Typical Higher Education Paths and Earnings Considerations

Higher education is expensive and you may wonder if it is worth spending all that money. In 2004, a report 'Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individual and Society', was published by the College Board. This report not only documented the gains of higher education - both monetary and non-monetary - for the society and the individual, but also focused on the inequities existent in the education and employment sector of the country. However, the report conclusively proved that investment in higher education gave a higher return as one joined the workforce. Read our article Degrees Defined for more in-depth information about the different types of degree programs and certificates offered through the educational system.

Associate's Degree
An Associate's Degree in the U.S. is a two year program and can be of three types - an Associate of Arts Degree (A.A.), an Associate of Applied Science Degree (A.A.S.) and an Associate of Science Degree (A.S.). Community colleges and junior colleges offer these degree programs and you have to complete 60 credit hours to obtain your degree. You can opt for an Occupational Associate Degree, which will train you to find employment in certain fields such as paralegal, medical assistant, computer, public service and data processing. There is another type of associate degree known as a Transfer Associate Degree and all coursework that you complete under this course can be transferred to a four year bachelor's program. The cost of an associate degree is approximately $8,000 in public community colleges. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2010, the fastest growing occupations will require a huge number of people with an Associate Degree.

To apply for admission to this program you have to fill in the application form and provide the college with your high school transcripts. Some schools may need you to write a statement of intent. Colleges that do not have an open admission policy will ask for your Scholastic Aptitude Test or College Achievement Test scores. Even with an open admission system you may have to fulfill some course specific prerequisites. An associate degree has its own advantages. It costs less than a four year bachelor's program and makes you ready for you work life in a shorter time. Many skilled and high-paying jobs require an associate degree, as it qualifies workers with niche skills. The major disadvantage is that your career opportunity gets limited; some positions will not consider anything less than a four year degree. For U.S. community colleges and junior colleges offering associate degree programs, log on to: USAStudyGuide.com - Jr. Colleges. For online associate degree options, check out the following site: USAStudyGuide.com - Online Degree

The starting salaries for various careers are different. An automotive mechanic can start with an entry level salary of $25,000 annually and generally reach an average of $28,000 to $37,000 in their early career. A Computer Numeric Control Machine Programmer (CNC) can expect to earn something around $25,000 as a starting salary, while a Dental Assistant will probably make $26,000 to start with. A Graphic Designer will have a higher starting income (around $33, 872); in comparison a Licensed Practical Nurse can earn up to $42,000, depending on the experience and the state or city where s/he is located. For more information on average starting salaries, log on to: CollegeCrunch.org

A Typical Flow from High School to Doctorate Degree
After your high school degree, you can opt for postsecondary education in the form of undergraduate studies. You can choose between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree. You can obtain your associate degree, which will typically take two years, from community colleges, trade schools, or even in some cases from degree colleges. The bachelor's degree program lasts for four years. You can complete your associate degree and then transfer your credits to a bachelor's program or enroll directly for a bachelor's degree program. You qualify for a Master's degree only if you have completed your four years of college or equivalent. After a Master's degree you can opt for a Doctorate.

Trade School Degrees and Certificates
About 70 percent of postsecondary technical education is provided by private trade schools. Community colleges provide the rest. The popularity of trade schools is indicative of the fact that a four-year college degree is not the only option. Many students choose vocational training to be on the fast-track of career development. Adult learners, workers looking for a change in career and also regular high school graduates now consider trade schools as extremely viable options for high-paying skilled jobs.

Since vocational schools specifically aim at imparting the skills required for a particular trade, the courses are more focused. Quite a few vocational schools also have a degree-transfer programs, which help you to use the credits from these two years for a degree enhancement (a bachelor's degree) when you feel the need for it. There are a number of vocational careers to choose from. Vocational schools offer certificates, diplomas and associate degrees. With more than 10,000 private vocational colleges offering paralegal, paramedical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), cosmetology, landscaping and many other such courses, the choice is mind boggling. The admission requirements to these schools vary depending on the specific course that you opt for, as does the cost (anywhere between $500 and $10,000, depending on the type and length of the course). For more information on vocational degrees: Vocational-School-Guide.com.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that vocational degrees enable students to get starting salaries ranging between $20,000 and $45,000, depending on the demand for a skill. Reports from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations indicate that paralegal salaries average at $41,742, while an entry level job can get you as much as $32,000. For an idea about medical career salaries: Medical-Careers.org. For more on paralegal and legal assistant career salaries: BLS.gov.

Bachelor's Degree
This is the conventional four-year undergraduate degree that gives you sound academic knowledge and builds a foundation of teaching expertise. You can enroll for a bachelor's degree after high school graduation or even after a two-year associate degree. Many U.S. institutes award the bachelor's degree with Latin honors. For more info: Wikipedia.org - Bachelor's Degree.

A bachelor's degree increases your employability. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics only 1.8 percent of people with bachelor's degrees are unemployed as compared to 6.5 percent of those with no high school degree. Also the average annual earnings of workers with a bachelor's degree are on an average $30,000 higher than those with high school education. The chances of promotion also increase if you have a higher degree.

With the rising number of students taking up higher education the cost of tuition at this level has increased tremendously. The annual tuition fee (lodging, boarding, books and miscellaneous) in a private university is around $21,235, while that in a public university is $5,491. A bachelor's degree has no match if you consider the educational value, earning and career-making opportunities, and personal confidence building. The only thing to consider is the price you pay in real terms as tuition, campus costs and other incidentals and also the four years that you have to set aside.

Master's Degree
You can seek admission for a master's degree only after finishing your bachelor's degree. For master's degree programs, you need to have a bachelor's degree in the same subject or in a closely related subject. However, a master's degree in some subjects can be done irrespective of your bachelor's degree specialization. A master's degree will usually cost around $10,000 to $15,000 in private universities, though Ivy League Schools will be more costly. State universities cost less at around $5,000. Check out the following site for more information: USAStudyguide.com.

Better earnings are one of the main incentives for choosing master's degrees. According to information available at Salary.com, the average annual salary for those with master's degrees is $53,000, as opposed to $43,000 for workers with a bachelor's degree. Similar results are reported by the U.S. Census Bureau; if an average work life is for 40 years, then a person with a master's qualification will earn $2.5 million, while a bachelor's degree holder will make only $2.1 million. A master's degree will give you the opportunity of studying the subject that you are passionate about. With access to your college alumni data, you will also be able to build a network with people in a related field of study.

A Doctorate Degree
This is the highest level of studies that you can formally pursue in a given field. You will need to finish your doctorate in seven years. To enroll for doctorate studies you have to fulfill certain criteria. To know the details, log on to: UTEP.edu

Having a master's degree is not mandatory to enroll for doctorate studies. Some doctorate programs accept students directly after they finish their bachelor's program, though mastery of the coursework of a master's program is expected. A doctorate degree will open coveted career opportunities for you. On an average, you can expect to earn around $3.4 million through your work life. However, salary figures mentioned here are approximations drawn from studies by various government bodies and for all practical purposes change with the supply/demand situation in the economy.

For more information on what your college degree is worth, check the following sites:


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