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Higher Education Doesn’t Guarantee Higher Lifetime Earnings


August 5, 2011
by Suada Kolovic
Pop quiz: What level of higher education earns the most money over a lifetime? (A) a bachelor’s degree, (B) a master’s degree or (C) a doctoral degree? It seems the obvious answer would be the doctoral degree but according to a recent study, the gap is rapidly closing.

Pop quiz: What level of higher education earns the most money over a lifetime? (A) a bachelor’s degree, (B) a master’s degree or (C) a doctoral degree? It seems the obvious answer would be the doctoral degree but according to a recent study, the gap is rapidly closing.

The College Payoff, a report published by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, revealed that those holding bachelor’s degrees earn about $2.27 million over their lifetime, while those with master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees earn $2.67 million, $3.25 million and $3.65 million, respectively. "It's still true that, on average, it's better to get the higher degree; it's better to keep climbing—but it's less and less true," says the center's director, Anthony Carnevale. That being said, the major and industry a student selects is precisely what determines lifetime earnings: Those who pursue bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will earn more, on average, than those with advanced degrees of any level who work in fields like education, sales and community service.

If you’re wondering whether or not earning a college degree at all is worth it, it definitely is. Those with bachelor’s degrees, in any field, will earn vastly more than their counterparts with some college ($1.55 million in a lifetime) or a high school diploma ($1.30 million), indicating that earning a four-year degree is essential to financial success later in life. What do you think of the study’s findings? Are you less likely to pursue a higher degree if the payout is minimal? Weigh in here or via our Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship.

Just because there are millions of college scholarships out there doesn’t mean you have time to go searching, and many won’t even match your profile. We’ve done the work and Scholarships.com is totally free. We have the search algorithms and scholarships database, saving you time in searching, finding and applying to thousands of dollars in college scholarships. Get instantly matched to scholarships that meet your unique talents, skillset and strengths, only those you qualify for. Access a complete list of college scholarships now by conducting a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com.

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