Depending on the school, area of study and other factors, a graduate degree could cost anywhere between $30,000 and $120,000, according to the Education Data Initiative. And that’s after the cost of a bachelor’s. Amid the high expenses of education and ever-changing job markets, it’s important to weigh the opportunity costs of a graduate degree with the additional earning potential. And as it turns out, the additional earning potential of a graduate degree varies widely depending on the location.
To help people across the U.S. determine how much value a graduate or professional degree could add to their financial lives, SmartAsset ranked 281 metro areas based on the added annual income that someone could expect with a graduate degree when compared with having only a bachelor’s degree.
Top 10 Biggest Income Boosts With a Graduate Degree
1. San Jose, CA
There are 362,422 graduate degree holders in the San Jose metro area, representing 26.3% of the population aged 25 and older. People with graduate or professional degrees here also net the highest average annual income of all metro areas – $150,281. This is $48,067 more per year than workers with just a bachelor’s degree.
2. Huntsville, AL
Those with a graduate or professional degree made an average of $98,616 per year, which is $36,139 more than what a worker with a bachelor’s degree earns. Roughly 17.7% of adults here have this level of education (61,687 people).
3. Trenton-Princeton, NJ
Just over one in five people in the Trenton-Princeton metro have a graduate degree. This cohort averages an annual wage of $102,967, fifth-highest studywide. A graduate degree will earn residents here an average of $35,646 more than those with only a bachelor’s degree.
4. St. George, UT
St. George has the lowest average annual income for workers with graduate degrees in the top 10 ($73,872). This is nearly 84% higher than the income of someone with just an undergraduate degree. Roughly 17,500 people in this metro have a graduate or professional degree, or 14% of the adult population.
5. Merced, CA
A graduate degree earns workers in the Merced metro an additional $32,731, for an average annual income of $94,532. However, only 4.8% of the adult population here falls into this category – the second-lowest studywide.
6. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA
San Francisco metro area residents earn the second-most of those with higher degrees at $120,480 per year. This is $31,449 more than those with a bachelor’s degree. Over three quarters of a million residents have a graduate or professional degree here, which is 22.4% of the adult population.
7. Provo-Orem, UT
Workers with a graduate degree make almost 60% more per year than those with a bachelor’s here: $82,607 vs. $51,825. Roughly 14.2% of the adult population is a part of this group, or 50,950 people.
8. Visalia, CA
The Visalia metro area has nearly 18,000 residents with graduate or professional degrees – only 6.3% of adults. Even so, workers with graduate degrees earn just about $93,000 annually, or $30,000 more per year than residents with just a bachelor’s degree.
9. Salinas, CA
Workers with graduate degrees in Salinas earn a comparable salary with those in Visalia, averaging $91,160. This is $29,056 more than what a worker with a bachelor’s makes. Roughly 12% of the adult population holds a graduate degree.
10. Fresno, CA
With a graduate or professional degree in the Fresno metro, workers earn an average of $28,853 more per year than someone with only a bachelor’s degree for a total of $86,422. Over 50,000 people chose this path, or about 8.3% of adults.
Data and Methodology
Data comes from the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau 1-Year ACS S1501. This study considered 281 metro areas in which the population aged 25 and older totaled 100,000 or more.
The median income for the population 25 and older with a graduate or professional degree was compared to the median income for the same population with a bachelor’s degree only to determine which metro areas had the highest nominal returns on the investment in a graduate degree.
Financial Tips for Graduates
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