More education is better: How a bachelor’s degree compares to other options

April 25, 2023 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
Here’s what recruiters had to say about the financial impact of getting a four-year degree.

In our survey of more than 2,000 recruiters and hiring managers, The Value of Higher Education Today, respondents made something clear: The more education you have, the better position you’re in to earn more money in your career.

The majority of respondents indicated that candidates with a bachelor’s degree could get a higher salary than what was originally offered for the role. Data backs this up: On an annual basis, median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are $36,000, or 84% higher than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma.

So if you’re looking to get a degree, taking on a four-year program may very well be worth the commitment. That said, a four-year degree is not for everyone; life circumstances could make the cost or time commitment of a bachelor’s degree too steep. In that case, what are your options, and how do those alternatives impact your career growth?

Here’s what recruiters had to say about the financial impact of getting a four-degree and how a bachelor’s degree stacks up against other options.


More education means more money

In our survey, hiring managers indicated that the more education candidates receive, the better the chance they have to earn a salary above what was allocated for the position. Our data suggested that if a candidate was to earn a salary above what was originally allocated, it tended to be 5% to 10% higher. Of the candidates who earned a four-year degree, 36% received the designated salary, while 42% earned more than what was originally allocated for the position.

On the other hand, 52% of those with a high school degree actually earned less than the allocated range. And getting an associate degree puts you in a better financial position than no degree at all, as just 39% of those with a two-year associate degree earned less than the allocated range.

It’s important to note that the most common outcome reported for salaries under $120,000 was that the candidate received an offer at the expected range. However, the chance for a 5% to 10% increase in a position’s designated salary can result in a critical boost in income: For example, if you were offered a salary of $55,000, having a higher education degree could set you up to earn at least $5,000 more than that offer.


Alternatives to a bachelor’s degree and the pros and cons of each

With the financial benefits in mind, it’s clear that a bachelor’s degree is viewed as the gold standard when it comes to undergraduate degrees. That said, a four-year degree may not be the right fit for you. If the cost or time commitment make a bachelor’s degree unfeasible, there are alternatives that can still benefit you. One alternative is certification or skills education.

ASU offers online job-relevant skills education from CareerCatalyst. These programs are ideal for working professionals looking to learn new skills or advance their current skill set. Skills education is also beneficial for adult learners looking to enter a new field. More than 250 programs are available in subject areas such as project management, data and analytics, technical bootcamps and more.

Skills education can’t offer the depth of knowledge and experience that comes with earning a four-year degree, but it does allow you to hone the skills necessary to qualify for well-paying technical jobs. It can also help you advance within your industry, in turn increasing your income. In our survey, 66% of respondents said their perception of a candidate improved if the candidate had a certification, like those gained from CareerCatalyst programs.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to make a career change, you might’ve thought about going back to get a second bachelor’s degree. While that’s a valid path, you may also want to consider a master’s degree, doctorate program or graduate certificate, of which ASU Online offers more than 160 combined.

Before deciding, consider your goals and the kind of commitment that each choice requires. Getting another bachelor’s degree will mean another four years of education, whereas a master’s degree is often only a two-year program. Meanwhile, completing a doctorate program can take as long as eight years.

Are you considering a career change in a field completely unrelated to your current one? A bachelor’s degree may be necessary to become qualified in that new industry. But if your new career is related to your current one and skills can be transferred, a master’s degree could be just what you need to build up your current skill set. As with a bachelor’s degree, survey respondents indicated that those who earned a graduate or doctoral degree earned an above-the-range salary.


Choosing the higher ed experience that’s right for you

ASU Online's personal enrollment assistant can help you learn more about what we have to offer if you’re not sure where to start. Answer a few questions and you’ll receive a personalized dashboard that provides a step-by-step guide to exploring programs, learning about student resources and enrolling. From there, you can review admission requirements and learn about resources such as financial aid and the student community.

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