Ranked: The salary bump you can expect from a graduate degree, by major

In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, things were truly dicey for America’s freshly minted college graduates. Many had a tough time finding employment of any kind, let alone in their chosen field of study. A few years makes a big difference, though. Unemployment is falling for recent US grads, and though a full recovery remains elusive, it’s getting closer.

So in a slightly better job environment, does an undergraduate degree suffice? And what size salary bump, if any, can you expect to get from a graduate degree? Recent data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce suggest the answers depend on your major.

If you want to jump into the job market straight from your undergraduate studies, engineering is definitely the way to go, according to the center’s annual Hard Times report on young graduates in the workplace:

Recent-college-graduate-salaries-by-major-Average-annual-earnings_chartbuilder (1)

Graduate school gives an extra salary boost to engineers. But some of the biggest jumps go to those who majored in fields that don’t offer high wages initially, like political science and history. (Note that all data is based on the undergraduate degree, so “history” would cover someone who majored in history as an undergraduate and went on to law school, for example):


An extra degree makes an enormous difference when it comes to employment rates, particularly for those in hard sciences and social sciences:


Even for graduates who have spent some time in the labor market, graduate school results in some pretty substantial gains. This is the difference in earnings for experienced workers with and without graduate degrees, where “experienced” means having spent at least three years in the workforce:


But as much as a graduate degree helps, at least three years in the labor market results in some pretty substantial gains as well, across a wide variety of majors, even without extra school:


And here’s the difference in unemployment rates between recent college graduates and those who have spent a few years working:


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