The Difference in Salary for a Degree and a Diploma


Higher education offers many benefits. If you are seeking ways to boost your earning potential, an advanced degree can help. However, there are many factors to consider when pursuing a degree for the sake of increasing your salary. The difference between salary for someone with a college degree versus just a high school diploma varies by profession.

Types of Degrees

The impact of your degree on your salary depends on the type of degree you are pursuing. Advanced degrees generally have a greater impact on your salary than a standard degree program. For example, pursuing a master’s degree may lead to higher salary jobs than an associate degree. Also, specialized degree programs such as a juris doctorate, or J.D., can lead to a career in a high-salary profession. Juris doctorates are reserved for students who study law. The advanced degree you pursue should be linked to the career you choose to pursue if you want to increase your chances of improving your salary potential.

Salary Implications

The career you choose may not reward graduates with higher salaries due to the nature of the position. For example, you may earn a higher salary as an engineer with an advanced degree than you would as a florist with an advanced degree. As of 2011, notes that the starting salary of a petroleum engineer out of college is $93,000, whereas a special education instructor may earn as little as $34,400. Compare the salaries of non-degree holders and advanced-degree holders in your profession to determine the impact a degree might have on your salary.

Benefits of a Degree

Ending your education with a high school diploma has significant salary disadvantages. In the professional world, earning a college degree generally means receiving a higher salary. Pursuing a degree helps set you apart from the competition. MSN Money notes that employees with a high school diploma earn an average starting salary of $15,901 after taxes and a maximum of $32,538 throughout their career. With fewer candidates demonstrating a commitment to higher education, employers have the opportunity to select the candidate who requires the least on-the-job training and education.

Costly Window of Opportunity

Pursuing a degree is a major financial decision. Not only can pursuing a degree increase your earning potential, but it can cost you significantly to open this door of opportunity. The cost of higher education consistently rises annually, forcing many Americans to rely on financial aid to cover their expenses. If increasing your salary means getting into debt, you may want to postpone your pursuit of a degree until you have substantial savings to offset your education costs. By researching your income-earning potential in advance of getting a degree, you can determine whether it is worth the additional expense.

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