Career Choices of Elite Asian American Grads

What separates top graduates of elite universities from the rest? More career options. For Asian Americans, there was a time when the engineer/accountant/doctor stereotype contained more than a kernel of truth.

During the past two decades, however, a marked increase in the percentage of Asian American students hailing from acculturated families have spread the elite Asian American graduate pool over a broader spectrum of careers. Engineering and medicine remain prominently in the mix, but ever larger numbers are entering business, law and the media.

Here are the careers attracting the most marked concentrations of exceptional Asian American recent graduates as of 2005.

Investment Banking/Finance/Business Consulting

If you’ve been wondering why Asian students comprise upwards of 40-65% of the MBA programs of top schools like Wharton, Columbia and Kellogg, just check out the compensation packages of brand new grads who opt for investment banking or consulting careers. Including salaries, signing bonuses and year-end bonuses, the average Columbia grad took home $157,000 last year. Those graduating from the other top 10 business schools fared nearly as well, with $136,000 for Wharton, $137,000 for the University of Chicago, $134,000 for Dartmouth’s Tuck School and $123,000 for Michigan.

In terms of specialty, the best starting salaries, excluding bonuses, were paid to grads of top-10 schools working in business consulting, with an average of $90,450. Investment banking was second with $87,431, followed by finance at $86,075 and marketing and management, $84,843.

Before fixating on starting salaries, keep in mind that most top business schools don’t accept applicants who haven’t first worked for 3-7 years. And many junior analysts are known to work 70-hour weeks for much of their first couple of years.


Masters of deferred gratification still flock to the more prestigeous specialties of the medical profession — even knowing that the price of entry is four years of college, four years of med school and 3-7 years of internship and residency. Those who survive the gauntlet reap what may be the biggest reward of all — bragging rights for long-suffering parents.

For those who stay on the long, arduous and grossly underpaid road to journeyman status, the money isn’t bad either, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anesthesiologists, the profession’s surprising financial stars, earn an average of $306,964, even more than general surgeons ($255,438) and OB/GYNs ($233,061). Of course, the superstars lost in these averages are the neuro-, cardiac- and orthopedic surgeons in private practice who, at their peak, may earn upwards of a million dollars each year.

Engineering/Computer Sciences

Brainy people with a practical bent are frequently drawn to engineering, the only field that offers respectable starting salaries and solid advancement prospects to those who escape schooling after a bachelor’s degree. The economic benefits of getting a masters or a PhD are marginal. The median income of engineers with bachelor’s degrees and less than a year of experience is $44,500, according to a 2004 survey by the National Society of Professional Engineers. It rises to only $50,000 for those with master’s degrees and less than a year of experience, and $58,500 for those with.PhDs and one to two years of experience.

As with all fields, top grads of elite schools enjoy starting salaries that are markedly higher than less distinguished peers from lesser schools. Pay also varies markedly by specialty. Here are the 2002-3 starting salaries of Michigan engineering graduates:

  • Computer: $55,111
  • Electrical: $51,761
  • Chemical: $51,593
  • Mechanical: $49,275
  • Aerospace: $48,100
  • Industrial and operations: $46,812

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