College Students Overestimate Career Earnings, Survey Reports

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A survey of 1,000 college students finds that many are overestimating their mid-career salaries by up to $15,000, compounding already reduced spending by young adults when compared to older generations.

The survey by Clever Real Estate and Payscale reported that in only two of the 11 most popular majors nationwide did students’ salary expectations lag behind actual salary 10 years after graduation.

Computer science students reported an average expected salary of $97,165 – lower than the 10-year career median of $113,900 – while engineering students expected $96,191, below the median real salary of $112,500.

Business students, meanwhile, had the largest gap between expectation and reality, with students planning on a salary of $119,438 well above the actual $80,400 median at the 10-year mark in such careers.

“Younger consumers view the buying conditions for big-ticket items like homes and cars less favorably than older generations, leading to less spending overall,” the report said. “[A University of Michigan study] pointed to weakened job prospects, delayed marriage and student debt as the primary causes, but we also need to consider that college graduates are discouraged by their middling salaries upon entry into the workforce.”

The gap between expected and real starting salaries was also evident between men and women. On average, women expected to earn $4,300 less than men after college. The difference was greatest in male-dominated fields such as engineering, economics and finance, but slimmer in fields such as nursing and communications.

The survey found that women expected to be paid more in the communications/journalism field – $55,694 versus men’s $46,444 – and physical or life science field, $66,962 compared to the $60,797 of men. Female nursing students expected to be paid $62,830 after one year on the job, slightly above the men’s average of $61,125.

Clever and Payscale also found that Generation Z rank student-loan repayment assistance, flex time and lots of personal time off as the most important employee benefits. Millennials, meanwhile, ranked benefits such as casual work environments and unlimited PTO as the most important benefits.

The full report can be found here.

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