Will an Advanced Degree Help My Career?

Making the decision to go back to school isn’t easy. You’ve got to consider your current life obligations, your job, your enjoyment of school, and the career returns you can expect.

While we can’t comment on your personal situation, there is hard data concerning the impact of an advanced degree on your career. Researchers agree: yes, grad school will make a difference.

Will a Degree Increase Your Earnings?

Of course, the specifics will vary for individual careers and degrees, but overall, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. No matter how you look at the data collected on earnings and college accomplishment, on average, those who have more education can expect higher average salaries and lifetime earnings.

The U.S. Census Bureau, which has analyzed wage and education trends during the 1975-2000 period, sheds light on the relationship between earnings and education. According to their data, professionals that have a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn around 1.8 times as much as a high school graduate, while those with an advanced degree earn a little more than 2.6 times that amount. The earnings gap between those who have advanced degrees and those who don’t has been steadily widening over the past quarter century. The Census Bureau describes the phenomenon this way:

“Recently…technological changes favoring more skilled (and educated) workers have tended to increase earnings among working adults with higher educational attainment, while, simultaneously, the decline of labor unions and a decline in the minimum wage in constant dollars have contributed to a relative drop in the wages of less educated workers.”

By the Numbers

How do these trends translate into numbers? Glad you asked. Keep in mind that this data is based on earnings data from the 2000 census.

  • Average salaries for full time workers: high school graduates earn $23,400, associate’s degree graduates earn $38,200, and bachelor’s degree graduates earn $52,000.
  • Master’s degree holders earn $62,300, those with professional degrees earn $109,600, and those with doctoral degrees earn $89,000.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to see that the earnings difference between those with an advanced degree and those with lesser education is significant, and can really add up over the course of a lifetime.

  • Over the course of a lifetime (ages 25-65): those with associate’s degrees earn $1.6 million, bachelor’s degree holders earn $2.1 million, master’s degree holders earn $2.4 million, professional degree holders earn $4.4 million, and doctoral degree holders earn $3.4 million. (Census.gov)

By Profession

While the data certainly points out that earning an advanced degree is usually a great decision, on average, you should also consider specific earnings data for your career.

  • According to earnings data, advanced degrees in business, engineering, physical sciences, and life sciences are degrees that definitely make sense to earn, based on return on investment. Advanced degrees in social work are also on the “must-earn” list, because professionals have a tough time advancing in their career without them.
  • The degrees with poorer returns on investment right now are journalism, law school, and counseling psychology. (NYTimes)

Subscribe to Our Mailing List