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Average College Grad Wage: Potential for Earning

written by: Jason C. Chavis•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 5/13/2010

The college grad wage average is a very important factor to take into account when one looks at the benefits of obtaining a degree. Different amounts of money can be made for different levels of education as well as field of interest, continuing to impact the choices of college students.

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    Entry Level Positions

    College Grads 

    When a student graduates from college, he or she is faced with the challenge of securing a place in the workforce using the knowledge gained from years of school as well as the degree obtained. This process can be daunting to say the least, with factors influencing the former student's decisions such as overall wage, potential for earnings, benefits and even pride in the type of work.

    These positions are generally known as entry-level jobs. In most fields, despite how well as student may have succeeded in school, the grades one gets in college have very little bearing on prosperity on the workplace. Nearly every graduate needs to gain experience and entry-level positions are the perfect opportunity to do so.

    According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the college grad wage average for entry-level positions has increased over the years. Most salaries for college grads increase an average of three to six percent each year. This means that a person with at least a four-year degree is in a far better position to excel at a chosen field than someone without a college education.

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    Average Wage for Job Types

    As of the late 2000s, the average wage for college grads continued to increase as more experience is gained from the workplace. The highest wage potential were being paid to those with chemical engineering degrees, averaging $59,361 per year. Other degrees also provided high levels of pay: mechanical engineers make an average of $55,292, computer engineers make $56,201, civil engineers get $48,509, information science make $50,852, computer science make $53,396, systems and business data processors make $47,648 and marketing degrees offer an average salary of $40,161.

    Overall, studies indicate that college degrees of varying levels offer higher salaries which each subsequent achievement. For example, some college will give a person an average of $36,800. A Bachelor's degree provides earnings of $52,200. A Master's degree garners and average of $62,300. Those successfully acquiring a Doctoral degree make roughly $89,400. This is in contrast to those without even a high school diploma, which make only $23,400.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the lifetime earnings potential for high school grads is $1.2 million. Those with a Bachelor's degree can expect to make considerably more, roughly $2.1 million. A Master's will give a person slightly more, an average of $2.5 million. The largest payouts, however, are with those with Doctoral or professional degrees, making between $3.4 and $4.4 million over a lifetime.

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    Effects of a Recession on Long-Term Earnings

    While the college grad wage average is higher than those of non-grads, it's important to understand that the salary for every worker takes a major hit during an economic downturn. This can be especially true for those graduating during the period of a recession. According to a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, the impact of a down economy on college grads has a long-lasting effect. Individuals have lower lifetime earning rates and require a longer period of time to climb the job ladder. A study from Yale School of Management using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth showed that the long-term earning potential of graduates during the 1980s recession shows that college grads during these periods never truly catch up with grads of different eras.

    These factors can have a strong influence as to what fields college grads enter and what occupations they pick directly out of school.

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    "Today's Best Entry-Level Salaries" Career Builder:

    "The Curse of the Class of 2009" Wall Street Journal:

    "Value of Education" Earn My Degree:

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    Image Source

    College Grads. (Supplied by Dan Zen at Flickr; Creative Commons 2.0;