Is it worth getting a university degree?

Salary study: is it still financially worthwhile to study?

Since the switch from the diploma to the Bachelor and Master system, more and more Germans have been asking themselves: Is it still worth studying at all? If so, does it have to be a master’s degree or is a bachelor’s degree enough? And how big are the differences in salaries between an apprenticeship and a master craftsman's certificate? We would like to answer these and more questions for you today.

1. Times have changed
2. Excursus: “Bologna Process” - The new Bachelor-Master system
3. The level of education in Germany is rising steadily
4. How much are apprenticeships, master's degrees, doctoral degrees, etc. still worth?
5. The higher the hierarchical position, the higher the salaries
6. Studying as a guarantee against the risk of "unemployment"

The times have changed

It is no secret that the world of work is currently in a state of upheaval. Demographic change brings big changes with it, the shortage of skilled workers is noticeable for the first time in some industries and Generation Y is bringing a completely new lifestyle - and "work style" - to the job.

Reading tip: "Mood of upheaval: How Generation Y is changing the world of work"

In addition, the “Bologna Process” has changed the academic career that has been common in Germany up to now. It used to be clear: Anyone who has a diploma or even a doctorate starts with a correspondingly high salary and has the best prospects for a management position. Nowadays, many Germans are no longer so sure. You are wondering whether a degree or even a doctorate is still worthwhile - or whether it is not it makes more sense to start your professional life as early as possible and work your way into a management position with a lot of diligence and discipline in accordance with the motto “learning by doing”.

Excursus: “Bologna Process” - The new Bachelor-Master system

In the past, almost every course in Germany, with a few exceptions, ended with a diploma. The “German diploma” enjoyed an excellent reputation worldwide and young professionals had the best job and promotion opportunities in domestic and foreign companies. The only problem was: every European country had its own system and its own degrees. In a Union in which the basic principle is that citizens can live and work in any country of their choice, that was extremely impractical. A standardization was needed and this was called the “Bologna Process”. Since the “Bologna Declaration” in 1999, 47 nations have therefore converted their universities to the two-tier Bachelor-Master system:

  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Greece
  • Great Britain
  • Ireland
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Kazakhstan
  • Croatia
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Austria
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Czech Republic
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • Hungary
  • Vatican
  • Cyprus

This standardization of university degrees will not only make it easier for students to study abroad or complete semesters abroad, but their degree will also be comparable. This facilitates the application process for foreign job advertisements as well as the assessment of an applicant's qualifications by the HR staff. Strictly speaking, we now have a five-stage system in Germany:

  1. Teaching
  2. Master's certificate
  3. Bachelor
  4. master
  5. doctor

The Bologna Process was very controversial, especially in Germany. The German diploma enjoyed a high reputation worldwide. Officially, it is somewhere between a bachelor's and master's degree, but a master's degree is less “popular” with many companies, i.e. less valuable, than the classic diploma. The question that naturally arises for many students is: Should they still have to spend the two or even three additional years of study for a master’s degree? Is it worth it? And if they are “only” aiming for a bachelor's degree anyway, wouldn't an apprenticeship be sufficient? In Germany there has been confusion about the value of a degree since the Bologna Process.

The level of education in Germany is rising steadily

The best way to answer these questions is to let the numbers speak for themselves. According to a study by the Ifo Institute on behalf of the investment company Union Investment, in the German population about

  • 16 percent do not have a professional qualification,
  • 57 percent an apprenticeship
  • 10 percent a master,
  • 7 percent have a degree from a university of applied sciences and
  • 11 percent completed a university degree.

There has been a steady increase in the level of education in Germany over the past 30 years. That means: Fewer and fewer people have no and more and more people have a better professional qualification. Around two percent of Germans also acquire a doctorate after graduating from university. That is more than twice as many doctorates as there were in the 1970s.

You can find more statistics at Statista

This means that Germany is the "PhD World Champion": In this country there are around twice as many doctorates as the average of all other industrial nations. But here too, the question always arises: Is it worth the effort at all? Or do you end up getting nothing more than the two pretty letters "Dr" on your identity card?

How much are apprenticeships, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees & Co still worth?

The study also provides more precise figures for this. Their conclusion is: Every additional year in which you go to school pays off financially later. Read for yourself ...


Anyone completing an apprenticeship in Germany earns an average of 143,000 euros more than an unskilled worker over the course of their working life. According to the StepStone Salary Report 2016, an unskilled person with a school leaving certificate earns an average of 31,444 euros gross per year. It is around 43,980 euros for a high school diploma.

Master craftsman's certificate:

A master craftsman's certificate brings an additional increase in salary. Across Germany, the average gross earnings with a master craftsman's certificate is 48,601 euros per year. Calculated over a whole professional life, the master brings around 129,000 euros more than “just” an apprenticeship, according to the result of the Ifo study.

Bachelor degree:

A bachelor's degree from a university or technical college brings about a further increase in the average salary. You will earn around 55,585 euros with it, which is around 267,000 euros more than the “life earnings” of an apprenticeship.

Master's degree:

The difference that a master’s degree brings is comparatively small. With an average salary of 56,165 euros, a master’s graduate earns “only” a good 500 euros more per month than a bachelor’s graduate - and that with a two to three year longer study period and correspondingly higher training costs. In the case of a master’s degree, its benefits depend heavily on the subject and industryaccording to the experts. While it hardly brings any financial advantage in the field of business administration and should therefore be well thought out, in research, for example, it can generate between 387,000 and one million euros more in income than an apprenticeship - and thus significantly more than a bachelor's degree.


The (financial) benefit of a doctorate also depends heavily on the industry in question. A doctorate is of course found particularly frequently and also rated as useful in medicine, research and science, as well as in law. The "Doctors" in Germany have an average gross annual salary of EUR 65,708.

So the fact is: studying is still worth it! Nevertheless, the master’s degree is not to be considered useful in all industries. If the difference in salary is too small, the study costs of an estimated 30,000 to 48,000 euros do not count. In addition, the period of your “lifetime income” shortens the later you start your job. All in all, however, every additional year at school will ultimately pay off financially for you - at least in the overall German average. But you know: Exceptions confirm the rule and career changers or founders without a professional qualification have often become “rich” in history.

Reading tip: "Get rich: Become a millionaire in 6 + 1 steps"

The higher the hierarchical position, the higher the salaries

Even if you are still in doubt about the financial value of a master’s degree, there may be another reason to continue your academic career: Especially in large German companies - which are still more traditional and conservative - great importance is still attached to your educational qualification when it comes to promotions. It is not uncommon to find strict rules here as to how high you can move up with a particular title. It is not uncommon for you, if you have “only” an apprenticeship or “only” a Bachelor's degree, to come across a glass ceiling that prevents further hierarchical advancement. However, it is precisely this hierarchical rise that is decisive for your income level.

You can find more infographics at Statista

While skilled workers in Germany only earn an average of 45,000 euros per year according to their salary biography in 2016, this sum rises to an average of 105,000 euros for a manager. And in this study, too, the direct connection between academic degree and later salary could not be overlooked: For academics, salaries rise steadily up to the age of 45, and for executives even up to the age of 55. For less highly qualified skilled workers, however, the salary stagnates or falls at the latest by the age of 40. Even if the starting salaries between Masters and Bachelor graduates often differ little, the title is financially noticeable from the age of 30, according to the conclusion of the salary biography .

A degree as a guarantee against the risk of "unemployment"

And one last reason speaks for an academic degree: According to the Ifo study, only 2.5 percent of academics are unemployed. This means that academics have the lowest risk of unemployment. In principle, the following can be observed: the lower the level of education, the higher the likelihood that you will be unemployed in the course of your professional life (long-term). The risk for people without a vocational qualification is 19 percent, while the risk is still seven percent with an apprenticeship.

You can find more statistics at Statista

So all in all, the bottom line is: Yes, studying is still worthwhile - for several reasons. However, a master’s degree does not make sense in every industry. It is therefore advisable to find out in advance whether the master’s degree will bring the desired financial added value in your industry compared to your bachelor’s degree. You should also find out whether you can achieve your desired hierarchical position without a master's degree or doctorate. Therefore, start as early as possible to define your goals and carefully plan your career. It will be profitable from a financial point of view!

What other tips do you have for our readers' career planning? And to what extent has your degree paid off for you (financially)? Thank you for your suggestions and thoughts on the subject in the comments!

Photo credit: smolaw /


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