What Is the Average Salary for High School Graduates Vs College Graduates?
The advantages of earning a college degree go beyond pay. Find out the impact that various degree levels can have on your employment, the time it takes to earn each degree, and more by reading on.
Comparing Typical Income by Educational Level
The first step of planning a career is deciding what level of educational attainment is best suited to your goals. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that higher levels of education correlate to higher average incomes, but this increased income must be carefully weighed against the amount of time it takes to obtain higher degrees and the costs of tuition. Individuals who have only a high school diploma had a median weekly income of $730 as of 2018, according to the BLS. Taking some college courses without completing a degree program can raise that median weekly income to $802 per week.
The median income of individuals with college degrees is higher. Earning an associate's degree can raise median weekly income to $862, using the same BLS data. Going for a four-year bachelor's degree sees a much more significant bump, resulting in a median weekly income of $1,198. The most dedicated students may push further for a master's degree, which has a median weekly income of $1,434. The highest degree level is the doctorate, which requires a substantial time investment, but can see a median weekly income of $1,825 for standard doctoral degrees and $1,884 for professional doctorates as of 2018.
|High School Diploma||Associate's Degree||Bachelor's Degree||Master's Degree||Doctoral Degree|
|Duration of Postsecondary Study||None||2 years||4 years||1-3 years beyond bachelor's||4-5 years beyond bachelor's|
|Educational Prerequisites||N/A||High school diploma||High school diploma||Bachelor's||Bachelor's or master's|
|Unemployment Rates* (2018)||4.1%||2.8%||2.2%||2.1%||1.6%|
|Median Weekly Income* (2018)||$730||$862||$1,198||$1,434||$1,825|
Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics
High School Diploma Overview
Individuals who have earned their high school diploma are eligible for a number of entry-level careers, particularly in jobs in office administration, construction, sales, and healthcare. Some of these careers may require training on the job or non-degree postsecondary education, such as completion of a certificate program or training for a certification. The unemployment rate for individuals who hold only a high school diploma was 4.1% in 2018, only surpassed by the rate for those who did not achieve their diploma, which was at 5.6%.
Individuals with some postsecondary education but no degree had an unemployment rate of 3.7%, demonstrating the effect that education can have. Advantages of entering the workforce with only a high school diploma are primarily limited to earlier entry as well as a minimization of education expenses.
Associate's Degree Overview
Associate's degrees are 2-year programs designed to lead into particular careers or a four-year program of study. They include some general education as well as dedicated training in a particular field, such as computers, healthcare, or transportation. Unemployment rates for individuals who hold an associate's degree was 2.8% in 2018, according to the BLS.
Associate's degrees are well suited for those who have a particular field or industry in mind and want to get their careers started as soon as possible. The programs are relatively brief compared to other degree programs, keeping expenses low, and certain occupations, such as nursing, pay quite well in relation to the time investment.
Bachelor's Degree Overview
Bachelor's degrees take four years to earn. These programs consist of a significant amount of general education and training in a major area of study, as well as possible minors. Fields that typically require bachelor's degrees and are expected to experience job growth include business, information technology, healthcare, and engineering. The unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelor's degree was 2.2% in 2018.
Individuals with bachelor's degrees may find themselves suited for a variety of careers, even outside the area of their major, as businesses might respect the dedication required to earn a degree. Standard four-year bachelor's degree programs can be expensive; however, the impact in earnings could more than pay for itself over a lifetime.
Graduate Degree Overviews
Master's degrees and doctorates fall into the category of graduate degrees, which require a student to have earned a bachelor's degree first. These degree programs focus on advanced studies, with master's degrees and professional doctorates associated with the wider working world. Other doctorates, such as Ph.D.s, are more closely aligned with academic, research-based careers. Fields where graduate degrees can be beneficial include medicine, law, education, and science. The unemployment rate was 2.1% for individuals with master's degrees, 1.6% for doctorates, and 1.5% for professional degrees in 2018.
Graduate degrees are highly specialized and usually lead to a very particular career, such as a Doctor of Medicine leading to a career as a physician. Graduate degrees of any variety require extensive time spent in school, anywhere from 5 to 10 years total, and tuition costs can be quite high. Even being admitted to these programs can be difficult, as competition is intense. However, individuals holding graduate degrees are well-compensated, and a number of careers are strictly limited to those who've obtained these higher-level degrees.