After Graduate and Professional School: How Students Fare in the Labor Market

Research and Data
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How Students Fare in the Labor Market

The fifth in a series of research briefs on key topics related to graduate and professional education, this brief examines how students fare in the labor market.

By Sandy Baum, Ph.D., and Patricia Steele, Ph.D.
February 2018



Many people enroll in graduate and professional degree programs to develop expertise in a particular field, advance their careers and increase their earnings. Advanced degrees open doors to expanded career opportunities and offer monetary and nonmonetary benefits to individuals and society.1

Although on average, advanced degrees are valuable in the labor market, students pursuing a graduate or professional degree face considerable uncertainty. Research doctoral and professional degree recipients have lower unemployment rates and higher average earnings than those with master’s degrees, and there is wide variation in outcomes, even among students who complete the same type of degree. As noted in the first brief in this series, Who Goes to Graduate School and Who Succeeds?, about a quarter of students who enroll in graduate and professional degree programs leave school without earning a degree.2 Among those who complete their studies, outcomes vary based on type of degree, field of study and occupation, as well as race, ethnicity and gender.

This brief explores employment and earnings outcomes among advanced degree recipients. Examining these outcomes across degree, occupational and demographic categories paints a nuanced picture of the payoffs of graduate and professional education. This information is critical for prospective students and others seeking to assess the value of these degree programs. 


1Jennifer Ma, Matea Pender, and Meredith Welch (2016), Education Pays 2016: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society, The College Board,

2Sandy Baum and Patricia Steele (2017), Who Goes to Graduate School and Who Succeeds?, AccessLex Institute and Urban Institute, https://www.