Educational Attainment vs. Salary: It Makes a Difference

Pursuing an education means expanding your mind, increasing your job options, and potentially earning more money.

If you’ve ever wondered what a degree program can mean for your earning potential, read on.

Degree Attained: High School Diploma

  • Average Annual Earnings: $32,550

Education pays off from a young age. Earning a high school diploma already means a big upgrade in your salary: while workers without a diploma earned average wages of $23,600, those with a diploma earned nearly $9,000 more every year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many entry level full time jobs require a high school diploma, providing some extra incentive for workers to get their education up to par.

Degree Attained: Associate’s Degree

  • Average Annual Earnings: $39,500

A brief, two-year degree program can mean a huge difference in your earnings over a just a few years of work. Associate’s degrees provide a targeted level of career training on a subject, offering a focused education designed to prepare you to enter the workforce.

According to the BLS, workers with an associate’s degree earn an average $6,950 more every year than those with only a high school diploma. That’s $34,750 after five years and $69,500 after ten. Long after the degree pays for itself, workers still enjoy higher earnings.

The average associate’s degree costs about $2,544 a year, as reported by The College Board, but the boost in salary potential makes it worth the expense. With the average earnings workers see after upgrading from a high school diploma, you could potentially pay for a two-year associate’s degree within a year of work.

Degree Attained: Bachelor’s Degree

  • Average Annual Earnings: $53,300

Bachelor’s degrees add on to the education you receive with an associate’s degree. A broad base of knowledge builds to targeted training, giving you more job opportunities and a stronger general level of skill. With a bachelor’s degree, you can continue to expand your options.

One of the highest jumps in salary comes when workers upgrade from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree. Graduating from the four-year degree program means an average of $13,800 every year, according to the BLS. That’s $69,000 after five years and a whopping $138,000 after ten.

The average four-year public school degree costs $7,020 a year, says The College Board, meaning you could potentially pay off an upgrade from an associate’s degree with just over two years’ worth of work. After only a decade of employment, averages suggest you could earn six figures more than you would with an associate’s degree.

Degree Attained: Master’s Degree

  • Average Annual Earnings: $65,400

After you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, you can begin to specialize your knowledge with a master’s degree. Graduate degree programs leading to the master’s degree can take anywhere from one to three years, depending on the degree and the time you spend in school. Many students have already begun careers and choose to continue to work full time while earning a degree online, in night school, or on weekends.

Workers with master’s degrees earned $12,100 per year more than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to the BLS, and $25,900 more than those with associate’s degrees. After five years, those with master’s degrees earn $60,500 more than those with bachelor’s degrees; after ten years, the figure rises to $121,000. The annual average cost of obtaining a master’s degree at a public institution is $28,375, which means your master’s degree could pay off in about five years–or sooner, depending on the degree.

Degree Attained: Doctorate

  • Average Annual Earnings: $79,650

The highest degree level also comes with the highest average salaries. Workers with doctoral degrees earned an average $14,250 more than those with master’s degrees. After five years, they earn $71,250 more; after ten years, $142,500 more, as reported by the BLS. The College Board notes that the cost of obtaining a doctorate at a public institution varies greatly depending on the course of study, but the annual average cost is $32,966. Depending on your chosen career, you could pay off your doctorate degree in five to ten years.

This advanced degree requires years of education. While the curriculum requirements for doctoral work can sometimes be completed in three years, research and dissertation extend the time spent on a doctorate out to six to eight years. Students in doctoral programs appreciate taking the time to delve deeply into the subjects they feel passionately about, beginning to build a lifetime of research and contribution.

Career Training for Healthy Salaries

Of course, no degree program can guarantee a higher salary. However, the degrees you earn can open up the possibility for new careers as you upgrade your skills, update your knowledge, and get the latest training in your chosen field.

Think of the earnings data above as goals to aim for as you climb the career ladder. Your goals may require some time spent in school, where education helps improve your earning potential as it expands your mind.

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