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College Choice and Your Earning Potential: What You Need to Know

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Here is a reality check. According to recent figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with a high school diploma earn, on average, $678 per week. An associate’s degree raises that figure to $798. However, a bachelor’s degree makes a significant difference, with an average weekly salary of $1,137.

These differences add up, and not just in the short-term. Over the course of a lifetime, it is estimated that the average high school graduate earns about $1.3 million. A person with a bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, has lifetime earnings of about $2.3 million. Thus, it can be said that the level of education you choose has a significant impact on your earning potential over the course of a lifetime.

Does College Choice Make a Difference?

Does this mean that merely choosing to attend college will guarantee success? No, it does not. However, the odds are more in your favor the more education you bring to the table in the workplace.

This leads to another question, however. Does it matter which college you attend? The answer to that question is a little less clear cut, mainly because there is a wide variety in outcomes based on your particular field of study.

Thus, in order to answer this question, you need to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges. To do this, you must pick a certain field of study and compare the outcomes of graduates of different universities who all majored in the chosen field.

When you do that, the answer becomes a bit clearer. For instance, Paysa closely watches the career and salary trajectory of STEM students over time. What did Paysa find about earning potential for these students? Paysa compiled a list of the top 10 universities in terms of earning potential two years after graduation. Take a look at the three charts below.

The first chart represents the average salary for graduates of Auburn University in Auburn, AL, which currently holds the top spot for earnings two years post-graduation. Students there average a base salary of $121k, and a market salary of $186k.

Notice, however, the difference between the earning potential for graduates of Auburn University and Harvard University, ranked as number five on the list of top ten universities for STEM graduates. Harvard graduates have a base salary of $109k, and a market salary of $142k.

Now look at the university holding the number ten rank, Yale University. Yale STEM graduates average a base salary of $105k, and a market salary of $134k.

Looking at the big picture, then, the difference just in the top ten universities is marked, with graduates of the top-ranked Auburn averaging $21,000 more in base salary and a whopping $52,000 more in market salary.

The takeaway? The college you choose does affect your earning potential over time. To see how your school stacks up, you can use tools such as the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard Data or information from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).

Majors Matter

However, it is not just your choice of college that affects your future earning potential. Your field of study is also important. When asked if choice of school was the most important factor in future earning potential, CEW director Anthony Carnevale observed: “It’s not so much the college that matters, it’s what you take. What is most startling is the difference by field of study. If you go to college you will make, on average, $1 million more over your lifetime than someone who graduated from high school. But if you were someone with a degree in (energy based) engineering, you would get $5 million more. In the end, the way you decide is by using data on programs in conjunction with data on schools.”

The Bottom Line

When choosing which college to attend, there are multiple factors to consider. You must take into account the cost of attendance, the major you intend to pursue, and the future earning potential each college affords to you. To do this, it is important to use all available tools to help you make a sound decision.

Paysa, for instance, is a tool which can be personalized to provide you with information concerning educational requirements, skill prerequisites, and salary information for tech careers with major tech companies. Using tools such as Paysa and College Scorecard Data give you the best chance of making wise decisions now which will impact your earning potential for years to come.