But according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey, at the national level, the median salary for workers who attained a professional degree, graduate degree, or higher (such as a Ph.D., MD, or MBA) was $69,240 (inflation-adjusted to 2017 dollars). That’s 32.14 percent more than those who earned just a bachelor’s degree.
However, finding graduate degrees that pay off also can depend on where you live. A new Student Loan Hero study revealed the top 10 states where a graduate degree resulted in the biggest pay bumps.
If you’re thinking of going back to school to earn an additional degree, check to see if your state is on this list. If it is, going to grad school might be an especially good investment, especially if you can qualify for private student loans for grad school at an affordable interest rate.
10 states where you can find graduate degrees that pay off
In all states, earning a graduate degree raised pay by at least 21 percent.
In the following study, Student Loan Hero ranked every state and the District of Columbia by the difference in pay between workers with a bachelor’s degree and those with a graduate degree to determine graduate degrees that pay off. We considered the raise amount both in real dollars and as a percentage pay increase.
- Median graduate degree salary: $82,299
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $24,293
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 41.88 percent
California earned the top spot by offering significantly higher pay to its workers with a graduate degree compared to those with a bachelor’s degree.
It also had the highest pay jump in dollars. The median salary for a four-year college graduate in California was $58,006. For a California resident with a graduate degree, it was $82,299.
Additionally, it was one of four states where a graduate degree netted a pay bump of more than 40 percent. That means you can find graduate degrees that pay off here.
Given California’s high cost of living (among the highest in the nation), netting a pay increase could be essential for California residents looking to get ahead financially.
- Median graduate degree salary: $81,401
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $23,914
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 41.60 percent
Virginia was one of six states where people with a graduate degree earned median wages above $80,000 a year. When that’s compared to the $57,487 median pay netted by Virginians holding a bachelor’s degree, there is a clear substantial financial benefit to continuing education.
- Median graduate degree salary: $67,575
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $20,923
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 44.85 percent
Utah offered the biggest pay raise by percentage for individuals earning a graduate degree.
What’s more, Utah also offered some of the lowest tuition prices and student debt levels for residents earning a bachelor’s degree. That likely translated to savings and low debt levels for Utah residents seeking a graduate degree.
4. District of Columbia
- Median degree salary: $88,431
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $23,945
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 37.13 percent
The District of Columbia’s median graduate degree salary was the highest of any state, which likely was a reflection of D.C.’s unique geographic and economic landscape.
Only Washington, D.C., and one other state offered median pay above $85,000 per year to workers with a graduate degree.
Washington, D.C., also boasted the second-highest dollar-for-dollar pay bump for those who earned a graduate degree.
- Median graduate degree salary: $60,922
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $18,623
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 44.03 percent
Idaho came in at No. 2 for the highest pay raise by percentage. Residents who earned a graduate degree boosted their earnings by 44.03 percent. That’s despite delivering the lowest pay for graduate degree holders among the 10 top-ranked states.
For Idaho residents with a high school diploma, earning a bachelor’s degree boosted earnings by $16,263 to $42,299 a year. However, a graduate degree came with an even bigger raise of more than $18,600 a year.
6. New Jersey
- Median graduate degree salary: $85,789
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $22,483
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 35.51 percent
New Jersey workers who earned a graduate degree commanded some of the highest pay in the nation, with median salaries second only to those in Washington, D.C.
The median salary for New Jersey residents with a graduate degree was a third higher than the $63,307 median salary for workers with a bachelor’s degree.
- Median graduate degree salary: $84,003
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $21,567
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 34.54 percent
After Washington, D.C., and New Jersey, Maryland had the third-highest median pay for workers with a graduate degree.
Graduate degrees offered a pay raise of more than a third from the $63,436 median pay for Maryland residents who held just a bachelor’s degree.
- Median graduate degree salary: $69,099
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $18,744
- Pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 37.22 percent
Earning a graduate degree led to decent returns for Michigan residents. The median pay for people with at least a graduate degree was 37.22 percent higher than the median pay for bachelor’s degree holders, which was $50,355.
Add in the state’s low cost of living (third-lowest in the nation, according to GOBankingRates), and these factors made Michigan a state where graduate degree holders got the most out of an additional diploma.
9. North Dakota
- Median graduate degree salary: $62,675
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $17,568
- Typical pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 38.95 percent
North Dakota’s workers with a graduate degree earned more than $62,500 a year — the lowest salary among the top 10 states after Idaho.
However, this salary represented a relatively large pay jump for North Dakota residents who chose to continue their education past a bachelor’s degree, boosting pay by nearly two-fifths.
- Median graduate degree salary: $73,871
- Undergraduate versus graduate degree pay difference: $19,221
- Typical pay raise for earning a graduate degree: 35.17 percent
The last state in the top 10 was Alaska, where holding a graduate degree resulted in a pay raise of just over $19,000.
The median graduate degree salary raise represented a significant increase compared to the $54,650 median annual salary for workers holding a bachelor’s degree.
Methodology: Student Loan Hero generated these rankings based on the following factors: (1) the pay difference, in dollars, between the median salary for workers with a graduate or professional degree and those with a bachelor’s degree and (2) the pay difference expressed as a percentage pay raise between those two levels of educational attainment.
These factors were equally weighted to find the states where a graduate degree resulted in the highest pay bumps in both real dollars and relative pay raises. Pay data was sourced from the Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey and represented median annual salary estimates by educational attainment. Wage estimates were adjusted for inflation to 2017 dollars, per Consumer Price Index estimates.
|Rank||State||Bachelor’s degree salary||Graduate degree salary||Dollar pay increase||Percentage pay raise|
|National – U.S.||$52,398||$69,240||$16,842||32.14%|
|4||District of Columbia||$64,486||$88,431||$23,945||37.13%|
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