Career Choices of Elite Grads — Page 2 of 2

Recent heavy demand for video games have created a lucrative niche: videogame programmers with under two years experience earn an average annual salary of $59,400, according to a 2003 survey from San Francisco-based Game Developer magazine.


Brainy young Asian Americans who are allergic to test tubes and calculators are discovering law to be an attractive default profession. Not only does it offer the opportunity to enjoy status and potentially major-league earnings, it offers the added advantage of defying expectations of those with stereotypical notions of suitable careers for Asian Americans.

Like engineering, law is a broad field in which practitioners’ days are as varied as stitching together boilerplate provisions into massive contracts or going down to the courthouse on a daily basis to argue pretrial motions.

There are also huge differences in salaries, depending mainly on the size of the firm you work for and the city in which it’s located. After three years of law school, top grads of top-10 law schools vie for offers from big national firms that pay starting salaries of $90,000-$150,000. Those who work for smaller firms can expect to start at about half those amounts.

Media and Advertising

Asian Americans who pride themselves on an exceptional grasp of American culture and strong creative abilities sometimes forsake traditional professions to take their chances in the mass media and affiliated industries like advertising and publishing. The firms in these fields see themselves as embodying a cultural elite, especially because they attract elite applicants drawn to the perceived glamour and opportunities for creative expression. Degrees from elite colleges can help land interviews though not necessarily secure job offers.

Even top graduates looking to break in as journalists, copywriters, publicists, marketers, assistant producers, TV reporters and graphic artists are judged more by their portfolios and personalities than their credentials. The difficult entry is rewarded by starting salaries under $30,000. For at least the first five years, most media types will have to survive on less than half of what their classmates earn in more conventional fields. The reward? A shot at becoming one of the arbiters of popular culture.


Those entering this nascent field hope to participate in the next big technological revolution, just as those who worked in Silicon Valley in the 70s and 80s became pioneers in the digital revolution. The field attracts elite grads who have shown exceptional research skills in areas like molecular and cell biology and plan to earn advanced degrees. Unlike in engineering, there is a pronounced jump in earnings and advancement potential with each added degree.

Elite grads with only a bachelors can expect starting salaries in the sub-$40,000 range while those with masters can expect over $50,000. A PhD raises the starting salary to the $60,000-plus range.


Those who take more pleasure in using their brains to solve difficult problems than to make money or jockey for power, are drawn to careers in mathematics or physics. These are fields for the truly elite braniacs. The entire U.S. has fewer than 3,000 professional mathematicians outside of academia though there are ten times that number on university faculties. A mathematician’s job is to use various mathematical techniques to solve practical problems that baffle ordinary mortals — like coming up with optimal signal-light sequencing in a traffic grid for various times of the day or optimizing the flight schedules of an international airline or coming up with encryption schemes that will baffle determined crackers, for example. Physicists wrestle with similar mind-benders to improve ways to isolate characteristics of matter and energy at the subatomic level.

Considering their elite intellects, mathematicians and physicists earn surprisingly modest salaries. Their median annual incomes are only $76,470. This is a field in which the federal government pays better than private industry: $83,472 for mathematical statisticians, $78,662 for cryptanalysts and $80,877 for mathematicians. Prev

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