Will an Online Degree Help My Career?

graphsmall.jpgSchool is anything but free, and going back to advance your education is a serious decision to make. Many professionals wonder if earning an extra degree will really pay off in their career, and if it makes sense from a return-on-investment point of view.

Considering Return on Investment

Lucky for you, there is hard data on what impact a higher degree can have on one's career. The U.S. Census Bureau has tracked education and career salaries for nearly 40 years, and has developed a pretty solid understanding of the relationship between degrees and earnings. To put it bluntly, over the course of a lifetime, earning a higher degree always pays off (noting that the doctoral degree should be viewed as an alternative to a professional degree rather than a step up).

  • For full-time workers, the average yearly earnings look like this:
    • high school graduates- $30,400;
    • some college- $36,800;
    • associate's degree- $38,200;
    • bachelor's degree- $52,200;
    • master's degree- $62,300;
    • professional degree- $109,600;
    • doctoral degree- $89,400.

While the differences in earnings between some of the degrees may not look that significant, over the course of a lifetime, this increase in earnings can really add up.

  • Over the course of ages 25-65, full-time workers earn this much on average (in millions):
    • associate's degree- $1.6;
    • bachelor's degree- $2.1;
    • master's degree- $2.5;
    • professional degree- $4.4;
    • doctoral degree $3.4.
    This means that earning a bachelor's degree rather than an associate's would net you about $500,000 extra dollars over the course of a lifetime; those with master's degrees earn about $400,000 more than those with bachelor's degrees. This is significantly higher than the cost of tuition at any degree program. (U.S. Census)

Considering Your Profession & Personal Career Goals

As you can see, on average, it certainly pays to earn a higher degree. However, to get a better sense of how a higher degree will affect your particular career, you'll have to consider your own profession and the relevant degrees.

  • Some degrees, such as master's degrees in engineering, life sciences, or business, are considered "no-brainers" by those studying demographic trends right now. Employers value these degrees, and professionals with these degrees should have great employment prospects and high initial salaries.
  • Other careers, such as social work, require a higher degree for professional advancement, even though the lifetime earnings increase isn't as dramatic, due to the low starting salary in the profession. Consider how necessary a higher degree is for climbing the ladder in your career, before you enroll in a degree program. (NYTimes)