How Much More Money Do College Grads Make?

By far, one of the biggest advantages to going to college is that you’ll be qualified for more high-paying jobs in most fields. While this doesn’t always hold true, college grads do, on average, make a lot more money than workers who just have a high school diploma. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual salary average differences between educational levels is staggering:

  • High school drop outs: $18,734
  • High school graduates: $27,915
  • College grads (with a bachelor’s degree): $51,206
  • Advanced degree holders: $74,602

That means, over the course or working 40 years, someone with a high school diploma will make $1,116,600 while someone with a bachelor’s degree will make $2,048,204. That’s nearly a million dollars more! Keep in mind also that these statistics are as of 2004. Newer studies are showing even larger gaps, encouraging students even more to go to college.

The job market is only getting more competitive, too. According to 2004 statistics, four states (Massachusetts, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Maryland) and the District of Columbia all have populations (25+ years old) where at least 35% went to college and attained a bachelor’s degree. Of those people 25 and older, 29.4 percent of men and 26.1 percent of women nationally have bachelor’s degrees (or better). However, take into account that these statistics include generations that didn’t necessarily have college opportunity like are available today. Recent reports show that over 68% of all high school graduations in 2008 were enrolled in college by October of that year. In other words, people who don’t have a degree are going to find it increasingly harder to get a job.

It isn’t just about skill level or talent, after all. Having a degree tells employers not just that you are prepared for the job education-wise, but also that…

  • …you’re independent and ready to make decisions on your own
  • …you know how to deal with stress
  • …you can make responsible choices about your life and work
  • …you have experiences outside of just education that you can bring to the table
  • …you’re used to working in diverse groups

College presents you with challenges that you don’t find in high school, and gives you independence and opportunities that you wouldn’t get any other way. Employers value that, knowing that the more diverse and talented people they have on staff, the better their business will be overall. So, even if you have experience in your field, you might be passed up for a job promotion or not get a job interview just because you don’t have a degree. It’s about more than just skill.

As a college student, however, there are things you can do to make yourself more attractive as a job candidate. Even with a degree, the job market is competitive. Here’s how to shine above the other candidates:

  • Take advantage of your school’s career services to help you prepare the best resume possible.
  • Study abroad and know at least one other language fluently.
  • Join volunteer organizations and attend community events.
  • Network with alumni who can recommend you for positions.
  • Participate in the honor’s program at your school.
  • Keep your GPA above a 3.o and set your goal at 3.5 or higher.
  • Work on campus in your department.
  • Join your department’s club and other organizations on campus.

Make your college degree work for you! Here are some more great tips for getting the most out of college financially.


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