The STEMS have it

New grads may earn up to 30% more if they studied in today's hottest fields.

After years of toil, tests, and paying family treasures into ivy towers, the tassels have shifted, the mortarboards were tossed, and the pomp has faded. To their parents’ glee and relief, millions of graduates around the globe are shifting to the world of work—and hoping they picked the right field.

According to a study of entry-level jobs, grads who focused on studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—so-called STEM careers—will earn almost 30% more in some countries than the average grad.

To help workplace newbies see if their paychecks make the grade, Korn Ferry Hay Group analyzed salaries for 5.6 million entry-level positions at 20,000 companies. The firm focused on 25 entry-level professional job titles in 17 countries that have some of the planet’s best-known economies.

As in any year, grads should keep in mind that “many factors come into consideration when determining salaries, including the local cost of living plus the political and social situations in particular countries,” says Benjamin Frost, Korn Ferry Hay Group Global Product Manager, Pay. “Graduates who choose certain career paths can expect to make more than their peers, regardless of the country in which they reside.”

To the surprise of no one in career development, the firm found that geeks continue to hit the jackpot. In every nation the firm analyzed, STEM careers were among the highest paid for newcomers. An entry-level engineer in the United States can expect to make 29% above the US national average at $62,174; an entry-level software developer in France can make 13% above that country’s national average at $41,509.

Meantime, scholarly Germans, when starting out, earn the top pay on average, even outpacing US counterparts. Here are the world’s top five average initial salaries overall, according to the firm’s recent analysis of 17 nations:

Germany     $53,619
United States   $48,270
Australia   $47,397
Netherlands   $45,626
United Kingdom   $39,946

For comparison, here are the bottom five average starting salaries:

Czech Republic   $13,040
Mexico   $12,433
China   $11,936
Brazil   $11,306
Russian Federation   $8,448

To be sure, though there is skepticism by some in the West about the wisdom, cost, and value of academics beyond 12 years of schooling (high school), the firm’s starter-salary findings underscore this point: Higher education pays. College grads’ average salaries, across the board, are higher than national medians (as calculated by international agencies).

For grads, there’s another lesson to be learned from the firm’s study about pay: Don’t forget that these are initial averages. Novices should expect to advance, to earn more, to try not only different roles in their planned jobs but also to make wholesale career switches, too—sometimes to find a better fit, sometimes to pursue higher reward.

“Exposing young people to several different types of career paths early on will help them find vocations that will allow them to follow their passion and have economically viable careers,” notes Vivienne Dykstra, Korn Ferry Futurestep Global Early Careers Lead.