Degree or No Degree: The Value of a Higher Education
Facing today's job market can be extremely trying, and often disheartening. It is a good idea to equip yourself with as much training and experience as possible, but you don't want to spend all your time working toward something that won't ultimately be fulfilling, either monetarily and intellectually. Higher education sets you apart from other job candidates, and distinguishes you in your field. If you're considering furthering your education, then there are several different options to research and review.
Vocational/Trade schools - If you have a career in mind that requires a specific set of skills, then vocational school or trade school could be for you. The education you receive from these institutions is career specific, and will serve more as training and preparation than it will as a traditional education. Popular vocational programs include the following: auto repair, computer programming, cosmetology, criminal justice and dental and medical technicians.
Associate degree - An associate degree is a general education degree. It can be used as a résumé-booster for certain jobs, but more often than not, it is used to transfer to a four-year college or university. An associate degree is acquired at a community or junior college. Many associate programs allow you to sign a contract with the four-year program of your choice that guarantees admission based on your performance. The work completed is equivalent to the work completed in the first two years of a four-year college or university education. Many students choose to transfer into a four-year university because it cuts the cost, and allows them to boost their GPA and apply to better schools. Students who don't wish to pursue a bachelor's after their associate can receive specialization in Occupational Studies, Business Administration, Industrial Technology or Applied Science. The average starting annual salary with an associate degree is $30,000.
B.A. - Earning a bachelor's degree used to mean a lot more than it does today. Since most high school graduates enter their first year of college with the intent of only earning this degree, it is no surprise that the bachelor's degree is the most sought-after degree out there. Students choose a major based on their interests or career goals. The first two years of undergraduate work include courses in general education, and the last two focus on courses specific to the student's chosen major. A bachelor's degree makes it possible for graduates to enter the work force in entry-level positions, or pursue graduate school. Entry-level workers with a bachelor's degree can expect an annual salary of $33,000 to $40,000.
Post-baccalaureate - If you finished your bachelor's degree with a lackluster GPA, but you still want to pursue graduate school, then a post-baccalaureate may be a viable option for you. Most colleges and universities offer post-bacc programs for recent graduates and returning students who would like to increase their credibility and bump up their GPA before applying to grad school. Post-bacc students are often given the same rights and privileges as full-time grad students, and can even work as teaching assistants in certain academic fields. Post-bacc students usually spend one to two years working to increase their academic standing.
M.A. - A master's degree is often sought after by those who want to know more about a specific subject within their undergraduate field of study. It is commonly used as a stepping stone for individuals hoping to pursue a Ph.D. Individuals with a master's degree have the ability to teach their subject at a two-year university. The average duration of a Master's program is two to three years, and the average annual salary is $40,000 to $65,000.
Ph.D. - Some Ph.D. programs require their students to have earned a master's degree, others take students who have only completed their undergraduate coursework. Ph.D. programs require their students to complete a thesis or dissertation based on unique research. In most programs, after a candidate has completed this dissertation, they must defend it to peers in their field, and more specifically, in their academic department at the school they attend. This degree is very expensive and takes a long time to achieve; some students stay in school for more than 10 years. For these reasons, many believe that the Ph.D. is more trouble than it's worth. Average starting salaries range from $60,000 to $100,000+.
J.D. - The Juris Doctor is specific to individuals who wish to pursue a career in the legal field. Although most Juris Doctor candidates achieve their degree with the express intent of becoming attorneys, the degree also allows its recipients to teach legal classes and work in the field of legal research. Unlike other graduate programs, the J.D. does not require its students to complete a dissertation. Depending on the career, a J.D. recipient can have an annual salary anywhere from $45,000 to $100,000+.
As the job market grows increasingly competitive, higher education becomes that much more valuable. The average salary for an individual with a high school diploma is less than $30,000 a year. Individuals who did not receive a high school diploma average $23,000 a year. The key is to figure out what you want to do, where you want to do it, the cost you will accrue and the time you will need to spend to get there. Then you can appropriately weigh your higher education options.