The difference in earning potential between a bachelor's degree and a master's degree isn't as profound as the difference between a high school diploma or associate to a bachelor's degree. Still, it does offer a significant boost in typical income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which may justify investing two years of time and the money for tuition.
While master's degree earners often have some professional background and expertise that contributes to higher wages, the 2012 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey shows a significant difference in starting salaries between bachelor's and master's earners. In fact, in many career areas, including business and accounting, the survey revealed that people with a master's degree start with salaries 20 percent higher than those with a bachelor's degree.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2012 reveals that median income is significantly different for employees that hold master's degrees. A bachelor's degree earned a weekly median income of $1,066, compared to $1,300 per week earned with a master's degree. This represents a nearly 23 percent increase in earning potential with a master's degree.
Income differential varies across career areas because some fields offer much greater income growth potential than others. Along with business and accounting, English majors experience a 20 percent income differential, according to the NACE. Computer science and elementary education fields show a much higher difference at higher education levels in the survey. In these career areas, 30 percent higher income with a master's degree was typical. Political science degrees show a 43 percent difference.
The ability to earn wages depends somewhat on your ability to get a job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data also demonstrated that higher education reduces your potential for unemployment. People with a master's degree experienced unemployment of just 3.5 percent in 2012, well below the 6.8 percent rate for all workers. A bachelor's degree was still better than the overall unemployment rate at 4.5 percent.