid majors

Our Solution

Ranks schools by how much alumni earn compared to others with the same degree

Uses student outcomes data from the U.S. Department of Education

Elevates schools that have better outcomes for students across majors

How Do We Calculate Salary Score?

To calculate Salary Score, we start by looking at median alumni salaries for each degree category offered by a given school. Let’s say we want to find the Salary Score for bachelor’s degrees at Your College, an example college.

Step One: Give each bachelor's program at a specific university a Salary Score

Let's say Your College offers 16 different bachelor’s programs. We start by calculating a Salary Score for each of these programs. For example, if graduates of the economics program at Your College have a median alumni salary of $68,000 per year, we compare this to the average salary for all economics programs in the College Scorecard database, which is $48,000 per year. We then give the economics program at Your College a score on a scale of 0-100 to represent how high the salary is for economics majors at this school compared to economics majors from other colleges. In this case, the Salary Score would be 95, which would make it one of the top schools for economics alumni salaries.

We repeat this process for every program with available data at a school, comparing alumni salaries for each program to the average for all alumni in the same field of study to get a picture of how the college's alumni generally fare in their first year out of college. We compare alumni salaries for the nursing program to the average for all nursing programs, and computer science program salaries to the average for all computer science graduates, and so on.

Visual of how programmatic Salary Scores equate to the overall Salary Scores by degree level.

Step Two: Find the bachelor's level Salary Score for a school based on its program scores

Next, we take the Salary Scores for all of the bachelor's programs a school offers and weigh them based on how many students are in each program. We account for the number of students in a program to represent the most likely outcome for most students at a school. That way, if a computer science program has a high Salary Score but only 30 students, and a business program has a low Salary Score based on 300 students, the school’s ranking isn’t disproportionately affected by the few students who earned higher-than-average salaries.

Simply put, we take all of the weighted scores by program and convert them into a final Salary Score for the school.

In our example, Your College has a Salary Score of 82. This means that, for the most part, Your College alumni earn higher salaries than graduates from other universities with the same degree. While a school’s overall score paints a picture of how most alumni fare after graduation, it does not guarantee that every program has alumni who earn more or less on average than their peers. Students who are interested in specific programs can search for individual schools to compare Salary Scores by major to determine which university is best for their particular interests and goals.

Visual of how Salary Scores are determined by comparing your college’s salary to other colleges' salaries within the same program.

See our methodology page for a more detailed explanation of the process behind the Salary Score, including how we calculate each score, eligibility requirements, and details about the data used.

Where Do We Get Our Data?

Our data on alumni earnings and the number of graduates by program comes from College Scorecard, a resource provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Every year, College Scorecard releases data on alumni salaries by field of study to help students evaluate different schools and majors and make more informed decisions about their education.

College Scorecard collects this data from tax records kept by the IRS and shows the annual income students reported for their first year after graduation. The data only includes students who received federal financial aid such as grants, loans, and federal work-study funding.

The Salary Score calculations are based on median alumni salary by program and are weighted by how many students graduate from each program. This helps to ensure that the Salary Score represents the most common outcome for students at a university.

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