Graduate Degree Holders Make $17,000 More Per Year Than Bachelor’s Degree Holders

Posted By Terri Williams on July 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm
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
Animal sciences $49,000 $76,000
Forestry $62,000 $80,000
Food science $67,000 $77,000
Natural resources management $56,000 $71,000
Civil engineering $83,000 $101,000
Electrical engineering $93,000 $112,000
Mechanical engineering $87,000 $107,000
Architecture $67,000 $76,000
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 $56,000 $96,000
Zoology $58,000 $104,000
Environmental science $57,000 $71,000
Microbiology $62,000 $89,000
Finance $73,000 $101,000
General business $65,000 $89,000
Business management and administration $62,000 $81,000
Marketing and marketing research $63,000 $81,000
Journalism $56,000 $71,000
Communications and mass media $54,000 $67,000
Advertising and public relations $54,000 $65,000
Computer science $83,000 $100,000
Applied mathematics $83,000 $106,000
Statistics and decision science $78,000 $100,000
Computer and information systems $69,000 $85,000
Early childhood education $39,000 $53,000
Elementary education $43,000 $57,000
Secondary teacher education $48,000 $64,000
Special needs education $45,000 $61,000
Nursing $66,000 $88,000
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
History $54,000 $80,000
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
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
Pre-law and legal studies $51,000 $78,000
Public policy $65,000 $92,000
Criminal justice and fire protection $54,000 $70,000
Public administration $62,000 $75,000
Chemistry $64,000 $104,000
Physics $81,000 $101,000
Geosciences $64,000 $98,000
Atmospheric science and meteorology $66,000 $84,000
Psychology $49,000 $65,000
Human services and community organization $41,000 $54,000
Social work $42,000 $55,000
Industrial and organizational psychology $65,000 $79,000
Political science and government $64,000 $96,000
Economics $76,000 $109,000
Criminology $54,000 $71,000
Sociology $51,000 $65,000


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.”

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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