May 19, 2021 at 1:42 pm

What a Difference a Graduate Degree Makes, Study Says

Ali Aldhumani gets hooded at graduate commencement at Ohio University 2021.

Ali Aldhumani gets his doctoral hood at graduate commencement at Ohio University 2021.

A new study from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences shows that more than half of the students with an undergraduate degree in the life and physical sciences go on to earn a graduate degree – and that advanced degree provides a significant financial boost to the earner.

While not as many humanities and social sciences majors pursue graduate degrees, those who do also experience greater earnings.

“Earning a bachelor’s degree, in any major, provides a substantial financial advantage over those who do not attain the degree,” according to a report from the academy’s Humanities Indicators that explores recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“While earning an undergraduate degree provides a substantial economic improvement, earning an additional degree provides a greater financial advantage,” according to the study.

“On average, an advanced degree provided a 37 percent boost in median earnings for all college graduates. The largest earnings gains were found among graduates from the sciences. Those with an undergraduate degree in the life sciences had an 80 percent boost in median earnings, while graduates from the physical sciences enjoyed a 49 percent increase.

“For most of the other fields, the earnings boost, though noticeably less, was still substantial – ranging from around 30 percent for graduates from the arts and engineering to around 35 percent for those in education and the humanities.”

Degree + Work Experience = Higher Earnings

The study uses age as a proxy for work experience, and found that “among older adults with just an undergraduate degree, more than one in four had annual earnings above $100,000 in 2018, attesting to the fact that every field offers a path to financial success….”

“Among those with advanced degrees in most fields, the upper earnings are even higher (with more than one in four across most fields making more than $140,000 per year). The top earnings for graduates from the life and physical sciences are particularly notable, with more than a quarter of those who have gone on to earn an advanced degree making more than $200,000 – placing them above engineering majors.”

Where Are They Working?

The report also looked at which fields those earning an advanced degree work in.

In health care, “just 13 percent of those with only an undergraduate degree in the life sciences go into health and medical jobs. But among those who earn an advanced degree in the life sciences, the share rises to 47 percent,” the study says.

Looking at who enters occupations related to law, the study found that “a negligible share of graduates with just a bachelor’s degree in the humanities and the behavioral and social sciences enter occupations related to law, but among those with an advanced degree, more than 12 percent do so.”

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