We all know that it’s hard to become a high-earner in this country without a college degree. This can make it hard to save for retirement or meet other financial goals. Access to the middle class is increasingly reserved for those with some higher education under their belts. Let’s take a closer look at the average salary by education level to see what dividends education pays. Consider working with a financial advisor as you plan how to fund college or vocational training.
According to 2022 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 91.1% of Americans had at least a high school diploma or GED in 2021, and 23.5% had a bachelor’s or more. An advanced degree, such as a master’s or professional degree or a doctorate, was held by 14.4%. To see what a difference education makes, check out the average salary by education level.
The Average Salary With Less Than a High School Diploma
Workers with less than a high school diploma are the lowest earners on average when you examine the average salary by education level. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median weekly earnings in 2020 for those with less than a high school degree was $619. That works out to $32,188 per year, assuming a year of constant earning. The unemployment rate in February 2022 for Americans with less than a high school diploma was 6.6%, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.
The Average Salary With a High School Diploma
Earnings are higher for those with a high school diploma. Median weekly earnings for workers with a high school diploma but no college was $781. That works out to $40,612 per year. The unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma is 7.1%.
The Average Salary With Some College, No Degree
Having some college credits but no degree still improves your earnings over having just a high school diploma. The average salary of someone with some college and no degree is $877 per week or $45,604 per year. The unemployment rate for people in this category is 5.4%. The problem for many people in the some-college-no-degree category is that they have student debt from their college days but lack the degree that would bump them into a higher earning category that could help them get out of debt.
The Average Salary With an Associate’s Degree
Having an associate’s degree gives you an edge over someone with no degree, but lower average earnings than someone with a bachelor’s degree. Median weekly earnings for workers with an associate’s degree are $938, for an annualized salary of $48,776. The unemployment rate in this category is 3.8%, which is lower than the average across all educational attainment levels (4.8%).
The Average Salary With a Bachelor’s Degree
Americans with a bachelor’s degree earn a weekly average of $1,305. Average earnings for workers with bachelor’s degrees work out to $67,860 per year. The unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor’s degree is 2.3%.
The Average Salary With a Master’s Degree
Median earnings for holders of master’s degrees are $1,545 per week, $80,340 per year. The unemployment rate for workers with master’s degrees is 1.1%. The number of Americans with a master’s degree has been steadily rising. In part, that’s because of the “wage premium” that comes with a master’s degree. That wage premium is the extra money that those with a master’s degree have relative to those who only have a bachelor’s degree.
The Average Salary With a Professional Degree
Workers with a professional degree earn a median weekly salary of $1,893, the highest weekly earnings of any of the educational categories. That works out to $98,436 per year. The unemployment rate for holders of professional degrees is the lowest on our list, at 0.1%.
The Average Salary With a Doctorate
You might think that Americans with a doctorate would earn more than those with a professional degree, but in fact they earn less. Median weekly earnings for workers with doctorates are $1,885. Annualized, that’s $98,020. The unemployment rate for Americans with doctorates is 0.2%.
Looking at the average salary by education level can be illuminating, but keep in mind that salary isn’t everything. Even people with high salaries may live beyond their means and end up with less retirement income than they need to be comfortable. And if your salary isn’t as high as the average in your educational cohort, there’s no need to panic. These averages are for all full-time workers over 25, so if you’re still in the earlier stage of your career keep in mind that the BLS averages are counting more senior workers, too.
Tips on Education
- If you want help getting your finances on track or meeting your goals, a financial advisor can help. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Deciding how to pay for college is no easy task but fortunately, there are multiple ways to approach it. Besides these ideas, other options for paying for college include getting a part-time job or starting a side hustle if you’re a student.
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