Not all careers warrant a graduate degree, but for each of the professions on this list, those with graduate degrees earn at least $800,000 more than their counterparts who have only a bachelor’s degree.
As difficult as it is for many students to justify forking over the money for a college education given rising tuition costs and the difficult job market, it can be even harder to justify footing the bill for graduate school when your student loans from your undergraduate days still need to be paid. However, one new report shows that investing in a graduate-level education more than pays for itself in many professions, though certainly not all. Those who get a master’s degree earn an estimated $2.67 million over the course of their careers, roughly $400,000 more than the median lifetime earnings one gets with a bachelor’s degree, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Doctoral and professional degrees lead to even greater lifetime earnings of $3.25 million and $3.65 million respectively, or at least $1 million more than one makes with just a bachelor’s. In several professions though, the lifetime earnings difference between a bachelor’s degree and these higher-level degrees is minimal if not non-existent. Real estate brokers, for example, earn $1.5 million in their careers whether they have a bachelor’s degree or a graduate-level education, and editors who have a master’s, doctorate or professional degree earn $100,000 less over the course of their lifetimes than those who have a bachelor’s. “For a lot of occupations, the bachelor’s degree is really the end of the line,” said Anthony Carnevale, the lead researcher on the report, who notes that some occupations in industries like publishing and real estate among others do not pay a premium for graduate-level education. “The journalism profession especially is unique in this sense. … There was no tradition of going to journalism school until a few decades ago, so you have lots of people who move into journalism from a variety of different on-ramps.” The Georgetown researchers used median wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to extrapolate lifetime earnings by occupation, as well as education level, gender and ethnicity, based on the assumption that employees in each profession work full-time from the age of 25 to 64. While actual employee earnings may differ somewhat from these estimates due to variations in the number of hours and years worked, the numbers nonetheless provide a valuable reference point for those trying to determine how much education they need. “You may decide you want to get a master’s degree in home decorating just because you are interested in that subject at the moment, but you should know how it does in the labor market because you should be able to generate an income stream that supports the loans you’ll take out for that degree,” Carnevale said. MainStreet combed through the data to find the 10 professions where workers receive the biggest lifetime earnings bump by going to graduate school compared to what they would have made if they stopped with a bachelor's. That means certain professions, many medical occupations in particular, won't be represented on this list since workers rarely if ever enter into the field with anything less than a graduate degree, meaning there isn't enough data to compare what their earnings would be without. Also, as an important note, the graduate earnings listed here include anyone who earns a master’s, doctorate and/or a professional degree, each of which may have different costs attached. Wherever possible, we have included the most common graduate degrees associated with the profession but ultimately each of the jobs on this list earn more than three quarters of a million dollars extra over the course of a career, making the investment in those programs definitely worthwhile. Photo Credit: David Michael Morris