Graduate Degree Holders Make $17,000 More Per Year Than Bachelor’s Degree Holders
If you’re considering grad school – and it’s not required for your job or future career aspirations – you want to weigh your options very carefully. Yes, a graduate degree can make you more well-rounded, help hone your critical thinking skills, and possibly qualify you for more jobs in your field. But what many people really want to know? Whether it will increase their earning potential.
The answer depends on your major. According to “The Economic Value of College Majors,” a 2015 study by Georgetown University, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn an average annual salary of $61,000 over the course of their career, while those with a graduate degree earn $78,000 annually.
However, salaries vary greatly depending on your specific major. Below is a sample of annual wage comparisons for bachelor’s degrees vs. master’s degrees, according to the Georgetown study:
|Major Group||Major Subgroup||Median Annual Wages – Bachelor’s Degree||Median Annual Wages – Graduate Degree|
|AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES|
|Natural resources management||$56,000||$71,000|
|ARCHITECTURE AND ENGINEERING|
|Drama and theater arts||$45,000||$60,000|
|Visual and performing arts||$42,000||$56,000|
|Film, video and photographic arts||$51,000||$60,000|
|Commercial art and graphic design||$51,000||$63,000|
|BIOLOGY AND LIFE SCIENCE|
|Business management and administration||$62,000||$81,000|
|Marketing and marketing research||$63,000||$81,000|
|Communications and mass media||$54,000||$67,000|
|Advertising and public relations||$54,000||$65,000|
|COMPUTERS, STATISTICS, AND MATHEMATICS|
|Statistics and decision science||$78,000||$100,000|
|Computer and information systems||$69,000||$85,000|
|Early childhood education||$39,000||$53,000|
|Secondary teacher education||$48,000||$64,000|
|Special needs education||$45,000||$61,000|
|Pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and administration||$110,000||$115,000|
|Health and medical administrative services||$55,000||$80,000|
|Treatment therapy professions||$65,000||$73,000|
|HUMANITIES AND LIBERAL ARTS|
|Philosophy and religious studies||$51,000||$68,000|
|English language and literature||$53,000||$68,000|
|French, German, Latin, and other common language studies||$52,000||$67,000|
|INDUSTRIAL ARTS, CONSUMER SERVICES, AND RECREATION|
|Family and consumer sciences||$45,000||$60,000|
|Physical fitness, parks, recreation, and leisure||$49,000||$65,000|
|Transportation sciences and technologies||$73,000||$94,000|
|Miscellaneous industrial arts and consumer services||$64,000||$76,000|
|LAW AND PUBLIC POLICY|
|Pre-law and legal studies||$51,000||$78,000|
|Criminal justice and fire protection||$54,000||$70,000|
|Atmospheric science and meteorology||$66,000||$84,000|
|PSYCHOLOGY AND SOCIAL WORK|
|Human services and community organization||$41,000||$54,000|
|Industrial and organizational psychology||$65,000||$79,000|
|Political science and government||$64,000||$96,000|
To dig deeper into the salary differences, GoodCall also spoke with a handful of experts.
“We live and work in a technical world, where the technological footprint is always increasing,” says Brian Braudis, executive coach, founder and president of the Philadelphia-based Braudis Group Consultants, and author of “The Complete Leader Audiobook Leadership Development Program.” He says that master’s degrees in fields where students learn “hard” technical skills, such as engineering, computer science, and finance, are good choices to secure top salaries.
In fact, there are many reasons why a master’s degree in mechanical engineering pays more, according to Bill Predebon, PhD, Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University.
One reason is the broadness and versatility of the degree. “By broadness, I mean as graduates they are educated and able to work in professions that require heat and energy (educated in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer), and professions that require mechanical design with and without motion (dynamics, strength of materials, vibrations, machine design, kinematics, computer aided design, finite elements and controls),” Predebon says.
Predebon says another reason is “the growth and demand for energy in all forms to include alternative energy, such as wind, biomass, solar, and energy storage, as well as the continuing needs in the fossil fuel area.” In addition to energy area and design, he says mechanical engineers with advanced skills are needed to design and develop hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and more.
A Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) is another one of the most popular graduate degrees. Dr. Jeff Kudisch, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, Assistant Dean of Corporate Relations and Managing Director of the Office of Career Services, shares several reasons why graduates with an MBA may earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree: “We’re developing more strategic areas at the MBA level. There is a heightened emphasis on analytics across functional levels.” He says students are not only taking an accounting or finance class, but they’re also understanding how it fits into a merger and acquisition, or starting a new business.
At the MBA level, students are taught to integrate finance, strategy, supply chains and more. Dr. Kudisch explains that the world has become more complex, forcing companies to become more complex as well. “MBA students learn how to navigate these complex organizations in ways that they don’t at an undergraduate level. Google and other companies are hiring candidates with an MBA because they are focusing on these analytical skills,” Kudisch says.
He says students also learn social and emotional skills at the graduate level, such as how to coach and advise peers, lead teams, and sway and influence others. But Dr. Kudisch cautions that a graduate degree won’t automatically lead to a salary increase. “I can’t overemphasize that experience makes a difference. Even after you get an MBA, your salary may not be as much as you think until you gain several years of experience.”