Undergraduate Degree Vs. Graduate Degree: Income and Salary Comparison

Undergraduate and graduate degrees are looked at differently depending on the subject in which the degree is earned. This article details undergraduate and graduate degrees and compares the salary and income graduates may earn with each.

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Undergraduate Degrees: Overview

Undergraduate degrees are either 2-year or 4-year degrees which may be earned at universities, community or junior colleges or trade schools across the country. A 2-year degree is often referred to as an associate's degree and a 4-year degree is often referred to as a bachelor's degree. Each of these degrees allows graduates to pursue different levels of employment.

Associate's Degree

An associate's degree takes two years to complete and is often earned to work in a low-level business job, to further education at a 4-year university or work in a professional trade. Associate's degrees can be earned in subjects like English, math, science, accounting, paralegal studies, management and criminal justice. Coursework, unlike certificate programs, often requires students to take general education classes in addition to those in the subject in which they've chosen as a major. These may include writing, math and history, depending on the subject matter.

Bachelor's Degree

This degree is often considered both the standard and most common in the United States. Many jobs, especially in white-collar industries, require a bachelor's degree. Many of these jobs are associate and executive level jobs within the business world. Students earning their bachelor's degree, like those earning their associate's degree, must choose a subject major. This major is often a subject within one of the university's or college's larger schools, such as arts and science, engineering or business.

Graduate Degrees: Overview

A graduate degree can be earned after a bachelor's degree is completed. Students often seek to earn their degree within the subject they've earned their bachelor's degree or an offshoot of that subject. Some students choose an entirely new subject in which to earn their degree, which often takes independent study and testing after school.

Master's Degree

A master's degree program generally takes two years of work. Students earning this degree take virtually all their classes within the subject they've chosen. There are several types of master's degrees one can earn, including a Master of Art, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Business Administration and Master of Science. Students earn master's degrees in order to improve their career prospects or to further their education in a subject in which they are passionate.

Doctoral Degree

Students may earn their Doctor of Philosophy degree, which is often a research-based degree, in order to conduct research and work for a university as a professor. Other doctoral degrees may be required in order to become a physician or to work in another medical-based profession. These degrees often take four or more years to complete and requirements vary by the type of degree.

Undergraduate vs. Graduate Degree Salary

Salaries for graduates of different degrees often vary by the subject rather than degree earned. For instance, according to August 2014 data from PayScale.com, a graduate of a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering may earn a median salary of $75,384 while a graduate of a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design program may earn between $35,608-$71,216 per year (10th to 90th percentile) as a graphic designer or $52,500-$79,000 as an art director.

In general, however, graduates of master's degree earn more than those without degrees in their specific fields. Master's degrees allow graduates to work as an assistant professor at a community college within the subject in which they've received their degrees. In many positions that require advanced degrees, graduates may see an instant bump in salary and career opportunities upon graduation.

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