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Value of a College Education

College degrees are thought to be extremely valuable. After all, if you have a degree, you’ll be able to get a better job with a higher salary. It’s true - a college education is an investment with a great return, and here’s the proof to demonstrate just how much it pays to go to school.

According to figures from the 2000 US Census, average starting salaries break down as follows for each degree level

High School Diploma   $30,400
Associate’s Degree $38,200
Bachelor’s Degree  $52,200
Master’s Degree $62,300

The differences are impressive – the average bachelor’s degree holder will make about $22,000 more than the high school graduate just in their first year of full-time professional employment. At some public colleges, it’s entirely possible to earn a four-year degree for less than $22,000, meaning the degree can pay for itself in a matter of months.

More education leads to more promotion opportunities and more salary increases, which means lifetime earnings will be higher. Someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn, on average, a million dollars more than someone with only a high school diploma. Lifetime earnings, according to the US Census, break down as follows:

High School Diploma   $1.2 million
Associate’s Degree $2.1 million
Bachelor’s Degree  $1.6 million
Master’s Degree $2.5 million

Clearly, the more education you have, the more money to be earned over a lifetime career. On average, someone with an associate’s degree will earn close to half a million more than someone with just a high school diploma, while someone with a bachelor’s degree can expect about a half million more than someone with an associate’s degree, and a million more than someone with a high school diploma. Of course, these numbers are averages, and starting salaries vary widely for different careers, but you get the idea. More education almost always equals more money. Even a two-year program can make a very significant difference in earning potential.

Consider a nursing career. A registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing degree, or BSN, commands an average starting salary of around $40,000, about $3,000 higher than the average starting salary of registered nurses with associates’ degrees in nursing (ADN). Over one’s lifetime career, the difference of just two years of education accounts for more than $250,000 in lifetime income.

Another popular degree is criminal justice. Someone who works in corrections without a college degree averages an annual salary of about $30,000. But with an associate’s degree, a corrections officer could see an average starting salary of about $45,000, a difference of more than $1.3 million in a lifetime.

Paralegals with a bachelor’s degree see an average starting salary of around $35,000, almost $10,000 higher than the average starting salary of paralegals with no formal college education. Over the course of a lifetime, that’s a difference of almost $900,000 of income.

When considering the costs of college, you are wise to consider how your degree is going to affect your earning potential. Every degree earned makes you eligible to earn more money, and while college brings with it a sizeable up-front investment, the cost of earning the degree is negligible compared to the annual salary you’ll be bringing home after you graduate.