How different tech degrees measure up by salary

high-tech degrees

As college campuses clear out for spring break, the students who have the most to celebrate are those pursuing tech degrees. That’s because many seniors with computer science or computer engineering degrees are fielding multiple job offers with high starting salaries and even signing bonuses. While demand is high for all techies, some degrees are worth more than others in the eyes of corporate recruiters. Here's our list of lucrative tech degrees, ranked from lowest to highest starting salary.

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Hybrid technology degrees emerging

telecommunications

Telecommunications

Telecommunications isn't the tech-oriented specialty that's going to result in the highest pay. In fact, recent grads are earning about 50% less than their counterparts who slogged through multiple courses of calculus and physics to earn computer engineering degrees. Only a handful of colleges offer this degree, including Pace University, which has an online-only B.S. in telecommunications. The employment outlook for telecommunications engineers doesn’t look great either, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting employment in the telecom industry on the decline since 2004.

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Information Technology

Information Technology

One of the newer tech degrees is information technology, which teaches students how to implement the latest operating systems, database offerings and networking gear rather than how to build the next-generation of these systems. The first IT degrees were offered in 1989; today, 225 colleges including the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) offer accredited programs, usually through the business school or a special school of applied technology. The job placement rate for IT majors is high, but starting salaries are lower than those for traditional tech degrees such as computer science. Most IT degree holders are hired by banks, insurance companies and other financial services firms for their IT departments.

Computer Information Systems

Computer Information Systems

Similar to an IT degree, the Computer Information Systems (CIS) degree is a bachelor of science that focuses on practical applications of technology including software, databases, networking and systems. Usually offered through business schools, the CIS degree teaches students how to build, operate and maintain information systems that support business operations. Graduates also develop project management skills, which are in high demand in corporate IT departments. Among the corporations recruiting CIS majors at Arizona State University are Ernst & Young, Honeywell, KPMG and Pacific Gas and Electric. In 2012, ASU had 146 graduates in CIS, including double majors, with an average starting salary of $56,531.

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Information Systems

Information Systems

Another tech degree that’s less technical and more management oriented is Information Systems (IS), which involves studying computer systems used in business operations. A Georgetown University survey reported 11.7% unemployment rates for recent IS majors compared to 7.8% for computer science majors. In response, colleges such as the New Jersey Institute of Technology are freshening up their IS degrees with specializations such as Web design, human-computer interaction, business and graphics. NJIT is seeing demand for its recent IS graduates in such roles as Web content designers, Web interface designers and Web content specialists.

Management Information Systems

Management Information Systems

Another tech major that’s falling out of favor is Management Information Systems (MIS). Although still available through business schools such as the LeBow College of Business at Drexel University, the MIS degree is considered old-fashioned because it doesn’t have the technical depth of computer science or the business depth of finance. That’s why universities such as Drexel are adding courses to their MIS programs in such areas as domestic and global outsourcing management. MIS majors typically work in corporate IT departments in hopes of one day becoming CIO.

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Computer Science

Computer Science

Computer Science majors are the big men and women on college campuses today, given the number of job opportunities and the high starting salaries they are being offered. A survey of recent college graduates conducted by Nerdwallet found that graduates of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science – the first university to offer a computer science degree -- had the highest starting salaries of all colleges and all majors. In 2012, Carnegie Mellon reported that its computer science students accepted offers ranging from $135,000 to $145,000, with a median starting salary of $95,000. Salesforce, Google, Microsoft and Amazon were among the top recruiters of these students.

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Software Engineering

Software Engineering

Life is pretty sweet for college seniors majoring in software engineering, too. These students have survived a rigorous curriculum that includes programming, requirements definition, software design and quality assurance. Among last year’s graduates of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the highest offer among all students — $102,500 — was received by a software engineering major. The average accepted offer for last year’s software engineering majors was $73,083, Rose-Hulman said. Among the companies recruiting Rose-Hulman software engineers are Microsoft and defense contractors.

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Computer Engineering

Computer Engineering

Computer engineering is a combination of hardware and software. With its many required math and science courses, computer engineering is one of the most challenging tech degrees that a college student can pursue. Graduates have not only survived multiple college-level courses in calculus, physics and chemistry, but they’ve also studied circuits, microprocessors, signals and computer systems design. At the University of Delaware, computer engineering majors are being pursued by Apple as well as smaller tech firms, with starting salaries last year ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

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Electrical Engineering

Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering majors are the most hardware-oriented geeks on campus, having studied all aspects of the design and operation of electrical and electronic systems and their components. They spend four years taking the most difficult math, science and engineering course available to undergraduates. That’s why they’re in demand by computer, electronics, aerospace, automotive and other manufacturers. At Purdue University, electrical engineers had the second-highest starting salaries in 2011 – averaging $61,601-- of the 13 engineering disciplines offered. (Only chemical engineering majors earned more that year, the most recent data available.)

Where the data comes from

Note: All salary data is from the PayScale College Salary Report 2012-2013, which surveys full-time employees in the United States who possess a bachelor’s degree and no higher degrees. More than 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States were included. Salary includes base salary, bonuses, profit sharing, commissions and overtime.