By Rachel Zupek Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder
It's admirable when college graduates are determined to work in their dream job, no matter if it pays six figures or diddly squat. Unfortunately, it's also rare.
Before the inevitable realization that money doesn't always equal happiness, students enter their college years in a green haze. In other words, they want a job where they can earn lots of green -- which means majoring in something to take them there.
The good news is that the average starting salary for some professions is rising.
The average starting salary for the college class of 2011 is $51,018, up from $48,661 last year, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The survey asked 900 employers and 1,800 colleges and universities to come up with a list of top-paying college majors and their corresponding average salary offers.
"The steady increases in starting salary offers we're seeing this year is a good indication that the job market for new college graduates is gathering strength," Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, said in a press release.
Overall, the average salary offer to graduates in the business disciplines rose 3 percent to $48,694, while students in the computer science disciplines saw their average offer rise 4.3 percent to $62,328. As a group, the engineering majors saw a 2.5 percent increase, giving them an average salary offer of $60,465.
Humanities and social sciences graduates also fared well, with a 15.3 percent increase in their starting salary offer to $40,057.
Here are 12 of the highest-paying bachelor's degrees and the lucrative careers you may be able to secure with them.
Average starting salary: $80,849
Career: Petroleum engineer
What it pays*: $127,970
What you do: High-paying as it is, petroleum engineering is also a very small portion of engineering as a whole. As such, the demand for these engineers is high due to the need for clean, affordable energy. Petroleum engineers search for and produce oil and gas supplies.
Average starting salary: $65,618
What it pays: $58,000 to $76,000 annually, according to Fast Company.
What you do: Blend aroma chemicals, oils, botanical extracts and essences to create natural and artificial flavorings for foods, beverages and other products.
Average starting salary: $64,499
What it pays: $74,900
What you do: Create, modify and test the codes and scripts that run computer applications.
Mining and mineral engineering
Average starting salary: $63,969
Career: Mining and geological engineers
What it pays: $87,350
What you do: Conduct surveys below ground to identify the characteristics of potential land or mining development sites. You may also inspect areas for geological conditions, equipment and working conditions.
Average starting salary: $63,402
Career: Network and systems administrator
What it pays: $72,200
What you do: Design, install and support an organization's computer systems, such as networks, servers, the Internet and intranets.
Electrical/electronics and communications engineering
Average starting salary: $61,021
Career: Electronics engineer
What it pays: $92,730
What you do: Develop, design and test a wide range of technologies, from portable music players to GPS. Also supervise manufacturing of certain equipment such as communications systems.
Average starting salary: $59,826
Career: Materials scientist
What it pays: $86,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What you do: Research and study various materials to determine ways to strengthen or combine them, or develop new materials for use in new products and applications.
Average starting salary: $58,909
Career: Project manager
What it pays: $90,260, according to the "PMI Project Management Salary Survey, Sixth Edition."
What you do: Project managers oversee all elements of a project, including developing requirements, budgets, scope and schedules. They are responsible for their team delivering a project successfully.
Average starting salary: $49,671
What it pays: $68,960
What you do: Check organizations' records for mismanagement, waste or fraud.
Average starting salary: $40,051
Career: Teacher, post-secondary
What it pays: $70,860
What you do: Impart your knowledge about history to college students.
Average starting salary: $39,611
What it pays: $59,340
What you do: Develop and edit content for a variety of platforms, including print and online vehicles.
Average starting salary: $40,069
Career: Social worker
What it pays: Varies, depending on type of social work.
What you do: There is a variety of sectors in which you can provide social work, including schools, medical and public-health facilities, or as a mental-health and substance-abuse social worker. No matter what sector, you are assisting people by helping them cope with and solve issues in their lives.
At the end of the day, to be truly passionate about a career you must love your job -- no matter what it pays. And hey, if you can find something that makes you happy and earns serious cash, more power to you.
*Unless otherwise noted, all salaries are the May 2010 mean annual wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Rachel Zupek Farrell researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.
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