Graduate Degree Holders Make an Average of $17,000 More Per Year Than Those With Bachelor’s Degrees, According to Recent Study

Posted By Terri Williams on July 13, 2015 at 2:19 pm
Graduate Degree Holders Make an Average of $17,000 More Per Year Than Those With Bachelor’s Degrees, According to Recent Study

On average, graduate degree holders earn an annual salary of $78,000 over the course of their careers, while bachelor’s degree holders earn an average annual salary of $61,000, according to a 2015 study by Georgetown University. Those who hold bachelor’s degrees also see lower unemployment rates, according to the BLS.


Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics


While that may seem like the only incentive you need to pursue a graduate degree, these are only average estimates. Depending on the major, actual wages may be a lot more – or a lot less.

And according to Elizabeth Venturini, a college and career strategist who owns CollegeCareerResults, graduate school is not for the faint of heart. While she believes it’s important to attend graduate school if it is necessary for you to advance professionally and financially, Venturini warns that it’s not a place to “hang out” until the economy improves, and it’s not for students with an unmarketable undergraduate degree who think a graduate degree in the same field will help them lend a job.

Dr. Luz Claudio, Tenured Professor of Preventive Medicine and Chief of the Division of International Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, agrees, saying that students need to carefully consider whether they need a graduate degree to pursue the career path they want, and if so, what kind of degree is needed to achieve that goal. “Too often, I see students who use pursuit of a master’s degree as a holding pattern simply because they have not truly decided on a career path or because they are not yet ready to pursue a doctoral degree.”

However, she says, there several instances in which this approach might be a mistake.  “For example, if you complete a master’s degree and then decide to pursue a PhD, in many doctoral programs, you may not receive credit for your master’s degree.”

There are several factors that students should consider when debating whether they’re up to the challenge of pursuing a graduate degree:

Juggling work and school

Will you have to work on either a part-time or full-time basis while you attend graduate school? According to Adam Ruben, the author of “Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School,” if you have to work, that’s a considerable amount of time during each week that you won’t be able to devote to academics.  “There’s a reason some graduate programs average 10 years for a PhD, and it’s because most of the students in that program have to work 40 hours a week in order to pay the rent.”

Kristen Lee Costa, EdD, the Department Chair for
 Behavioral Sciences and Doctor of Education Faculty at Northeastern
 University in Boston and author of “Reset: Make the Most of Your Stress,” says it’s critical for grad school students to become savvy in time management. “It’s
 worth taking the time to assess how you structure your days and see 
what you may have to eliminate or revise to clear the path for graduate 
work, because there will be very little time to waste.”

However, Lisa Fairbairn, PhD, Dean of the DeVos Graduate School of Management at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, says most of the students she has encountered have thought pretty seriously about the level of commitment needed to succeed.

She admits that graduate school can be quite different from an undergraduate experience, and the first semester may be rather overwhelming. But once students adjust, she thinks they’ll be fine. “With all of the different delivery modalities of programming available today – online, daytime, evening, weekend, hybrid – there is a modality that fits just about any need.”

Family, coworkers and significant others

It is also important to evaluate your family situation. Ethan A. Zagore,
 Director of TRiO Programs at the University of Notre Dame, recommends considering the following: “Are you and your mate planning to have a child
 (or additional children) soon? Is your support system of family members and 
friends strong? Is your mate pursuing or planning to pursue additional 
education in the near future?” Zagore say these factors will not only determine 
if it’s your time to attend graduate school, but also how well you will perform 
once you’re enrolled.

In addition to your spouse or partner, Dr. Costa says that you should also let your boss, colleagues and friends know
 that you may be missing in action for a while. “Letting them know how important your
 education is and that you will need their support is crucial,” she says. She explains, “You may not
 be able to be as available or carry out every role and responsibility in 
the same fashion you previously did. Asking to be able to delegate tasks 
can give you the space to focus on and be effective in your graduate
 studies.” She also recommends connecting with fellow classmates for mutual support.

Financial considerations

When you’re considering grad school, a job isn’t the only financial issue that you must address. Angelique Pivoine, an
 SEO & PR Specialist
 at 911 Restoration in Van Nuys, CA, remembers when she applied for PhD programs in Intellectual History in 2014. Pivoine says test and application fees were approximately
 $195 for the General GRE, plus $150 for each subject test and $27 for each score report. Multiply that by the number of schools
 she applied to, plus application fees of approximately $112 per school, along with parking and transport fees. She estimates that her total was roughly $1500, and that’s not including prep class or materials. “You can apply for a
 fee reduction, but be ready to apply early and put in a lot more time and

The average cost of graduate school is $30,000. And if you’re trying to get an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, that number is closer to $297,000.  If a student has a lot of debt from undergraduate programs, Dr. Claudio advises working for a year or two to bring those student loan amounts down.

Entrance exams

Graduate school entrance exams are often a big hurdle for students trying to get into higher education programs, especially for those trying to enter medical school, according to Dr. Claudio. However, she says that students should also view these tests as an indicator of readiness. “A student who does poorly in one area of the test should consider whether this is an academic area in which they did not receive enough instruction while in undergraduate school.” If this is the case, she recommends retaking a course or finding a way to gain the knowledge that they may be lacking.

However, Ron Culp, Director of the Public Relations and Advertising Graduate Program at DePaul University in Chicago, notes that a growing number of colleges are now allowing undergrads to take graduate courses during their senior year. In addition to helping students finish their degree a year sooner and at a lower cost, Culp says this also eliminates the GRE requirement. “If you have a couple years of relevant work experience, many colleges allow you to request a waiver of the GRE requirement – especially if you have a strong undergraduate GPA,” he says.

 Ask more questions

Since the decision to attend grad school is so important, Ruben says students need to know explicitly what they’re getting into: “Talk to current grad students in the department you’re considering joining.  What do they like most?  What do they dislike most?  How long does it really take to graduate?  How hard are the classes?  Do they feel intellectually satisfied?  Do alumni get the sort of job you may want?  How much teaching will you have to do?  How guaranteed is your funding?” It’s a lot of questions, but the answers may help you choose the best course of action.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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