What’s Higher Education REALLY Worth?

By Arkansas NEXT on Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The amount of education you pursue and the degree(s) you obtain will determine everything from the type of house you live in and car you drive to where you vacation and the clothes you are able to buy. The good news is, how you end up is in your hands. Check out the following lifestyles by degree level to see which one matches your expectations for life after high school.

High School Graduate/GED


Jobs You Can Get

• Cashier
• Childcare worker
• Grounds keeper
• Hotel clerk
• Receptionist
• Retail salesperson    
• Telemarketer
• Waiter/waitress

Unless you’re the lucky exception, you’re going to find out fast that at least some college is better than none.

If you don’t want to live with your parents after graduation, your best bet for independence is to split rent with a responsible friend. Saving for a down payment on a house will be hard since most of your money will go toward monthly expenses.

Also, don’t expect to have extra spending money for luxury items and time for travel. Most of the jobs you’ll qualify for require nontraditional hours, which means less time for hanging out with friends and more time working.

You’ll need every cent of your wages because employee benefits like health care and retirement plans will be slim.

Some College/Professional Training

(Associate & technical degrees & certificates of proficiency)


Jobs You Can Get

• Auto service technician
• Bailiff
• Computer support specialist    
• Hair stylist
• Nursing aide
• Typist
• Paralegal
• Veterinary technician

Whether money was tight or your career calling didn’t require a bachelor’s degree, you made the right call to at least complete some college.

Despite having less education than your four-year college counterparts, you’ll be trained in specific fields of study, which will give you an edge for some jobs.

Financially, you racked up fewer semesters of student debt, so you should be able to start earning, spending and saving right away.

However, not pursuing a four-year degree might prove to keep many salaries and luxuries out of reach in the long run.

Bachelor’s Degree


Jobs You Can Get

• Accountant
• Advertising sales agent
• Coach or scout
• Elementary teacher
• Interior designer
• Mechanical engineer
• News anchor
• Physical therapist

Congratulations, grad! You’ve made the decision to invest your time and money in a bachelor’s degree that will open countless career doors.

After college and some internship experience, you’ll be able to get a solid job — most likely one with great medical coverage and a 401(k) plan.

These little extras often come at no (or minimal) cost to you, making it easier to save money for important purchases you’ll make in the future, like a home, car and even your future children’s college tuition.


Graduate School

(Master's, doctoral & professional degrees)

Jobs You Can Get

• Chief executive officer
• Computer hardware engineer
• Certified public accountant
• Lawyer
• Pharmacist
• Professor
• Nurse practitioner
• Veterinarian
• Physical therapist

The money spent obtaining these expensive degrees is typically regained within about five years of work.

Many of the world’s most lucrative professions require graduate degrees, and some companies have a reputation for hiring only those with graduate degrees for key positions.

By taking yourself to the highest level of education, your job options are almost endless. After graduating, you’ll face less competition in the job market and make a substantial salary.

With a grad degree, after a several years of working your way up, most of life’s luxuries—vacation homes, boats, cars, designer clothes—will be well within your reach.

Editor’s note: Figures were calculated using average salaries of the occupations listed in each section. They do not reflect an average of all salaries that can be earned within the four education levels we outlined. Annual salary amounts for each occupation were gathered from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Arkansas Occupational Employment & Wage Estimates (2016).