Graduate Degree: Do Earnings Significantly Increase with Advanced Education?

By James Collister on March 29th, 2009

Woman GraduateAccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more education means higher earning power and lower unemployment rates. Earning a bachelor’s degree increases average weekly earnings by 62% over settling for a high school diploma. Do earnings just keep skyrocketing the more education a student pursues?

Average Cost of a Graduate Degree

The U.S. Department of Labor reports average yearly tuition for the 2001 – 2002 academic year was $8,891 for graduate students. However, there are hidden costs to consider as well. If a professional takes time off from work to go back to graduate school full-time, missed salary, health insurance, and lost experience in the job market must also be taken into consideration. For some students, room and board must also be factored into the total bill.

Average Financial Payoffs of a Graduate Degree

The hard data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that bachelor’s degree holders earn an average of $900 per week, whereas graduate degree holders earn an average of $1064 per week. This translates into a $164 weekly difference or an $8,528 yearly difference. Over a lifetime, a professional with a bachelor’s degree working full-time will earn $2 million and a professional with a graduate degree will earn an average of $2 million. In short, a graduate degree typically results in higher earnings in most fields of study, usually to the tune of about 21% higher.

Financial Payoffs by Specific Occupation

The increase in earnings for graduate degree holders varies by occupation and, for some, can be quite dramatic. Psychologists who earn a graduate degree increase their earnings by a whopping 78% over psychologists with just a bachelor’s degree. Other careers that tend to increase in earnings with a graduate degree include:

  • Education
  • Counseling
  • Social work
  • Management analysts
  • Biological scientists
  • Market and survey researchers

In careers that require only a bachelor’s degree for entry into the job market, a graduate degree is not likely to significantly boost earnings. But in industries that value advanced education and are made up mostly of workers who have at least a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree is likely to be a worthwhile investment.

Part-Time Graduate Study: A Possible Compromise

Earning a graduate degree does not have to mean quitting work and attending school full-time. Many students choose to pursue a graduate degree on a part-time basis while maintaining at least a part-time work schedule. This allows students to keep benefits like health insurance and 401K plans while also staying current in the work field. Many schools are now offering alternative class schedules as well as online graduate degree programs to allow mid-career professionals to maintain their current work and family responsibilities.

More information on employment and earning outlooks by career is available through the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008 – 2009. is another valuable source of information with an extensive list of available programs and education resources.

Category: Masters Degrees

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