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Learn More, Earn More

Understand how education increases earning potential

2012 Median U.S. Earnings by Educational Attainment
(for workers age 25 and older)

Earnings by Educational Attainment

What's the best way to improve your future earnings? Many people believe the answer lies in getting a college education.

Others point to the exceptional cases of wealthy businesspeople who dropped out of college as strong counter-examples. But the thing about exceptional cases is that they're just that: exceptions.

On average, people who go to college earn more than those who don't.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly income for someone with a bachelor's degree is $55,432, while for those with only a high school diploma the amount is $33,904. That's a difference of $21,528! In fact, the greater level of education people complete, the more likely they are to earn more money. Each level of educational achievement provides a boost in earning power — from no high school diploma all the way through a professional degree such as a master's of business administration (M.B.A.), medical doctor (M.D.), or juris doctor (J.D.). The median income for this last group — those with professional degrees — is $90,220!

The difference in the salary earned by higher-educated workers compounds over a lifetime. The estimated earnings during the worklife (approximately 40 years) of a full-time worker who didn't complete high school are about $1 million dollars. Completing high school increases earnings by about a third of a million dollars, and completing a bachelor's degree raises worklife earnings to about $2.2 million.

Finally, people with less education often have fewer choices in life and are more likely to depend on government services than the rest of the population: 12.4 percent of high school dropouts were unemployed in 2012 — versus 4.5 percent of college graduates.