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How Much is a Graduate Degree Worth? Depends Upon the Major!

Dear Commons Community,

The Daily Finance reviews a forthcoming article in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics that outlines the dangers of starting a career during an economic downturn.

“For most people, the best move is to delay entry into the job market until the economy is stronger and workers are in higher demand. And when it comes to orchestrating that delay, few methods are better than graduate school: Not only does an advanced degree improve employability, but it can also have a huge effect on earnings. In fact, the median salary for someone with an advanced degree is $73,738 — over $13,000 more than the average salary for someone with only a bachelor’s degree.”

Based on an analysis of Census data, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce determined that the payoff from a graduate degree can vary wildly, from a 1% salary bump to a 190% wage explosion. The article provides the following summary on specific degree areas:

“On the low end of the scale, the worst graduate major for salary improvement is meteorology, which only improved wage prospects by 1%. Only marginally better were studio arts (3%), petroleum engineering (7%), oceanography (11%), mass media (11%), advertising/public relations (12%), pharmaceutical sciences (13%), forestry (15%), computer engineering (16%), and miscellaneous education (16%). The reasons for the low salary bumps varied: In some majors, such as petroleum engineering and computer engineering, workers with bachelor’s degrees already earn high salaries, which aren’t much improved with higher degrees. In others, such as studio arts and mass media, the job market is weak regardless of how much education one has.

On the happier end of the spectrum, some graduate degrees can vastly improve your earnings. The big winners are health and medical preparatory programs, from which graduate or professional degrees can increase salary by 190%. Similarly, social sciences (134%), zoology (123%), molecular biology (115%), public policy (107%), biology (106%), biochemical sciences (101%), chemistry (93%), pre-law (81%) and physiology (78%) majors can all expect to get a major dividend from pursuing graduate or professional degrees.”

The bottom line is that during an economic downturn it is a good idea to enroll in a graduate program and improve one’s skills and credentials but understand that not all degrees/majors are created equal.

Tony

 

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