10 facts about today’s college graduates (2023)

10 facts about today’s college graduates (1)

Having a bachelor’s degree remains an important advantage in many sectors of the U.S. labor market. College graduates generally out-earn those who have not attended college, and they are more likely to be employed in the first place. At the same time, many Americans say they cannot afford to get a four-year degree – or that they just don’t want to.

Here are key facts about American college graduates.

How we did this

This Pew Research Center analysis about U.S. college graduates relies on data from sources including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Student Clearinghouse and the Federal Reserve Bank, as well as surveys conducted by the Center.

Everyone who took the Pew Research Center surveys cited is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more aboutthe ATP’s methodology.

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Nearly four-in-ten Americans ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, a share that has grown over the last decade. As of 2021, 37.9% of adults in this age group held a bachelor’s degree, including 14.3% who also obtained a graduate or professional degree, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. That share is up 7.5 percentage points from 30.4% in 2011.

An additional 10.5% had an associate degree in 2021. About four-in-ten Americans ages 25 and older had a high school diploma with no further education (25.3%) or completed some college but didn’t have a degree (14.9%).

In a reversal, women are now more likely than men to graduate from college, according to the Current Population Survey. In 2021, 39% of women ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more education, compared with 37% of men in the same age range. The gap in college completion is even wider among adults ages 25 to 34: 46% of women in this age group have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 36% of men.

In an October 2021 Pew Research Center survey of Americans without a degree, 34% of men said a major reason why they have not received a four-year college degree is that they just didn’t want to. Only one-in-four women said the same. Men were also more likely to say a major reason they didn’t have a four-year degree is that they didn’t need more education for the job or career they wanted (26% of men said this vs. 20% of women).

Women (44%) were more likely than men (39%) to say not being able to afford college was a major reason they don’t have a bachelor’s degree. Men and women were about equally likely to say a major impediment was needing to work to help support their family.

There are racial and ethnic differences in college graduation patterns, as well as in the reasons for not completing a degree. Among adults ages 25 and older, 61% of Asian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more education, along with 42% of White adults, 28% of Black adults and 21% of Hispanic adults, according to 2021 Current Population Survey data. The share of bachelor’s degree holders in each group has increased since 2010. That year, 52% of Asian Americans had a four-year degree or more, compared with a third of White adults, 20% of Black adults and 14% of Hispanic adults.

The October 2021 Center survey found that among adults without a bachelor’s degree, Hispanic adults (52%) were more likely than those who are White (39%) or Black (41%) to say a major reason they didn’t graduate from a four-year college is that they couldn’t afford it. Hispanic and Black adults were more likely than their White counterparts to say needing to work to support their family was a major reason.

While a third of White adults said not wanting to go to school was a major reason they didn’t complete a four-year degree, smaller shares of Black (22%) and Hispanic (23%) adults said the same. White adults were also more likely to cite not needing more education for the job or career they wanted. (There weren’t enough Asian adults without a bachelor’s degree in the sample to analyze separately.)

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Only 62% of students who start a degree or certificate program finish their programwithin six years, according to the most recent data fromtheNational Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit verification and research organization that tracked first-time college students who enrolled in fall 2015 with the intent of pursuing a degree or certificate. The degree completion rate for this group was highest among students who started at four-year, private, nonprofit schools (78.3%), and lowest among those who started at two-year public institutions (42.2%).

Business is the most commonly held bachelor’s degree, followed by health professions.According to theNational Center for Education Statistics, abouta fifth (19%) of the roughly 2 millionbachelor’s degrees conferred in 2019-20 were in business. Health professions and related programs were the second most-popular field, making up 12.6% of degrees conferred that year. Business has been the single most common major since 1980-81; before that, education led the way.

Theleastcommon bachelor’s degrees in 2019-20 were in military technologies and applied sciences (1,156 degrees conferred in 2019-20), library science (118), and precision production (39).

There is a growing earnings gap between young college graduates and their counterparts without degrees. In 2021, full-time workers ages 22 to 27 who held a bachelor’s degree, but no further education, made a median annual wage of $52,000, compared with $30,000 for full-time workers of the same age with a high school diploma and no degree, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This gap has widened over time. Young bachelor’s degree holders earned a median annual wage of $48,481 in 1990, compared with $35,257 for full-time workers ages 22 to 27 with a high school diploma.

The unemployment rate is lower for college graduates than for workers without a bachelor’s degree, and that gap widened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2020, just before the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., only 1.9% of college graduates ages 25 and older were unemployed, compared with 3.1% of workers who completed some college but not a four-year degree, and 3.7% of workers with only a high school diploma. By June 2020, after the pandemic hit, 6.8% of college grads, 10.8% of workers with some college, and 12.2% of high school grads were unemployed.

By March 2022, the unemployment rate had nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels for college graduates (2%) while dropping to 3% among those with some college education but no four-year degree, and 4% among those with only a high school diploma.

Recent college graduates are more likely than graduates overall to be underemployed – that is, working in jobs that typically do not require a college degree, according to an analysis of Census Bureau and BLS data by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of December 2021, 41% of college graduates ages 22 to 27 were underemployed, compared with 34% among all college graduates. The underemployment rates for recent college grads rose in 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak strained the job market, but have since returned to pre-pandemic levels.

As of the end of 2021, only 34% of underemployed graduates ages 22 to 27 worked what the Fed defines as “good non-college jobs” – those paying at least $45,000 a year – down from aroundhalf in the 1990s. The share of underemployed graduates ages 22 to 27 in low-wage jobs – those earning less than $25,000 annually – rose from about 9% in 1990 to 11% last year.

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When it comes to income and wealth accumulation, first-generation college graduates lag substantially behind those with college-educated parents, according to a May 2021 Pew Research Center analysis. Households headed by a first-generation college graduate – that is, someone who has completed at least a bachelor’s degree but does not have a parent with a college degree – had a median annual income of $99,600 in 2019, compared with $135,800 for households headed by those with at least one parent who graduated from college. The median wealth of households headed by first-generation college graduates ($152,000) also trailed that of households headed by someone with a parent who graduated from college ($244,500). The higher household income of the latter facilitates saving and wealth accumulation.

The gap also reflects differences in how individuals finance their education. Second-generation college graduates tend to come frommore affluent families,while first-generation college graduates are more likely to incur education debt than those with a college-educated parent.

Most Americans with college degrees see value in their experience. In the Center’s October 2021 survey, majorities of graduates said their college education was extremely or very useful when it came to helping them grow personally and intellectually (79%), opening doors to job opportunities (70%) and developing specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (65%).

Younger college graduates were less likely than older ones to see value in their college education. For example, only a third of college graduates younger than 50 said their college experience was extremely useful in helping them develop skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace. Among college graduates ages 50 and older, 45% said this.


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10 facts about today’s college graduates (8)

Katherine Schaeffer is a research analyst at Pew Research Center.


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10 facts about today’s college graduates? ›

The six-year graduation rate for students of public universities and colleges is 69%. The percentage of females who graduate in four years is 51%. 36% of male Millennials have at least a bachelor's degree. 32.9% of college students drop out before they obtain an undergraduate degree.

What is a fact about college graduates? ›

The six-year graduation rate for students of public universities and colleges is 69%. The percentage of females who graduate in four years is 51%. 36% of male Millennials have at least a bachelor's degree. 32.9% of college students drop out before they obtain an undergraduate degree.

How much more successful are college graduates? ›

The evidence that a college degree significantly improves one's employment prospects and earnings potential is overwhelming. Bachelor's degree holders are half as likely to be unemployed as their peers who only have a high school degree and they make $1.2 million in additional earnings on average over their lifetime.

What are the statistics of college graduates? ›

The 6-year graduation rate was 63 percent at public institutions, 68 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 29 percent at private for-profit institutions. The overall 6-year graduation rate was 60 percent for males and 67 percent for females.

Why is college important facts? ›

College is important for many reasons, including increased career stability and satisfaction, and the ability to make an impact on your community. With more and more careers requiring advanced education, a college degree can be critical to your success in today's workforce.

What are 3 facts about college? ›

College Fun Facts
  • Graduation Requirements: ...
  • More Females Attend College Than Males: ...
  • 24/7 Food Options: ...
  • Study Abroad is Recommended: ...
  • Campuses are Intentionally Impressive: ...
  • Dorm Rooms are Lacking: ...
  • The “College Experience” is Real: ...
  • Schools are Becoming More Sustainable:

Did you know graduation facts? ›

The Diploma – Romans first used these as validation of a soldier's time served and were written on animal skin. World's Oldest Graduate – Leo Plass set the world record when he graduated from Eastern Oregon University. The Gown – Gowns were worn as early as the 1300's!

How many people succeed after college? ›

Report Highlights: In 2019, those who've obtained their bachelor's degree or higher had an employment rate of 87% for both genders, 91% for males, and 83% for females.

What are the benefits of going to college? ›

Benefits of Going to College
  • Discover Your Interests. College tends to be a time full of discovery. ...
  • Increased Job Opportunities. Many jobs require a college degree. ...
  • Higher Potential Earnings. ...
  • Lower Unemployment Rate. ...
  • Job Satisfaction and Security. ...
  • Improved Skills. ...
  • Personal Development. ...
  • Networking.

Are college graduates happier? ›

College Degree = Increased Self-Satisfaction:

A study done by CollegeBoard found that four-year college graduates reported the highest levels of satisfaction in their job, when compared to others with less academic experience.

How many college graduates are in debt? ›

As of 2022, 43.5 million Americans have federal student loans. Approximately 13% of all Americans had federal student loan debt in 2021. In 2022, 9.9 million borrowers have between $20,000-$40,000 of student loan debt.

What percentage of college graduates are happy? ›

Research suggests that the more education you have, the happier you tend to be. In a survey that utilized data from the U.S. General Social Surveys, 94% of people with a bachelor's degree or more reported feeling happy or very happy with their lives overall, while 89% of high school grads said the same.

Who is most likely to graduate from college? ›

In a reversal, women are now more likely than men to graduate from college, according to the Current Population Survey. In 2021, 39% of women ages 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or more education, compared with 37% of men in the same age range.

How important is college today? ›

As a college graduate, you'll likely have better career prospects, higher pay, and a higher-skilled job. These factors often contribute to stability, success, and overall happiness.

What's the most important thing in college? ›

Here are 12 essential skills to learn in college:
  1. Teamwork. Teamwork is an important skill in many roles. ...
  2. Global thinking. Employees with a global mindset can work with people from many backgrounds and cultures. ...
  3. Time management. ...
  4. Digital literacy. ...
  5. Verbal communication. ...
  6. Written communication. ...
  7. Creativity. ...
  8. Networking.
Mar 10, 2023

How powerful is a college degree? ›

And that degree boost adds up over the course of a lifetime. Americans with a bachelor's degree rack up a median lifetime earnings of $2.8 million. Those with a high school diploma or a GED earn about $1.6 million, according to a 2021 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

What are 3 benefits of college? ›

11 college benefits to consider
  • Higher income. Having a college education can increase your earning potential. ...
  • Employment benefits. ...
  • More job opportunities. ...
  • Job security. ...
  • Job satisfaction. ...
  • Networking. ...
  • Personal development. ...
  • Career advancement.
Feb 3, 2023

What makes a college stand out? ›

A college's strength in your major discipline will be key. If you have no clear academic direction, look for colleges that encourage academic exploration. Level of challenge. College instruction comes at different levels of rigor.

What are the amazing facts? ›

Fun Facts and Trivia
  • It is impossible for most people to lick their own elbow. ...
  • A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out.
  • A shrimp's heart is in its head.
  • It is physically impossible for pigs to look up into the sky.

What is special about graduation? ›

Your qualification is your proof to yourself and to the world that you know how to do the work and see things through to the end. This is great when it comes to stepping into your career. That little piece of paper is proof that you have what it takes.

Why is graduation so special? ›

Graduation represents the culmination of a journey and the attainment of a goal. It is an exciting period in a person's life and an array of feelings will surface for the graduate.

What is the big deal about graduation? ›

College commencement ceremonies are important and special for each graduate who attends. The ceremonies are a way to celebrate our accomplishments and sit beside our peers and friends that have been by our side one last time before we all go our separate ways. Commencement marks the end of a big chapter in our lives.

Does college increase success? ›

Regardless of how you personally define success, the stats show that a bachelor's degree can make having a successful career more achievable. Consider the following: Bachelor's degree holders earn an average of 66 percent more than high school graduates.

How many college graduates get good jobs? ›

And great news: many students are reaping the benefits of their academic success to find their way into their first jobs! College graduates ages 25 to 34 boast an employment rate of 86%, based on a 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Does college make people more successful? ›

If you're wondering if college is necessary to have a successful career, it depends on what you want to pursue. You don't need a Bachelor's degree to succeed in most careers. Instead of four-year degrees, more companies are looking at a candidate's skills and potential.

Why is college important to society? ›

College graduates have lower smoking rates, more positive perceptions of personal health, and lower incarceration rates than individuals who have not graduated from college. Higher levels of education are correlated with higher levels of civic participation, including volunteer work, voting, and blood donation.

What are the pros and cons of college? ›

Is College Right for You?
Pros of Attending CollegeCons of Attending College
Higher earning potentialHigh cost
Access to more jobsOpportunity cost of time spent not working
More learning opportunitiesThe availability of high-paying, no-degree jobs
Networking opportunitiesUnderemployed college graduates
6 more rows
Jan 23, 2023

Is college becoming more important? ›

Over time, college graduates have seen lower rates of unemployment and higher wages than other workers-even through the Great Recession'suggesting that college degrees have become increasingly valuable in California's labor market. The future workforce skills gap looms large.

How college will change your life? ›

A college degree opens up more opportunities, even in fields that aren't in your major. Improve Discipline and Develop Strong Character. Obtaining a degree takes discipline and a will to succeed. By getting your degree, you overcome procrastination and learn to do what it takes to reach your goal.

Does college improve quality of life? ›

confidence, a better sense of independence, and stronger feelings of control over their lives. ⌘ College graduates tend to be more resilient and less depressed. In fact, communities that have more well-educated residents have fewer incidences of depression and suicide.

How will a college degree impact your life? ›

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ​workers with higher levels of education “typically earn more and have lower rates of unemployment compared with workers who have less education.” Over a lifetime, reports show that college graduates will make 84 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

What college has the most debt? ›

Atop the list is Maine Maritime Academy, where 2019 graduates who borrowed left with an average debt load of $56,897 – nearly $27,000 above the average among all ranked colleges. See: How Average Student Loan Debt Has Changed in 10 Years.

What age group has the most student debt? ›

Borrowers between the ages of 25 and 34 carry about $500 billion in federal student loans—the majority of people in this age group owe between $10,000 and $40,000. However, people carry their education debt well into middle-age and beyond. Borrowers ages 35 to 49 owe more than $620 billion in student loans.

At what college are students most happy? ›

Happiest Colleges in the US
  • College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) The College of William and Mary will often appear high up on college rankings for the happiest colleges in the country. ...
  • Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) ...
  • University of Dallas (Irving, TX) ...
  • Brown University (Providence, RI)
Mar 9, 2023

How important is college graduation rate? ›

Looking at graduation rates can assist you in getting a sense of the quality of the college. These metrics give you insight into not just how many students are enrolling at that college, but also how many are finishing their degrees in a timely manner.

Why do college students drop out? ›

According to the study, financial sacrifice and stress related to it are some of the most common reasons cited for dropping out. Students who choose to complete school have to contend with higher tuition rates, currency inflation and a rising cost of living.

What college do most successful people go to? ›

Sitting comfortably at the top 10 universities list with eight billionaires is Harvard – no real surprise there, considering its reputation as one of the best universities in the USA. It also has the highest total net worth with $217.5bn.

Who attends college the most? ›

The college enrollment rate in 2020 was higher for 18- to 24-year-olds who were Asian (64 percent) than for those who were White (41 percent), Hispanic (36 percent), Black (36 percent), of Two or more races (34 percent), Pacific Islander (34 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (22 percent).

Why does college still matter? ›

The future may seem uncertain, but college will help you discover the career path that matches your interests and motivates you to become the best version of yourself. You'll learn to be more independent and gain the skills and knowledge you need to prepare you for the future.

What percentage of college graduates are unemployed? ›

Unemployment rates for college grads overall were stable in 2022, hovering around 2% in the last half of the year following consistent declines from June 2020 to May 2022.

What do college students care about the most? ›

Students are mostly concerned about money, cost of living, and economic instability. These concerns dominate safety and health-related issues.

What is a successful college experience? ›

Having a great college experience is about experiencing everything your campus has to offer. From clubs to events to new friends to incredible opportunities for academic exploration, a college campus can provide a wealth of new experiences. Read on to learn how to have the best college experience possible.

What are some fun facts about colleges? ›

Nine Unbelievable Facts About Top US Universities
  • MIT students can become fully qualified pirates. ...
  • A Stanford student has won a medal at every Olympics since 1908. ...
  • The University of Chicago holds the largest scavenger hunt in the world every year. ...
  • Three-quarters of Princeton alumni marry someone else who went to Princeton.

What is a benefit of being a college graduate? ›

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ​workers with higher levels of education “typically earn more and have lower rates of unemployment compared with workers who have less education.” Over a lifetime, reports show that college graduates will make 84 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

What does graduating college say about you? ›

Finishing college takes dedication. By graduating, you show that you have the work ethic and desire to get the job done. Employers know that, while a degree isn't the sign you know everything, it is a sign that you aren't afraid of challenges and hard work.

What is so special about graduation? ›

Your qualification is your proof to yourself and to the world that you know how to do the work and see things through to the end. This is great when it comes to stepping into your career. That little piece of paper is proof that you have what it takes.

What is the most important thing about college? ›

The most important factor when considering a college is how the school made you feel. Regardless of all the programs, opportunities, and scholarships, the school you choose should feel like home, a place where you will be able to grow and develop not just academically but in all aspects of life.

What is the value of a college degree? ›

Bachelor's degree holders generally earn 75% more than those with just a high school diploma, according to “The College Payoff,” a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce — and the higher the level of educational attainment, the larger the payoff.

How do college graduates benefit society? ›

Through volunteer work, leadership, and philanthropic contributions, public university graduates enrich the civic and economic life of their communities. They also contribute more in taxes and are less reliant on government services than their peers whose highest degree is a high school diploma.

How important is the college you graduate from? ›

While it depends on who you ask, and the data you crunch, to find an answer about whether a person's chosen school really, truly matters, attending college and earning a degree is generally an achievement that opens new career opportunities and leads to higher lifetime earning potential.

What do college students do when they graduate? ›

What To Do After College (Other Than Work)
  • Take a Gap Year. This is the traditional path people take after graduation (or sometimes the year between high school and college). ...
  • Pursue Your Passion. ...
  • Go to Graduate School. ...
  • Teach Abroad. ...
  • Become An Entrepreneur. ...
  • Volunteer for Peace Corps.
Jul 27, 2022

What is the feeling after graduating college? ›

Post-grad blues or post-graduation depression happens when college students graduate. They leave their student days behind them and begin a new chapter of their lives. This new chapter comes with a lot of change. Everything they've known for the past four or so years is gone, and they start feeling depressed.

How is life after college graduation? ›

Life after graduation can be just as fun, if not more exciting. Being an adult doesn't mean you have to stop enjoying life. In fact, if you don't allow yourself to relax and have fun, are you truly living? Good memories may be behind you, but great ones that you've yet to experience are ahead.

Why is graduating a huge accomplishment? ›

College graduation can represent an attainment of the American Dream, the culmination of years of hard work for the student, and the payoff for sacrifices made by supporting parents and friends.


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