Study Shows Top 10 States Where a Graduate Degree Pays Off

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Student Loan Hero compared the median pay increase that came with a graduate or professional degree, revealing the states where earning one paid off the most.

Map shows states where grad school pays off

Making the move to another state can yield a big income bump and potentially lower your cost of living, especially for states such as Michigan and Utah.

How much is a graduate degree worth? It depends on where you live, according to the latest study by financial education company Student Loan Hero. The study reported the median salary difference between those with a graduate degree and a bachelor’s degree by state, including the District of Columbia.

“This study showcased how important it is for graduate degree candidates to consider where they want to live after graduation,” said Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero. “Making the move to another state can yield a big income bump and potentially lower your cost of living, especially for states such as Michigan and Utah.”

Top States to Earn a Graduate Degree

In the No. 1 state, California, a graduate degree netted a 42 percent salary increase. Living in a top-10 state, you’d earn about 35 percent more with a graduate degree than you would with an undergraduate degree.

The top 10 states with the biggest pay bumps:
1. California
2. Virginia
3. Utah
4. District of Columbia
5. Idaho
6. New Jersey
7. Maryland
8. Michigan
9. North Dakota
10. Alaska


Even if you don’t live in one of the top 10 states, your wallet would benefit if you headed back to school. For example, if you lived in the lowest-ranked state, Louisiana, you’d still see a 21 percent salary increase after earning a graduate degree. Knowing your state’s pay bump with a graduate degree can help you decide whether you should go back to school.

Study Methodology

Pay data was sourced from the Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey and represented median annual salary estimates by educational attainment. Wage estimates were adjusted for inflation to 2017 dollars, per Consumer Price Index estimates.

Rankings were based on the following factors: (1) the pay difference, in dollars, between the median salary for workers with a graduate or professional degree and those with a bachelor’s degree and (2) the pay difference expressed as a percentage pay raise between these two levels of educational attainment.

Those factors were equally weighted to generate these rankings and find the states where a graduate degree resulted in the highest pay bumps in both real dollars and relative pay raises.

About Student Loan Hero

Student Loan Hero combines easy-to-use tools with financial education to help the millions of Americans living with student loan debt manage and pay off their loans. Student Loan Hero has helped more than 150,000 borrowers manage and eliminate over $3 billion in student loan debt since 2012 and assists over 3.5 million people in becoming more financially healthy every year.

Student Loan Hero offers both current and former students free loan calculators as well as unbiased, personalized advice and repayment plans through an easy-to-use online dashboard. Founded in 2012 by CEO Andrew Josuweit, who himself had over $100,000 in student loans, Student Loan Hero operates on the belief that all loan help and recommendations should come with honesty and no hidden agenda.

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Mackenzie Kreitler

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