If you're trying to make that all-important decision of whether to go to college or start your work life with a high school diploma, understanding the possible salary differences is a key point to consider. Whether you are just graduating from high school or you are thinking about going back to get a college degree after taking a break, getting a post-secondary education can increase your career possibilities and boost your potential income.

Income by Degree

While, in general, college grads make a higher income than high school diploma–holders do, having a bachelor's degree doesn't automatically mean that you'll be wealthy. Some college degrees don't necessarily result in high-income careers. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a college degree in English may score you a job working as a local news writer or reporter -- paying roughly $36,000 per year -- while a bachelor's in nursing typically pays $64,690 per year.

Income by Age Group

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, young adults -- that is, those ages 25 through 34 -- who have a bachelor's degree typically earn a higher average income than those who don't have a degree. NCES statistics for the 2010 work year showed that young adults with a college degree made a median income of $45,000, while 25- to 34-year-olds who had either a high school degree or an equivalency diploma made roughly $21,000. With more than twice as high a salary, having a college diploma -- and the education, training and experience that getting it entails -- clearly gives young adults a workforce advantage.

Income by Gender

Looking at the general statistics on income differences by educational attainment doesn't provide the full picture on exactly who is earning what. The NCES statistics show a wide gap in the salaries that men and women -- both high school and college grads -- make. For example, in 2010 the NCES noted that male high school graduates made a median income of $32,800, while women without a college degree earned only $25,000. Likewise, male college grads earned more than women, with a median salary of $49,800 for males holding college degrees and only $40,000 for females with bachelor's degrees.


Although having a college degree doesn't necessarily guarantee you a job, it can make you more employable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the unemployment rate for Americans ages 25 and up with a high school diploma was 8.3 percent. Compare this to the 4.5 percent rate for college graduates, and it's evident that a post-secondary education can make it somewhat easier to find a job. Although unemployment is often the result of a combination of factors -- such as the state of the economy, available positions and regional influences -- having a college degree is a first step to opening your employment options.