Will Your College Degree Really Pay Off?

unnamed-1Illustrated by Emily Turner.
If you were a liberal arts major, you were probably reminded from the first day of freshman year that your degree would mean a paltry paycheck — at least compared with that of your engineering friends. You know, the whole starving artist thing. But, does that really pan out in the long run?
A new report claims otherwise. The Association of American Colleges and Universities — a group that advocates for a comprehensive liberal arts education — examined U.S. Census salary data and found some pretty surprising results.
It’s true that, between the ages of 21 and 25, grads with degrees in the humanities or social sciences make just 84% as much as their peers in professional and pre-professional fields, like nursing or business, The Wall Street Journal reports.
But, during the peak earning years (56 to 60 years old), American workers with liberal arts degrees actually end up raking in, on average, about $2,000 more than their counterparts. In other words: Patience is the key to a liberal arts career, at least when it comes to your paycheck.
One reason these grads might be catching up in the long term? About 40% of liberal arts majors eventually head to grad school or earn professional degrees, like J.D.s or M.B.A.s., which helps to boost their annual salaries by nearly $20,000.
“Recent attacks on the liberal arts … have painted a misleading picture of the value of the liberal arts,” AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider said in a press release. “As the findings in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions.”
While these findings are promising, footing a grad school bill now for the promise of a higher salary later might not be worth the loans you’ll have to take out to cover tuition. Use our Grad School Calculator to determine whether an advanced degree is worth it.

More from Work & Money

So, you've graduated from college, updated your LinkedIn, and have been hitting up your network like crazy. You had an amazing first interview, you ...
If the new phrase for the office BFF is the "work wife," then is a good boss or mentor your "work mom" or "work dad"? Part authority figure, part dispenser...
The morning at my insurance firm was hectic. My first appointment after lunch was a balding man in his mid-50s. I smiled at him warmly and attempted ...
Refinery29 joined the Clinton Foundation for a tour of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to get a firsthand look at the experiences of the women and girls who live ...
9:30 p.m. — HANGRY. Get home and eat canned soup and watch Netflix before bed
Any recent grads freaking out about their job prospects need not fear: Apparently the demand for exorcists has never been higher. The Telegraph reports ...
9:45 a.m. — Starbucks reward, bitches! OBV I get the most expensive thing that I can concoct. A Venti 5 shot soy latte. Yum
You know what's easy? Spending money. It's the best way to get what you want right now. Except...this is not sustainable. Those little luxuries add up ...
Four years ago, my life was exactly where I wanted it: I was working as a senior editor at a major glossy magazine. My first young adult novel had just ...
After months of waiting and countless discussions about what the future holds for our favorite television characters, Shondaland shows are finally back. ...
Just after my son’s first birthday, I was on the phone with my mom, grappling over a gut-wrenching decision. I was scheduled to go on a business trip but...
I get so nervous before job interviews — sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in my stomach. It’s really not fun. But once I’m sitting down with the ...
Fifty percent off your purchase here. 1,000 free miles there. When it comes to credit cards, the benefits are easy to see — while the downsides are often ...
As the host of RIOT's Woke Bae, we already know comedian Phoebe Robinson is funny AF while getting serious about major issues like feminism and ...