You Will Probably Earn More with a Graduate Degree


When taking Economics 101 you might be lucky to have a professor who, on the first day of the semester, forces you to think about the economic value of a college degree.  The professor will point to your friends who chose not to attend college, but instead joined the work force.  They are out there earning a living while you will take the next several years cloistered in the cocoon of the academy, spending money that you don’t have, all predicated against future earnings.  The same thought experiment should be played out when considering graduate school.

As we all know a bachelors degree will earn you a lot more than you would make with just a high school diploma.  Most bachelor degree holders catch up and surpass their non-collegiate friends pretty quickly.  But what about graduate school?  What earnings levels can you expect from a masters, a doctorate or a professional graduate degree?

Not surprisingly, when it comes to annual income, graduate degrees have outperformed the bachelors degree over the last nearly quarter of a century.  In the aggregate. There is undoubtedly variation in specific fields of study and employment, but as a general rule, your masters degree will probably help you earn more income than your bachelors. And your doctorate or professional degree will probably help you earn more than what you might have earned with a masters. Probably. Not a guarantee.  But the meta seems lined up in your favor.

That’s the simple conclusion to draw from these observations.  But then things get pretty complicated, since there are also some troubling findings in the chart above.

The first, is that earnings, in constant dollars fixed for the rate of inflation, have stagnated over the past 25 years for all levels of college degrees.  That’s not good. When the economy has grown but wages have not, even for the most highly credentialed workers, something is fundamentally out of whack. Over the past two and one-half decades, a higher degree gets you onto a higher wage track, but the wages on that track are as stagnant as they are on the bachelors track.

Second, graduate degrees not only don’t erase the gender gap in earnings, they reveal the gap quite dramatically. Women holding masters, doctorate, and professional degrees earn substantially less than men with the same levels of education. Indeed, women earning doctorates and professional degrees make about the same or even slightly less than men with masters. There is a lot of scholarship and opinion out there on this topic. And to what degree, if any, does the growth in women taking graduate degrees account for the earnings stagnation?  This is a complicated subject worth digging into down the road.

Finally, the earnings volatility for those with professional degrees, and to a lesser extent those with doctorates, is surprising.  By comparison, although lower, the earning power of bachelors and masters degrees has been more stable.  What are the causes of this volatility? A starting point will probably involve taking a peek at the health care and legal professions, where nothing has been normal over the past two decades.

Despite all of this, and there are no guarantees and no doubt there are many exceptions to the rule, but the answer is a qualified yes; if you go to graduate school you will probably earn more money than you would earn if you don’t.

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Where Knowledge is Produced

Cities where research PhD's were awarded in 2013
Cities where research PhD’s were awarded in 2013

A favorite interview question for PhD program applicants goes as follows: “How do you feel about the idea of transitioning from a knowledge consumer to a knowledge producer?”  Because when you strip research doctoral programs down to their core mission,  they exist to produce not only knowledge producers, but new knowledge itself.

Some applicants have thought about this before, and others have not.  Whether or not they’ve considered the question previously, good conversation generally flows, particularly when chatting with the better applicants.

There are several ways to quantify the level of knowledge production.  One way is to simply count the number of research PhD’s that are produced.  In 2013, over 60,000 research PhD’s were awarded in the US. The map above shows PhD production by city in the mainland US.  These cities, collectively, are where the engines of knowledge production operate in the country.

Generally, when you count things that happen in cities, the counts in larger cities are higher than in smaller cities simply because more things happen where more people live and work.

Careful inspection shows that isn’t necessarily the case here.  Yes, southern California and the New York city areas produce a lot of knowledge, and have a lot of people.  But as you move across the map there are smaller cities that produce the same or even more PhD’s then nearby large cities.  For example, Boulder CO just north of Denver; Columbia MO sandwiched between the larger Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas; Austin TX west of nearby Houston, and Gainesville FL north of Miami.  Many more PhD’s are awarded in Cambridge MA than in Boston.

But the city producing the most PhD’s is Minneapolis MN, where over 2400 research PhD’s awarded in 2013.  That number is roughly divisible in thirds by the non-profit University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus, and two for-profit schools, Capella and Walden Universities.

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3 Tips for your Grad School Interview

For the lucky grad school applicants to have survived the first cut, interview season is about to move into full swing. If you’ve received an offer to visit, take these three tips to heart as you prepare for the interview.

1. Do your homework before arriving.

Get a strong sense of how the program is structured and where its expertise lays. Study the faculty and their research interests, particularly those who interview you. You’ll be expected to demonstrate why that program is a good fit for your interests.  Put it this way: About the worst question you can ask a faculty member who interviews you is, “So, tell me about your research.”

2. Be authentic and professional.

The purpose of the interview is to evaluate your fit within the program.  And that evaluation works in both directions. Recognize that everybody who is interviewing you has their BS detectors set at maximal sensitivity. The evaluation continues through every function on the schedule, from the time you meet the first representative of the program, until you leave.  Be yourself, and your credentials and accomplishments will stand out, too.

3. Don’t burn any bridges.

No matter what happens next, you’ve just gone through a great networking event, meeting many people who might one day become influential in your career.  Go home and send off some real thank you cards, the types made out of paper and that need stamps.  If you’re asked for follow-up information, or even get an offer of admission but remain undecided or even plan to decline, respond promptly.  Avoid cat and mouse games.


College Graduates Prefer City Cores

The Times has an interesting article discussing how college graduates are choosing to live in the cores of large urban areas.  Within this migration are those who become graduate students.  Among the several implications is a new value proposition that graduate programs in these urban areas can offer recruits. Increasingly vibrant live, study, play communities.  This is a good trend that bodes well for these graduate institutions and their metropolitan areas.


Gradschoolmatch v2 upgrade improves functionality while adding over 224,000 student users


Our v2 Upgrade comes  with tens of thousands of honor roll student users, listed here by state.
Our v2 upgrade brings in tens of thousands of Golden Key honor roll student users, shown here as density per state.

We’ve released a major upgrade today of our web platform, termed v2. Finding grad programs or prospective students has never been more simple or powerful.

Our mission is to make it simple and free for students to find their best degree options, while giving programs a cost-effective tool to discover and reach-out to the best prospects in their fields. Our goal is to become the go to resource for students to find graduate programs, and for graduate programs to find students…a world-wide, online gradschool fair that runs around the clock.

The upgrades include:

  • Over 224,000 searchable and matchable student users who use the site for free; the vast majority of whom are honor society members, certified by their University registrar in the top 15% of their class.
  • Searchable/matchable listings of ~38,000 graduate programs
  • A greatly improved user experience
  • Simplified profiles and connect tools
  • A program can have one owner but multiple users, so that teams can recruit students more collaboratively
  • Clean, mobile-responsive interface

We launched Gradschoolmatch v1 in January of 2013.  Since then, we’ve tried to understand from our early adopters how to best create gradschool fair concept online.  We thank all of them for their patience and the insights they’ve shared.


Press Release: Gradschoolmatch Partners with Golden Key International Honor Society

golden_key_logoSandy Springs GA -based Golden Key International Honor Society, the world’s largest collegiate honor society, has partnered with an innovative Decatur GA internet startup, Gradschoolmatch to make it easier for top-ranked prospective graduate students and for graduate programs to find each other.

Every year at colleges and universities throughout the United States, approximately 1 million students enroll in over 50,000 graduate programs.   Students face uncertainty in finding reliable information on their best advanced degree options.  Meanwhile, individual programs are each so highly specialized and offer such unique learning experiences that some are appropriate for only a handful of students world-wide.  For programs, finding and recruiting the best students who possess the proper credentials and interests for what they offer is a very difficult problem.

The Gradschoolmatch platform has bidirectional functionality where program decision makers and prospective students can search for, discover, and then reach out to each other.  For students there is no cost, whereas programs pay a nominal annual subscription fee.

 “We’re delighted to work with Golden Key. We had remarkable conversion rates after a few test signup blitzes with their members.  That convinced us that today’s students have a significant appetite for our platform concept.   This Golden Key partnership endows us with a unique capability to connect our discerning graduate school clients to a very large pool of exceptionally bright and accomplished prospects,” says Gradschoolmatch Founder and CEO TJ Murphy.

To qualify for Golden Key, university registrars first certify that students are in the top 15% of their college class.   A major focus of Golden Key is to assist its members in realizing their career objectives, which for many involves acquiring an advanced degree.

“Golden Key is committed to helping members achieve their academic goals. With more than 85% of undergraduate members indicating that they plan to attend graduate school, we continuously seek the best resources to help them throughout the admissions process. We believe that Gradschoolmatch provides a quality direct channel for students to interact with admissions directors and faculty to gain better insight into their intended field of study. Gradschoolmatch will help serve our diverse members from more than 400 universities in 8 countries,” says Bradford Rainey, Golden Key Executive Director.