Highest Paying Master's Degrees

Graduate Programs and Other Strategies That Boost Salary Potential

After you finish your undergraduate program, pursuing additional education may be one of the last things on your mind. Earning a master’s degree, however, greatly increases your earning potential. Even working professionals who have been out of college for years can benefit from earning a master’s degree. The choice to pursue an advanced degree is not a decision to be made lightly, however. It’s an investment, and prospective students should put in the time to carefully consider and research their options. This guide can help -- learn more about high paying careers for master’s degree holders and get expert advice on how to position yourself for a lucrative career upon graduating.

Highest Paying Master’s Degrees


Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

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Potential careers and salaries:
Nurse Anesthetist
Nurse Anesthetist

Annual median salary (2017): $165,120

Nurse Midwife
Nurse Midwife

Annual median salary (2017): $105,590

Nurse Practitioner
Nurse Practitioner

Annual median salary (2017): $103,880



Master of Public Administration (MPA)

The master’s degree in public administration helps position you for impactful work at government agencies, private or public administration companies, nonprofit organizations, and related institutions. In sum, students in these programs train to become problem-solvers who work toward resolving contemporary challenges in society on local, national and global scales. Some professionals work to better healthcare, education, or community relations. Others with this degree wish to focus on budget and fiscal issues, fundraising, urban planning, public affairs communications, or utilities and waste management. Each school brings unique opportunities to the table, so it is important to consider your options carefully. Be sure to consider programs offered through schools of public policy or public affairs, as well.

Potential careers and salaries:
Political Scientist
Political Scientist

Annual median salary (2017): $116,110

Public Relations and Fundraising Manager
Public Relations and Fundraising Manager

Annual median salary (2017): $111,280

Training and Development Manager
Training and Development Manager

Annual median salary (2017): $108,250



Master of Science in Computer Science

Computer science students learn skills that are widely applicable in various technology-driven fields. Master’s students learn advanced math and statistics and computer coding through coursework such as computer architecture, computer language theory, software development, programming and networking. Students in this field master programming languages, research and develop uses for artificial technology, or create organizational and security systems. Those with master’s degrees in computer science work in technology departments, government agencies and nonprofit entities.

Potential careers and salaries:
Computer Hardware Engineer
Computer Hardware Engineer

Annual median salary (2017): $115,120

Computer and Information Research Scientist
Computer and Information Research Scientist

Annual median salary (2017): $114,520

Computer Network Architect
Computer Network Architect

Annual median salary (2017): $104,650



Master of Economics (M.Econ., M.Ec., MS in Economics)

In these programs, graduate students learn how apply both quantitative and qualitative economic analysis to solve problems in a variety of industries. Graduate students learn to review data in great detail, perform advanced calculations, and develop logical conclusions. As a result, these students develop strong analytical, critical-thinking, and writing skills. They also learn excellent communication and writing skills by working with others in small groups and teams. Graduates often go on to work for the federal government, scientific research and development services, technical consulting services, and finance or insurance companies.

Potential careers and salaries:
Economist
Economist

Annual median salary (2017): $102,490

Actuary
Actuary

Annual median salary (2017): $101,560

Financial Economist
Financial Economist

Annual median salary (2017): $101,560



Master of Finance

In a Master of Finance program, students develop the skills necessary to pursue management and administrative roles in finance. Most master’s programs focus on developing students’ accounting, communication and research skills. Graduate students take courses such as organizational behavior, corporate finance, macroeconomics, and strategic management to gain the required, specialized skills for today’s financial world. Professionals with a master’s degree in finance typically pursue careers in corporate finance, investment banking, private wealth management or accounting.

Potential careers and salaries:
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Financial Officer

Annual median salary (2017): $129,920

Finance Director
Finance Director

Annual median salary (2017): $110,807

Financial Managers
Financial Managers

Annual median salary (2017): $110,807



Master of Engineering (M.Eng.)

Master of Engineering programs can vary greatly between colleges. Different than the master of science in engineering, this degree offers technical training for the practical application of skills upon graduation. While you may still pursue research-heavy careers or a PhD like your master of science colleagues, the Master of Engineering is more of an specialized, professional degree, which means it emphasizes real world applications for professional certification more so than theory and/or research. While in graduate school, most students pursue a specialty that helps dictate the direction of their career upon graduation. Examples of popular specialities for this degree include aerospace, environmental, electrical and computer, geological sciences, operations research, and materials science.

Potential careers and salaries:
Senior Director of Engineering
Senior Director of Engineering

Annual median salary (2017): $179,745

Director of Engineering
Director of Engineering

Annual median salary (2017): $138,922

Senior Chemical Engineer
Senior Chemical Engineer

Annual median salary (2017): $107,065


Master’s Degrees That Pay Well

The degrees discussed in the previous section often lead to six-figure salaries, but those aren’t the only options for excellent salary potentials after graduation. The following master’s degrees lead to five-figure salaries that are still far above the national average.


Master of Science in Mathematics

Master of Science in Mathematics graduates prepare for a wide variety of careers that focus on research, education, hard science, and computer technology. Students learn how to perform computations and numerical analyses to conduct research and solve problems. Graduates can work for private research companies, engineering/tech companies, or the federal government. Some graduates go on to work in applied mathematics, which includes careers in engineering, computer science, and business. Those who specialize in the uses of mathematical data, statistics, and risk assessment may work as actuaries or analysts in a variety of industries.

Potential careers and salaries:
Statistician
Statistician

Annual median salary (2017): $84,760

Operations Research Analyst
Operations Research Analyst

Annual median salary (2017): $81,390

Mathematician
Mathematician

Annual median salary (2017): $74,033



Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering (BME)

This degree combines physiology/medicine and engineering science to create solutions for various healthcare and human health problems. Many professionals seek out work in medical technology research and development. Depending on their specialization, graduates of this degree can work in clinical and rehabilitation settings, bioinstrumentation, biomaterials, biomechanics, medical imaging, and pharmaceuticals. They may also develop artificial body parts and prosthetics, provide technical support for biomedical equipment, and train clinicians on how to use related technology.

Potential careers and salaries:
Biomedical Engineer
Biomedical Engineer

Annual median salary (2017): $88,040

Quality Engineer - Medical Devices
Quality Engineer - Medical Devices

Annual median salary (2017): $71,683

Engineering College Professor
Engineering College Professor

Annual median salary (2017): $66,175



Master of Business Administration (MBA)

MBA students develop a widely applicable skill set that most professional companies value. Depending on one’s chosen concentration, these students focus on learning entrepreneurial, leadership and management, teamwork, problem-solving, and analytical skills. MBA students also take courses in corporate finance, business consulting, human and organizational performance, marketing, manufacturing, and banking. Perhaps one of the most transferable skills you’ll obtain in an MBA program is networking know-how as developing meaningful relationships with people both in and outside your areas of expertise and career foci are still essential to success today.

Potential careers and salaries:
Management Analyst
Management Analyst

Annual median salary (2017): $82,450

Financial Analyst
Financial Analyst

Annual median salary (2017): $84,300

Market Research Analyst
Market Research Analyst

Annual median salary (2017): $63,230



Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology

Speech-language pathology students assess patients’ levels of speech, language and swallowing difficulty, develop treatment options, coach children and adults through recovery plans, and council individuals and families on how to to deal with communication disorders. Students may specialize in working with particular demographics, such as children or the elderly. They also take on administrative tasks including record keeping and patient billing. They keep accurate records of patient diagnoses, progross, treatment plans and changes in patients’ health.

Potential careers and salaries:
Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)
Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Annual median salary (2017): $76,610



Master of Education

Master of Education students learn a variety of educational, instructional, and leadership skills. Depending on the program and concentration, students prepare for jobs as assistant principals, principals, heads of departments, superintendents, and advanced teachers. In addition to increasing one’s earning potential, the master of education degree also helps current teachers develop new skills and methods that may help them connect with their students more effectively. For those interested in pursuing administrative roles, graduate education programs typically offer concentrations in education administration, educational leadership or principalship. Concentrations are also offered in researching and evaluating new teaching methods and materials, developing teacher training programs, or composing new curricula.

Potential careers and salaries:
School Principal
School Principal

Annual median salary (2017): $94,390

Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary Teacher

Annual median salary (2017): $76,610

Instructional Coordinator
Instructional Coordinator

Annual median salary (2017): $63,750



Master of Sociology

Sociology grad students learn various qualitative methods to interpret and analyze social behavior. Coursework often covers theories and topics that affect social behavior and human interaction, such as ethnicity, gender, social class, and age. Students in this field develop strong research, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, and graduates often go on to find employment in the scientific research and development services, at colleges and universities, and in positions at state governments. Some may even pursue work as guidance counselors, market research analysts, management consultants or human resources representatives.

Potential careers and salaries:
Sociologist
Sociologist

Annual median salary (2017): $79,659

Training and Development Specialist
Training and Development Specialist

Annual median salary (2017): $60,360

Human Resource Specialist
Human Resource Specialist

Annual median salary (2017): $60,350


Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Master’s Degree

While earning a master’s degree greatly increases your chances of landing a higher paying job than if you only had a bachelor’s degree, increasing your earning potential should not be your only consideration when researching master’s programs to pursue. The list below offers some additional factors to consider that may help you decide if a master’s degree is right for you and, if so, which one.

Expanding or narrowing employment opportunities

Earning a master’s degree is often seen as a way to increase your employment options; however, depending on the current job climate, your location, and your chosen field, this may not always be the case. While some fields -- such as business -- typically offer a wide range of career options for those with the specialized knowledge and skills of a master’s degree, other fields may be very niche and, therefore, have limited openings. Before enrolling in a master’s program, carefully research projected employment growth and outlook.

This is a specialization

As mentioned, money isn’t everything so a high salary may not mean much if you dread doing your work every day. Pursuing a master’s degree means you’ll be pursuing a specialization. Is this something you enjoy? Is this a field in which you are ready to invest a substantial amount of money and time? Make sure to ask yourself these questions because you’ll be happiest in the long term if it is something you actually love.

Do you need a master’s degree?

Based on your industry, previous education, and experience do you need a master’s degree to get the job or advance in your career? As mentioned above, some high paying careers absolutely require a master’s degree, but in other cases, years of experience and additional on-the-job-training may be enough.

Accreditation

Be sure that your educational institution holds accreditation from an accrediting body recognized by the Department of Education. Both regional and national accreditations exist, with the former being the gold standard. Schools without accreditation typically do not meet the same standards of education and quality as accredited schools and employers will not accept an earned degree that is not properly accredited. You want to make sure that your time and money are well spent, and that the credentials you earn will help you advance your career.

Financial aid

Many colleges and universities offer their graduate students stipends or assistantships that cover some or all of their tuition costs and fees. While this is not a given, prospective graduate students should keep an eye out for these financial aid opportunities. Unfortunately, this type of information is sometimes difficult to find online. You may need to contact your prospective department directly by email or phone to get a detailed explanation of their potential funding opportunities.

Related reading:

An Online Guide to Graduate Schools: How to Choose a Program, Get in and Graduate

Ways to Boost Your Salary Potential

In addition to completing your master’s degree, there are other things you can do to further increase your earning potential after graduate school. The following list offers some factors to think about as you make your way through graduate school and enter the competitive job market.

Location, location, location

The location of your job can greatly affect your salary. In recent years, with the increased availability of remote positions, the traditional notion of how location-salary correlations work has shifted a bit. In some cases, for example, you may live in Cleveland, OH, and work a remote position based in Washington, D.C. Depending on the company, you may make a salary comparable to those who live in D.C., which would be substantially higher based on living expenses and competitive salaries where you actually live. Alternatively, some states and cities simply pay better than others for particular careers or industries. When applying for jobs, do your research using tools available on sites like PayScale, CareerOneStop, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to locate the most lucrative locations for chosen career.

Earn a credential, specialization or certification

Rebecca Newman, MSW graduate and Psychiatric Social Worker at Thomas Jefferson University Physicians Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior in Philadelphia, PA, argues that students and new graduates should make sure they have something unique to bring to the table. "Both extra credentials and specializing within your field can make you a more valuable asset,” she says. “It can be tempting to be a blank canvas for employers, especially when you are particularly keen to find a job, but building and curating a team requires bringing together members with different strengths. If you specialize in an area of your field and do it well, those skills can be more valuable than being another generalist.” She also notes that having a specialization, credential, or certification can give you more bargaining power when it comes to salary.

Get some relevant work experience

Many master’s programs today strongly advise or require students fulfill some kind of internship. Especially for those who do not have prior work experience, an internship or apprenticeship can greatly increase the chances of landing a high paying job. This also shows that you’re invested in your career and aiming for success. Upon graduation, do not be too proud to apply for internship positions.

Highlight relevant education

Be sure to do your homework and research all the ways in which you could contribute to prospective employers. In your resume and cover letter, illustrate the ways in which you can meet and exceed the demands of the job. As you highlight additional skills that make you a strong candidate, support your claims with relevant facts about the company or the job itself.

Leverage past performance reviews and/or letters of recommendation

Whether you’re looking for higher pay in your current position or in a new role, performance reviews can play a significant role in employers’ decisions to increase pay or offer you a higher starting salary. You can reference performance reviews from previous, relevant positions during interviews. For those without work experience or formal performance reviews, the next best thing would be glowing letters of recommendation or references from people who can speak to your abilities and likelihood of success in the field.

FAQs with Rebecca Newman

Rebecca Newman offers some professional insight to frequently asked questions regarding master’s programs, job hunting, and salaries.
Will I earn more money if I earn a master’s degree?

It depends. A good way to get a sense of the increase in earning potential with a master’s degree is to look at job listings or LinkedIn profiles of people who have your “dream” job. Does the posting require a master’s degree as a prerequisite? Do people in the field seem to have advanced degrees more often than not? If so, then graduate education is likely a prudent investment to reach the goal of that dream job, and eventual increased earning. Just because there is a master’s degree in a specific field does not mean that it is useful on-the-job. If you are evaluating a particular program, connect with some alumni and ask them how the degree has served them, and whether it was a worthwhile investment. With all of that in mind, make the best decision for you and your career.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the career I’m interested in typically requires a master’s degree for entry. Does this mean an employer won’t consider me at all unless I have a graduate degree?

It is usually true that if a position states that an advanced degree is required, the employer would not consider you without that credential. In some fields, employers will consider a combination of education and advanced work experience commensurate with graduate education, but these examples are rare, and may strongly encourage or require you to complete a master’s degree within a set amount of time on the job. Additionally, to be a competitive candidate in the field, the degree will be an asset to you over the course of your career.

How do I figure out whether a master’s degree is worth it?

From a financial standpoint, this will require some research on your part. Speak with people who have your desired job in your desired field with an advanced degree, and ask them about salary ranges, both when they were starting out in the field after completing their master’s, and how their earning increased with time. If the increase in earning potential is greater than the cost of the degree over 10-20 years, then the degree will likely be beneficial over the course of a 35-40 year career.

From a professional development standpoint, ask yourself about how satisfied you are in your current role. Is there room for growth? Are you doing work that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning? Will a master’s degree make you eligible for more opportunities that will be more fulfilling? Even if the salary calculus of a degree is unclear, no amount of money will make a bad job or career track bearable. Ask yourself what will give you lasting impact, and see how advanced education fits into that trajectory.

How long does it take to earn a master’s?

Generally, a master’s degree takes two to three years to earn on a full-time basis. Some master’s degree programs offer a one-year accelerated option to account for a bachelor’s degree in the same field or a grueling pace of study. Completing a degree part-time depends on how many courses you take per semester to accrue the necessary credits to complete the degree, and the program will have limits on how long you have from matriculation to graduation. Generally, pursuing a degree part-time will take about 50 percent longer than as a full-time student.

I want to earn a higher salary but am not sure I want to pursue a master’s. Are there alternatives to earning a master’s degree?

In the United States, we place a high premium on advanced education, and many companies’ salary structure compensates more based on the highest level of education an employee has completed. However, you can seek additional credentials or training to increase your capabilities in your current role, and negotiate an accompanying salary increase.

My undergraduate degree isn’t related to the master’s degree I’m considering. Will that hurt my chances of getting into my desired program?

No! Some graduate degree courses of study do not exist at an undergraduate level, and a program should recognize your enthusiasm to learn. If you are applying to a program that is different from what you studied for your bachelor’s degree, try to connect the dots about how your previous degree taught you how to think or analyze, and how those skills will be useful in your prospective graduate study. You may need to take some ancillary classes to be a competitive candidate for some master’s programs, and the prerequisite expectations should be clear on a program’s admissions page.