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Even though getting a college degree is expensive, the economic returns are worth it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degree holders earn about 40 percent more a week than those with just a high school diploma. And that gap only widens with time. A report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that those with a bachelor’s degree earn a median of 75 percent more throughout their careers than high school graduates.
However, not all careers are equally profitable. That’s why it’s important to evaluate the salary and career prospects for your major of choice before you enroll. This, in turn, will give you a better idea of how much you can afford to borrow to pay for school, among other things.
Average college graduate salaries
- The average college graduate starting salary is around $55,260.
- Computer science majors have the highest projected average salary for 2022, making an average of $75,900.
- Engineering majors have the second-highest projected salary for 2022, with an average of $73,922.
- Humanities majors have the lowest projected average salary for 2022, making an average of $50,681.
- Employers are projected to hire 14.7 percent more class of 2023 graduates than 2022’s grads.
- Roughly half of all surveyed employers in the U.S. think that the job market for the class of 2023 is going to be very good to excellent.
- The unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders is 3.5 percent. By contrast, the unemployment rate for high school graduates is 6.2 percent.
- The average bachelor’s degree graduate leaves school with $27,800 in student loans.
- Throughout their careers, bachelor’s degree holders earn a median of $2.8 million, while high school graduates earn $1.6 million — a 75 percent difference.
- The wage gap between high school graduates and college graduates only widens with more advanced degrees. On average, master’s degree holders earn about 49 percent more per week than those with a high school diploma, while those with a doctorate earn 58 percent more.
Average salary in the U.S.
- The median weekly earnings of full-time workers in the U.S. is $1,070 — a 6.9 percent increase from 2021.
- Based on median weekly earnings, the average full-time worker in the U.S. makes $55,640 a year.
- Among the major racial and ethnic groups, Asians came out as the top earners, with median weekly earnings of $1,442. White workers came in second, with median weekly earnings of $1,101.
- Black workers’ average median weekly earnings is $881.
- Hispanics earned the lowest wages amongst all racial and ethnic groups, with median weekly earnings of $861.
- Women earn 17 percent less than men, with median weekly earnings of $971.
- Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming reported median salary increases of over 9 percent compared to last year.
- California and Washington are the states where salaries have grown the least in the last year, with a median growth of 1 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.
- Among age groups, men between the ages 35 to 64 and women between the ages of 35 and 54 are the highest earners.
- Among occupations, those working full-time in management are the highest earners, while those in the service industry earn the least.
Average salary by education level
Careers that call for higher skill and education levels pay significantly more than jobs that do not require advanced degrees. For instance, the median annual wage for all occupations in the U.S. was $54,964 in 2021, while median annual wage for occupations that require a bachelor’s degree was $69,368.
The table below shows the most recent data on median earnings by educational attainment to illustrate the difference.
|Education level||Median weekly earnings||Median annual salary|
|Some college, no degree||$899||$46,748|
|High school diploma, no college||$809||$42,068|
|Less than a high school diploma||$626||$32,552|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average salary by college degree
The major you choose to pursue has a big impact on your potential salary. In general, the more specialized a major, the higher salary potential it has in the job market. STEM majors also tend to earn more than fine arts and humanities majors, commanding six-figure salaries in many cases.
Degrees with highest average salaries
|College degree||Average salary|
|Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration||$101,000|
|Naval architecture and marine engineering||$100,000|
Degrees with lowest average salaries
|College degree||Average salary|
|Theology and religious vocations||$40,000|
|Human services and community organization||$40,000|
|Cosmetology services and culinary arts||$40,000|
|Miscellaneous fine arts||$38,000|
|Visual and performing arts||$35,500|
Average salary by age
In general, salary increases with age and experience. Median salaries tend to rise until age 54, at which point they start to drop.
|Age||Median annual salary|
|16 to 19||$31,668|
|20 to 24||$36,712|
|25 to 34||$52,156|
|35 to 44||$62,244|
|45 to 54||$63,648|
|55 to 64||$60,944|
|65 and older||$51,532|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average salary by gender
Female graduates, on average, earn less than their male counterparts. There’s a difference of $11,820 for associate degree graduates, $10,980 for bachelor’s degree graduates and $13,130 for graduates with a master’s degree or higher.
|Gender||Associate degree median annual earnings||Bachelor’s degree median annual earnings||Master’s degree or higher median annual earnings|
|Male (age 25 to 34)||$50,000||$64,730||$77,770|
|Female (age 25 to 34)||$38,180||$53,750||$64,640|
Average salary by race and ethnicity
Racial salary disparities have also persisted in the U.S. economy. White and Asian workers earn significantly more than Black and Hispanic workers at all levels of education.
The gap is particularly large for workers with a master’s degree or higher: Asian workers earn a median income of $84,790, while Black workers earn a median of just $53,340.
|Race/ethnicity||Associate degree median annual earnings||Bachelor’s degree median annual earnings||Master’s degree or higher median annual earnings|
|Asian (age 25 to 34)||$50,840||$69,490||$84,780|
|Black (age 25 to 34)||$34,930||$50,030||$53,340|
|Hispanic (age 25 to 34)||$40,500||$49,910||$59,230|
|White (age 25 to 34)||$45,000||$59,970||$69,660|
|Two or more races (age 25 to 34)||$39,610||$49,250||$59,240|
The median weekly salary of full-time workers in the U.S. is $1,070, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means the average full-time worker in the U.S. earns about $55,640 a year.
The average starting salary of a college graduate is around $55,260 a year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That said, this number varies greatly depending on your major. For instance, computer science majors are amongst the highest paid, with a starting salary of $75,900 a year, while humanities majors earn around $50,681.
Resources for college students
Paying for a college education can be a tall order, but the returns are well worth it. If you’re looking to save money on your education, try applying for as many scholarships and grants as possible. Both of these are a form of gift aid, meaning you don’t have to pay them back.
When it comes to borrowing, federal student loans should always be your first option. They don’t require a credit check to qualify and almost anyone in good academic standing is eligible for them. Besides that, federal student loans offer access to income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs that private student loans lack.
If after exhausting all of the above, you still come up short, private student loans could be a good option to explore. Most private lenders require excellent credit and a source of stable income to qualify. However, certain lenders can still offer you a private student loan, even with less-than-stellar credit. If after comparing lenders, you still can’t get the lowest rate, don’t fret. You can always refinance your private student loans later to secure a better rate.
Writer Cynthia Widmayer contributed to a previous version of this article.