Women can go into space and anchor prime-time news programs, but we still seem to suffer from pay discrimination from the very moment we enter the workforce.

That's the finding of a survey by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, which found that women in the same major and occupation make only 80% as much as men one year out of college. This happens even though women outperform men and get better grades in college, the study said.

This is bad news, but it's good to know, because it puts young graduates on alert. Women entering the workforce will have to take some special steps if they want to overcome that salary hurdle and negotiate for better pay.

Choose your major carefully
Completing a college degree can boost lifetime pay for virtually anyone who chooses that path. Unfortunately, there's no major women can choose to avoid a pay gap.

There are choices that women can make, however, to maximize their wages. The study found that both women and men who entered fields of study traditionally dominated by men earned more than those who entered areas traditionally dominated by women. It also pays to enter the private sector, instead of gravitating toward nonprofit or educational fields.

It may also pay to stress your practical experience, not just your academic credentials, when applying for any job. Make a list of special skills you bring to the job that qualify you for a higher salary. Put your practical experience at the top of your resume, and, if it's appropriate, be ready to display the kind of work you've already proven yourself capable of doing.

Do your research
When hunting for that first job after college, learn about the job market in your region for the profession you're entering. You can get some general ideas from places like Monster Worldwide's (NASDAQ:MNST) Monster.com, the Salary.com (NASDAQ:SLRY) website, and Wage Project. Keep in mind that your salary will be negotiated in a broader context, which will include the local cost of living, the state of the economy and the industry you're entering, and the profitability of the company.

If you're looking for your first job, you can use your job interviews to add to your research. Consider arranging some informational interviews with people in jobs you may one day aspire to hold and ask them about their careers and the salary you can expect to make someday. You can also gather intelligence during more formal interviews by asking prospective employers about pay and benefits.

When you're just starting out, it pays to seek out mentors that can help you formulate the career you want. As a woman, you may feel most comfortable with a female mentor who may have already faced the same questions and challenges that you expect. But seek out a male mentor, too. You can learn a lot by viewing your job and career through a different set of lenses, ones that may open your eyes to the strategies men use to boost their earnings throughout their careers.

Know what you want
Money isn't everything, of course -- nor does it come only in the form of paychecks. Some companies may compensate for lower salaries with more vacation time or other benefits. Compare those perks, especially the benefits packages, before you jump to conclusions about taking the job with the highest salary.

Your ideal job may also not pay the most. If you've fallen in love with a position, but a competitor pays better, speak up. You may be able to work out a better salary or more vacation time. Or you may decide, after all your research and interviews, that you'd rather have a job you love than a slightly higher salary.

Keep negotiating
This same study found the salary gap between men and women kept widening after that first job. Getting started in a higher level may help you keep your pay more equal to your male colleagues, but you'll need to stay vigilant if you don't want to slip behind with every missed raise.

Both men and women can get some tips for boosting your earnings from the December and January 2007 issue of the Motley Fool Green Light newsletter, which you can read for free with a 30-day trial membership. You might also glean some good tips from these related articles:

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback. She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.