Salaries vs. Education: Costs of 50 Common U.S. Jobs

Written by Carly Hallman

Does education make a difference in salary? People have been preaching “the more you learn, the more you earn” for decades, but does that theory still prove true in 2020? We’ve done a short college tuition vs. income comparison to see how the salaries of 50 common American jobs fare against each other. For each job, we’ve shown a cost-of-education and salary comparison, revealing how much one would need to invest in order to make a good annual income. Whether you’d like to find your own job or are considering your education options, check out our degree/salary comparison chart for common jobs in the U.S.

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How Much More Money Does a College Graduate Earn?

While the median income for those with a high school diploma is $730 per week, the median earnings for those with an associate degree are $862 per week, and those with a bachelor’s degree earn $1,198 per week. Your typical four-year college graduate earns an average of $468 more every week than someone without any college.

Those with college degrees are also more likely to be employed, with the unemployment rate for those without a degree spiking to 4.1% and the rate for those with a bachelor’s being as low as 2.2%.

The most stunning differences in the college-vs.-work comparison happen across one’s lifetime. College graduates typically earn about $1 million more than high school grads over their lifetimes and are 177 times more likely to earn more than $4 million over their lifetimes.

Does College Pay Off?

Though many people have been panicking over the spike in tuition costs, the cost of not going to college is still much higher than going, with some exceptions.

The average bachelor’s degree grad has about $25,000 in student debt and typically owes somewhere between $200 and $300 per month. Even accounting for that, when you look at averages, the person with a bachelor’s degree is still, in theory, making more than $1,500 more per month than a person with just a high school diploma.

In practice, it’s a little bit more complicated, as the first ten years or so are often especially difficult due to the combination of higher student loan interest rates and low entry-level salaries. Often, college-educated individuals will see the biggest jump in earnings between the ages of 30 and 39; that’s usually when graduates outperform those without a college degree. The salary vs. high school graduates’ low debt may not completely even out until much later, however, as the average repayment period for those with student loans between $20,000 and $40,000 is 20 years.

Why Do People Perceive a Low Value of College Education?

High interest rates and long repayment periods often make people panic, but there is no investment without risk. These risks have caused people to ask the question, “Does it pay to go to college?” The true answer is typically yes, by far, but not always.

For instance, 14.3% of people with only a high school diploma make more than those with a bachelor’s. Experts tell us that about 33% of college graduates are underemployed. For instance, 4% of all retail salespersons, a job that typically only pays between $20,000 and $30,000, have a master’s degree; 22% of them have a bachelor’s.

This doesn’t make the data, which is overwhelmingly pro-college, untrue. It just makes the widespread assumption of “higher education, higher salary” more of a theory that has several exceptions. Is it worth it to $25,000 on a degree that has a fairly low chance of not helping on a career path? It’s important to consider one’s education and future income carefully.

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