There are plenty of jobs out there that can give you a good starting salary---but finding one that covers your student loans is a different story. Here are some jobs that just might help you pay off your loans.

Finding a job after college isn’t easy. In fact, many students take on full-time jobs in non-professional workplaces just to make ends meet. In a study done by Avenica (formerly GradStaff), almost 70% of the recent college grads surveyed were working full time at a non-professional job, or they were unemployed.

Most of the survey respondents didn’t know what to do with their degree, which caused a misalignment for them after they’d graduated. It’s hard enough getting to the point of selecting a college major (I took almost two years) and even harder finding one that will get you paid after you graduate.

While there are plenty of factors that go into landing a first job that comes with lucrative pay, the first thing you need to do is think about your major and in what positions it will set you up for success.

In this article, I’ll cover some of the best starting salaries you can find after college, based on national averages, and give you some tips on how to get there. There is one rule of thumb we’re going to use, however. Since student loans have become somewhat of a national crisis, I’m going to hone in on jobs that, on average, will pay you equal to or more than the average student loan balance in your first year.

Visit EVEN Financial to see if you’re eligible for a student loan.

How much should I be shooting for in my first job?

Your starting salary varies widely by many factors, namely your physical location. A starting wage in New York City will look vastly different than one in Akron, Ohio. The job markets are different, and the cost of living is different. I’m going to focus on averages. It’s up to you to figure out how you need to adjust up or down based on where you’re planning to live.

Looking at some data from Pew Research, the median student loan debt for someone with only a Bachelor’s degree is about $25,000. Those who hold a Postgraduate degree (i.e., MBA) owe about $45,000.

Now I’m a realist. I know that the job market is changing so much that the value of a Bachelor’s degree has gone down. I see more and more ads for colleges and online universities now than ever before. Education is becoming easier to access, but the cost isn’t going down.

In my experience both hiring and mentoring new college graduates, many of them are realizing that they need a Master’s degree to be competitive in the workplace. In fact, the Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s degree in many fields. Because of this, I’m going to assume you have closer to $45,000 than $25,000 in student loans, so my starting salaries will target that as a baseline. The jobs below will only require a Bachelor’s degree to start, however.

Here are the best starting salaries for new college grads

In the list below, I’ll share the job, its primary functions, the salary you can expect to start with, and the degree you should target in college. That should give you a pretty good road map for reaching an excellent starting salary.

Also, one significant point to note: There are other jobs (namely in Engineering) that have a higher starting salary, but the career longevity and salary growth aren’t as robust. The below list takes into account both starting wage and the median wage to expect with at least ten years of experience.

All pay data is according to PayScale, a national leader in compensation data for employers and prospective employees.

Job TitleDegree NeededMedian Starting Salary
Petroleum EngineerPetroleum Engineering$94,600
ActuaryActuarial Science$61,200
Nuclear EngineerNuclear Engineering$69,000
Chemical EngineerChemical Engineering$70,300
Marine EngineerMarine Engineering$73,900

Petroleum Engineer

Median starting pay: $94,600

Median mid-career pay: $175,500

What you do:

Petroleum engineers look at petroleum reservoirs on the sea and earth floor to determine how profitable they’ll be. They evaluate the landscape of the site to design and implement a safe and efficient method of obtaining oil. They also manage the equipment on-site as well as ensuring the completion of wells.

As a petroleum engineer, you’ll also need to solve operational problems before, during, and after drilling occurs. That will help you lead the design of new extraction methods—which is a vital part of a petroleum engineer’s job. You can also specialize in a specific aspect of drilling—such as a reservoir engineer, a drilling engineer, a completions engineer, or a productions engineer.

You’ll spend most of your time in either an office or a lab. But, you’ll also get to go to the drilling sites you’re managing. Depending on where the sites are located, you’ll be required to travel, too. Some petroleum engineers work as much as an 84-hour rotation while moving to different locations.

What kind of degree you need:

To be a petroleum engineer, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree in either petroleum, chemical, or mechanical engineering. Some companies and organizations will require an advanced degree. If so, look into a Master’s degree in biotechnology.

Additional resources:


Median starting pay: $61,200

Median mid-career pay: $130,800

What you do:

Actuaries use math to identify the probability of risk. From that probability, they can surmise the financial implications of those risks and recommend a course of action. This skill is especially important with insurance underwriting.

The data an actuary uses and deciphers can mean incredible gains or losses for a financial company—so they have to love numbers and have to be meticulous and patient. Their job is to determine how likely a specific event is to happen—they aren’t genies in a bottle though. I say this because an actuary has to be objective—meaning they don’t quickly get emotions involved and they don’t make guesses from those emotions.

As Be An Actuary states on their website:

We are the analytical backbone of our society’s financial security programs. We are the brains behind the financial safeguards in our personal lives, so we can go about our day without worrying too much about what the future may hold for us.

That’s a pretty tall order. And you’ll need to be great with numbers to not only be successful as an actuary but to enjoy your job long term. As you can see by the numbers above, if you can stick with it for a long enough time, you will be rewarded financially.

What kind of degree you need:

You don’t need a specific degree to become an actuary. However, your level of success (and assurance that it’s the right career for you) will be higher if you do. Degrees in finance and economics can suffice, but if you want to get into specifics with actuarial methods, you should look into a Bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Science or Actuarial Mathematics.

If you’re a math nut and want to keep your options open, then you should choose Actuarial Mathematics. It’s a broader major and can allow you to go into different mathematical fields. Actuarial Science degrees are pretty focused on becoming an actuary—so be sure that this is the career path you want if you choose this major.

There are also actuarial exams and various licenses you’ll want to pursue as your career progresses so that it won’t stop with just a Bachelor’s degree. Keep this in mind when choosing this career path.

Additional resources:

Nuclear Engineer

Median starting pay: $69,000

Median mid-career pay: $127,500

What you do:

Nuclear engineers have a primary role in finding ways to use the benefits of radiation and nuclear energy. They create systems, tools, and processes to do this efficiently and effectively. A nuclear engineer might, for example, find a unique use for a certain radioactive material—such as a tool or instrument that can help with medical treatment.

Nuclear engineers do everything from developing atomic reactor cores and radiation shielding to monitor the facility operations of a nuclear site. They do tests and perform new experiments, then write further operational instructions on how to manage nuclear materials. They’re also heavily involved in the development and improvement of specific radiation machines used in medical diagnoses. Depending on the particular path you want to take, you can be a nuclear engineer in many types of industries.

What kind of degree you need:

Unsurprisingly, you should target a Bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. Some jobs, even entry-level, may require a Master’s degree or even a Ph.D. Many schools are now offering a five-year program that will give you both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. This might be worth the time investment since it’s a growing field. In school, you’ll do a lot of classroom work, but also focus on labs and field studies. If you’re analytical, detail-oriented, and can solve problems using both logic and math, you might be a good fit for nuclear engineering.

Additional resources:

Chemical Engineer

Median starting pay: $70,300

Median mid-career pay: $124,500

What you do:

Chemical engineering is a fascinating field. It blends math, science, and many other fields of study into one critical field that could help change the way we live. As a chemical engineer, you’ll discover new ways (or improve old ways) of taking raw materials and turning them into products that we can use every day to make our lives and our world much better.

Think about the clothes you wear and the food you eat. A chemical engineer would look at ways to improve the process or the actual end product being produced. For example, is cotton the most efficient fabric to create and turn into clothing? Or are there other raw materials that can be combined to make something more durable and better for the environment?

A big undertaking in chemical engineering now is the way we look at and use fuel. Oil and gas are relatively finite resources, so a chemical engineer needs to look into new ways to use these existing resources, as well as find viable replacements that will do what’s required, but also leave a lesser ecological impact on the environment.

It’s an exciting job and would be good for someone who can manage minor details, be analytical and exact, and also think outside of the box. It’s a rare combination to be both analytical and creative, so if you have these skills, this might be a good career option for you.

What kind of degree you need:

Like other jobs on this list, you may not necessarily need a degree in chemical engineering, but it would certainly help. You may want to look into a Master’s degree eventually, but you don’t have to have one to get an entry-level job and make good money.

In school, you’ll focus heavily on science and math, so if those subjects make you cringe, don’t even think about chemical engineering. If you’re interested in numbers as well as chemical compounds and analyzing natural resources, however, you’ll probably find school enjoyable.

Additional resources:

Marine Engineer

Median starting pay: $73,900

Median mid-career pay: $123,200

What you do:

A marine engineer is sometimes referred to as a ship engineer (this is helpful when you begin looking for jobs) as your primary job function is to create the design of ships and other water and underwater craft. Not only do you design them, but you lead the building, test them, and manage repairs.

I’m also not talking about little dinghies that you take fishing on your summer vacation. A marine engineer works on large ships (like hauling vessels and even cruise liners) as well as underwater drilling equipment. It’s a very diverse field so you’ll always have something new on which to work.

When you create the design, it’s almost like an architect. You need to draft blueprints and know every intricate detail of the vessel you’re designing. Much like an airplane, creating large watercraft requires all parts working together in the way they should so it operates at peak performance. Think about it—you wouldn’t want to be responsible for designing a ship that doesn’t support enough weight or can’t propel at an optimal speed would you?

Like most engineering jobs, you’ll need to be detail-oriented, analytical, and creative. In many cases, you’ll be responsible for creating new, streamlined processes so you’ll have to have a process-oriented mindset as well.

You’ll also need a good understanding of the mechanics of a vehicle, primarily a ship. If you don’t know how these types of machines work (and don’t worry, you’ll learn in school), you won’t be successful.

What kind of degree you need:

A Bachelor’s degree in marine engineering will be your best bet. Other engineering degrees will suffice and may allow you to be more flexible with your career choice, but if you’re sure you want to work on watercraft, choose a defined degree in marine engineering. You can go a little broader once you decide to get a Master’s degree (or narrower, if you prefer), depending on what the school offers.

Additional resources:

Economist or Mathematician

Median starting pay: $60,000

Median mid-career pay: $122,900

What you do:

This one is really broad, as you can be any number of things when you’re an economist or a mathematician. I am lumping them together because the job functions can be very similar, and you can go after similar degrees. Let’s first focus on some of the key functions of an economist.

A traditional economist looks at how a society uses its resources to produce goods and services. Now, my college economics professor would cringe if he heard me use that simplified explanation of economics – but that’s it at a high level. You’ll collect and analyze data and trends, and ultimately form forecasts for organizations like financial institutions or government bodies.

Mathematicians are similar in that they use algorithms and advanced mathematical functions to analyze complex data and develop forecasts. These can be financial, industrial, governmental, or any other number of types of work. One kind that I’ve heard a lot about is organizational analytics. You develop analytics about people that can forecast their future behavior (i.e., if they’re likely to leave an organization, when they’ll expect promotions, etc.). Pretty cool stuff.

What kind of degree you need:

Economics or mathematics. You can get by with a degree in finance, but you won’t get the specificity in statistical analysis that you’ll need to go into a more mathematical job. For these types of roles, I would strongly urge you to look into advanced degrees, including a Ph.D. You’ll become very narrow in what you excel at, but organizations will pay enormous amounts for analytical people that can decipher incredibly complex data and turn it into meaningful projections and forecasts.

Additional resources:


Median starting pay: $54,100

Median mid-career pay: $122,200

What you do:

In a nutshell, geophysicists study the Earth. They use seismic, magnetic, electrical, and gravitational methods to understand the different aspects of the planet. Many geophysicists spend their days outdoors doing these types of analyses, but some prefer to stay indoors and instead focus on statistical modeling and forecasting.

The information that geophysicists obtain and analyze helps determine methods for finding crucial minerals, including iron and copper. Their data also helps us understand, prepare for, and avoid hazardous areas when building things like dams, bridges, and other significant constructs.

Much like a petroleum engineer analyzes the seafloor for oil reservoirs, a geophysicist has a broader job in analyzing the entire Earth surface for trends and other vital pieces of data to help us make informed decisions about our environment.

You can get into specific areas of geophysics, too. Fans of Jurassic Park will be happy to know that you can get into archaeology, but you can also narrow down into fields such as landscape design, forensic anthropology, and environmental psychology.

What kind of degree you need:

Depending on the area of geophysics you want to study, you should probably start with a Bachelor’s degree in geophysics. You can define your career niche even further with a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in geophysics or geology.

Additional resources:


There are plenty of jobs out there that can give you a good starting salary. And there are plenty that pay enough to cover your student loans. Just check out this massive list from PayScale, based on Bachelor’s degrees. The list I covered narrows it down to jobs that are in high-demand, realistic to go after (i.e., not super-competitive), and will provide you a long, financially-rewarding career.

If you’re interested in getting paid right out of college, consider one of these seven career paths. Know that you’ll need to focus on a major early, do well in school, and get lots of relevant work experience through internships and co-ops.

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About the author

Chris Muller picture
Total Articles: 281
Chris has an MBA with a focus in advanced investments and has been writing about all things personal finance since 2015. He’s also built and run a digital marketing agency, focusing on content marketing, copywriting, and SEO, since 2016. You can connect with Chris on Twitter.