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The class of 2013 is seeing the highest salaries since the Great Recession (even sociology majors)

It’s about time.

American graduates are seeing better salaries and first-job prospects than any year since the recession wiped away millions of jobs, according to a new report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.  

Health-science majors, from public health to physical therapistsare seeing very healthy gains—up to 20% from last year—in salary, and increases of more than 10% from a year ago will be awarded also to business school grads in three disciplines: international business, finance and hospitality services management, NACE reported today.

While most humanities and social sciences graduates scraped by with 2% gains, sociology majors also experienced “a whopping 12.1 percent” gain in starting pay, compared to the class of 2012, NACE reported in its first look at pay for the class of 2013.

“For this year’s graduates, it’s a positive job market,” says Andrea Koncz,  employment information manager at the association.  It probably is the best hiring and pay year since the recession hit, she said, adding: “I don’t think it’s a buyer’s market quite yet, but … the increase in salaries show demand for new college graduates.”

She noted definite strength in salaries and hiring for business, computer sciences and health sciences majors.

The highest paid graduates continue to be engineers, with starting pay for petroleum engineers approaching $100,000 and the median for all engineers in their first post-college job is $62,535. That’s $20,000 more than starting pay for communications, education or math and sciences graduates, but engineers are getting smaller pay increases: 4% compared to 5.3% for all undergraduates starting jobs.

The largest gain goes to “general health sciences majors” whose starting pay jumped 20%, to an average of $49,700. Some of that growth came from a change in methodology in 2012 data, including adding in some higher paying positions including physicians assistants and physical therapists, said Koncz.

Such double-digit pay gains from 2012 to 2013 are rare in the United States, but far more common in China and India, where the median pay increase this year is expected to increase 12%, according to WorldatWork, a salary compensation advisory organization. (China’s median raises will be 9%, triple the medians of workers in the US, UK, Germany and other European countries, according to WorldatWork.)

Just because salaries are rising does not mean everyone is landing a job before finals are over. This year’s 1.8 million bachelor’s degree recipients need to take “an aggressive approach” to their hunt, said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based career and outplacement firm. The job market for grads is improving but in many cases they’re competing with people who have been out of universities for one to five years.

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