New Data: College Students Won’t Take Less Than $72K For Their First Job

Students say they won’t work for less than $72,580 for their first job—nearly 30% higher than the actual average salary of $55,911.

New data from Real Estate Witch shows a variety of college student salary expectations revealing just how much college students expect to be paid, what they fear, and what they value in a job.


Among undergraduates surveyed, business students have the most unrealistic salary expectations with most expecting to make $98,113 one year after graduation—nearly 2 times the average starting salary of $50,200. A decade after graduation, most business students expect to make $223,679—2.5 times more than the typical mid-career salary of $86,600.

High salary expectations are common across all majors. In fact, 78% overestimate what they’ll make at their first entry-level job despite 80% of undergraduates saying they’re aware of the typical salary range for their field. Among all majors, students in general business, psychology, liberal arts, and journalism are the most likely to overestimate the value of their degrees.

Education and nursing majors are the least likely to compromise on their salary expectations, in large part due to the high demand for their roles. Aspiring educators say they won’t settle for less than $69,113, despite the average starting salary of $44,100. Nursing students—who on average make $65,000 at their first job—say they won’t take less than $85,000.

Computer science students, among most majors, are the most likely to sell themselves short, with most saying they’d accept a starting salary of $67,923— 10% lower than the actual starting salary.


Today’s college students also have high hopes and confidence in their ability to land senior roles.

A striking 61% of undergrads believe they won’t have to work entry-level jobs since employers will recognize their potential and offer them senior-level positions. 76% are confident in securing a promotion within their first year at the company—a notable two years ahead of the average timeline. Moreover, an additional 61% of students say they don’t need to worry about building a strong resume, as they believe their academic degree alone will impress employers. Shockingly, 68% of undergrads also believe their personal and family connections will help them secure a job after graduation. And 62% of students say they prioritize their social life in college over their academic pursuits.

79% of students expect to have a job lined up before they graduate and almost half (46%) say the job search is progressing easier than expected.


When told the actual entry-level pay for their jobs, 36% of students say the average starting salary was lower than they expected and 34% say that they don’t think they’ll be able to afford basic expenses after graduation.

Students’ biggest worries are having to work a second job and not being able to do fun things (both 37%). Additionally, 34% of students fear that they won’t be able to afford basic expenses and 33% fear not being able to live in a city that they want.

With the rising cost of living, nearly 80% of students think they deserve more than the average starting salary of $55,911. Roughly 70% of undergraduates surveyed say they deserve more money because they work harder than their peers. 64% say they deserve more because they’re smarter than their peers.


College is an expensive decision with most students graduating with at least some debt. According to the survey, 40% of students say they regret attending college citing college debt as the number one reason for their regret.

Overall, a majority (67%) of students say college tuition is too expensive. 69% of students think college education should be free, and 63% think student loans should be forgiven.

Despite many students saying they regret their decision to attend college, nearly 77% say their education has prepared them for the workforce. Many students (85%) also cite their college career center as key in helping them land a job or prepare for the workforce after graduation.


Nearly all students (97%) say they’d consider accepting lower-than-expected pay, but only if the workplace comes with a few perks.

Work-life balance is top of mind for college students with 48% saying they’d accept a lower starting salary for a good work-life balance. Strong benefits were second most important at 43% and flexible hours at 41%. Remote work was the lowest priority, with only 25% of votes. 

Students’ main concern is finding a job within their major, with 12% of undergrads citing it as their number one priority. Only 10% say a competitive salary is the most important.

And while a majority (92%) of students say they’re confident in finding a job within their major, in reality, only 46% actually end up working in their field of study.


Real Estate Witch compiled data from an online questionnaire, in which 1,000 American undergraduates pursuing a bachelor's degree were surveyed during March 23-25, 2023. Each participant provided responses to up to 21 questions on their career expectations, financial situation, college experience, and the job market.

Check out the full Real Estate Witch report here.

Sources: Real Estate Witch, Forbes, Education Data Initiative

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