According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employees with a master's degree earned a median annual salary of $1,434 per week in 2018. By comparison, these employees outearned those with bachelor's degrees by more than $200 per week -- or more than $10,000 per year. Master's degree holders also face lower unemployment rates than those with only a bachelor's, and many popular career paths require a master's or higher for entry-level roles.
Some students pursue master's degrees to prepare for new professional roles or to transition into a different career field. Others want to improve their skill sets and qualify for advancement opportunities. Many Ph.D. and doctoral programs only admit candidates with master's degrees, making it a suitable stepping stone for these high-level graduate programs. Top master's degrees in demand offer many advantages, but some represent higher earnings and more job security than others due to employer demands, job growth, and other factors. Overall, the top master's degrees for jobs vary by industry, but here are what career advisors and human resource experts say about the top 10 master’s degrees for landing a job in today’s market.
What Makes a Master's Degree Desirable to Employers?
Aram Lulla is the General Manager of national executive search firm Lucas Group’s Human Resources Division. With nearly 20 years of experience in HR recruiting, Aram currently leads a team of more than 50 recruiters in 11 U.S. cities across the country. At Lucas Group, Aram designed, developed and implemented the business plan that led to the launch of the company’s HR recruiting team. He previously served in a variety of HR and HR recruiting roles at companies including Randstad and Human Resources International (HRI).
Alexander Lowry is a professor of finance at Gordon College where he brings a unique “bilingual” perspective to the academic world, having spent 15 years in senior executive positions in international business and finance. He's a frequent speaker at gatherings of business leaders, corporate events, and academic conferences. his views are often cited in the media, including in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Economist, Forbes, Reuters, radio, and the major television networks.
Here are their picks for the top 6 things hiring managers are looking for from master’s degree holders:
- Relevant Skills and Knowledge: Students should pursue degrees related to their career interests to increase their hireability. Aram Rulla, human resources general manager for Lucas Group, says that the ideal degree for any student depends on their desired career path. ‘In my field of expertise, human resources,’ Rulla says, ‘we like to see people with a master's in human resources management, industrial/organizational psychology, or an MBA (ideally with a concentration in HR).’
- Collaborative Experience: Group projects at the graduate level require classmates to engage in intensive, thoughtful collaboration. These activities often mirror professional group work, and employers encourage job seekers to discuss successful projects when applying for jobs. ‘As far as educational experience, having project work with deliverables during their course of study would be a plus,’ Rulla says. ‘Strong verbal and written communication skills coupled with collaboration skills would be a significant benefit.’
- Practical Training: Graduate programs with internships, practicum courses, or other hands-on components effectively prepare students for real-world work settings. Alexander Lowry, who leads the financial analysis master's program at Gordon University, says hiring managers seek candidates with established skill sets who can ‘hit the ground running’ once they begin working. ‘Internships, ideally more than one, are essential,’ he adds.
- Networking Expertise: Master's degrees enable students to network extensively with their classmates, professors, other faculty members, and alumni. Internships and practicum courses may also lead to networking opportunities, which can benefit job seekers. Lowry urges students to begin networking on day one. ‘When you're a student, you have a golden opportunity to contact all your school's alumni who are in your field,’ he says. ‘Alums are happy to take those calls and help. But that advantage disappears once you graduate.’
- Management Potential: To many employers, a master's degree signals strong leadership skills. Employees with master's degrees often advance to management positions more quickly than those with only a bachelor's or lower. ‘Not always, but having a master's degree can give you a leg up when seeking management roles,’ Rulla says. ‘Many employers prefer their senior leadership to possess a master's.’
- Emotional Intelligence: In today's work environment, people skills such as communication and interpersonal effectiveness help graduates succeed. Many employers consider the master's degree a strong indicator of emotional intelligence (EQ) and book smarts. Lowry believes both carry equal importance. ‘You must have EQ to match IQ,’ he says, ‘especially in the multi-generational workforce we're all facing today.’
The 10 Most In-Demand Master's Degrees for Employers
With insight on what hiring experts are looking for in mind, we’ve determined the most We have based our picks on several factors, such as postgraduate employment rates, projected job growth, salaries for entry-level and experienced employees, and diversity of career options. To determine the best master's degrees for the future, we use higher education data from several reputable sources, including the BLS, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), PayScale, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
We have listed the degree fields in alphabetical order. Please visit the links in each profile to learn more.
Most bachelor's in accounting programs span 120 credits, but certified public accountant (CPA) certification requires candidates to earn at least 150 college credits before they can sit for their exam. A master's in accounting can satisfy this requirement and provide specialized training for students, which may lead to higher salaries and more advancement opportunities. Many master's in accounting programs offer specializations in high-demand fields, such as forensic accounting and auditing, further bolstering students' employment opportunities.
Programs rarely require internships or practicum courses, allowing students to complete all their requirements from home, and some schools offer accelerated pathways, which students can complete in one year or less. According to a 2017 report from NACE, the master's in accounting carries a 90.1% employment rate within six months of graduation.
Certified public accountant; forensic accountant; internal or external auditor
According to the BLS, accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $70,500 in 2017. Employers in the finance and insurance industries provided the highest median wages.
The BLS projects jobs for accountants and auditors will grow 10% during this time, largely due to the growing globalization of business.
Due to the widespread use of computing technology and a high demand for qualified professionals in this field, the master's in computer science is linked to above-average earnings and high employment rates. According to a 2017 report from NACE, this degree carries a postgraduate employment rate of 85% within six months of graduation, and the typicall recipient earns more than $95,000 per year. Master's in computer science programs typically include coursework in programming, systems architecture, operating systems, and cloud computing.
Students often earn specializations in fields linked to lucrative professions, such as software engineering, information security, and database administration. Many programs also require internships that provide hands-on training for students in real-world working environments.
Information security analyst; database administrator; computer and information research scientist
According to the BLS, computer and information research scientists earned the highest median annual salary among all computer and technology occupations in 2017 ($118,370).
The BLS projects strong growth for most computer science-related occupations during this period. These include information security analysts with 28% growth, database administrators with 11% growth, and computer and information research scientists with 19% growth.
Dietetics and Nutrition
A master's degree in dietetics and nutrition prepares students for careers as nutritionists or dietitians, consulting with clients to promote healthy food and lifestyle choices. The core curricula for these degrees focus on anatomy and physiology, exercise science, and the effects of different foods and nutrients on the human body. Courses also cover strategies for educating communities about nutritional health.
Most programs require at least one internship or practicum course in which experienced professionals facilitate hands-on training for students. Additional courses discuss state-specific requirements for dietitian and nutritionist licensing. According to the 2017 NACE report, a master's in dietetics and clinical nutrition services carries a 100% employment rate within six months of graduation.
According to the BLS, all dietitians and nutritionists earned a median annual salary of $60,370 in 2017. However, NACE notes that the typical employee with a master's in dietetics and clinical nutrition earned a much higher annual salary of $185,312.
The BLS projects jobs for dietitians and nutritionists to increase by 15% during this period. A widespread emphasis on nutrition and preventative health should continue to fuel job growth for this occupation.
Human resources (HR) personnel handle their organization's administrative needs and functions, including recruitment, screening, and hiring; new employee orientation; benefits and compensation; and conflict mediation. At the master's level, students may choose between a master's in HR or an MBA with an HR specialization. The standard HR master's covers topics such as workplace laws and ethics, leadership, and office communication.
Alternatively, MBA in HR programs focus on these areas and add courses in business-oriented subjects, such as finance and marketing. A master's in HR prepares students for advanced workplace roles such as HR managers, who oversee their organization's administrative departments, and HR specialist and project coordinator positions.
HR manager; HR specialist; project coordinator
According to the BLS, HR managers earned a median annual salary of $113,300 in 2017.
The BLS projects jobs for HR managers to increase by 9% during this timeframe, resulting in more than 12,000 new jobs nationwide.
Most librarian positions, including entry-level roles, require a master's in library science. Coursework for this degree usually covers classification and organization strategies for books, magazines, reference materials, and other publications, along with advanced research methods, web-based reference systems, and special requirements for librarians in certain states, such as public and school librarian certification. According to the 2017 NACE report, the master's in library science carries a postgraduate employment rate of nearly 85% within six months of graduation.
Potential roles for graduates include academic librarians at colleges and universities, law librarians who work for lawyers and legal offices, and corporate librarians who assist private businesses.
Public librarian; school librarian; academic librarian; law librarian
The BLS notes that librarians earned a median annual salary of $59,050 in 2017. Positions at postsecondary institutions and public elementary and secondary schools awarded the highest salaries for librarians.
The BLS projects that jobs for librarians will grow by 9% -- or more than 12,000 new positions -- during this period.
Mathematics and Statistics
Mathematicians and statisticians typically need a graduate degree for entry-level employment. According to the BLS, a master's in mathematics and statistics involves coursework in linear algebra, calculus, and other advanced mathematics, along with economics, probability, and statistical theory. Many modern programs also incorporate computer science and information technology to familiarize students with the tools and platforms commonly used in these fields. Mathematicians and statisticians may find employment in a variety of industries.
Mathematicians and statisticians often work for the federal government or in fields such as healthcare, insurance, management, and research and development.
According to the BLS, mathematicians earned a median annual salary of $101,900 in 2017, while statisticians earned a median salary of $87,780.
During this 10-year period, the BLS projects that jobs for statisticians will increase by 34% and jobs for mathematicians will increase by 33%.
According to the BLS, mechanical engineers work in a variety of industries, including architecture, machine manufacturing, aerospace and transportation, and scientific research. The best master's in mechanical engineering degrees prepare students to work in different sectors through coursework in fluid dynamics, mathematics, quality control, and other subjects with wide-reaching applications. Many master's programs offer specializations in mechanical engineering, which can sharpen students' career-related skills and help them find jobs after graduation more quickly.
According to the 2017 NACE report, more than 93% of students who earn a master's degree in mechanical engineering technologies gain full-time employment within six months of graduation. The NACE report also found that those with a master's in mechanical engineering outearned their counterparts with bachelor's degrees by more than $15,000 per year.
Mechanical engineer; project engineer
According to the BLS, mechanical engineers earned a median annual salary of $87,370 in 2017.
The BLS projects jobs for mechanical engineers to increase by 9% during this period, resulting in more than 25,000 new jobs. Many employers prefer candidates with skills and expertise in certain areas, such as 3D printing and computer simulation.
A bachelor's degree in nursing meets the criteria for many entry-level roles, including registered nurses (RNs), but some nursing positions require a master's degree or higher. These positions include advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse anesthetists, midwives, and nurse practitioners. Many RNs earn their master's through RN-to-MSN programs, which prepare students for these high-level nursing professions. Coursework covers advanced anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and patient care, along with health laws, policies, and ethics.
All RN-to-MSN programs include practicum components, which entail 100-1,000 supervised clinical training hours. Additional courses prepare students for APRN licensure requirements. According to the 2017 NACE report, master's in nursing degrees boast an 83.1% employment rate within six months of graduation. Forbes also named nurse anesthesia, a common master's specialization, as the master's degree with the highest salary potential in 2017.
Nurse anesthetist; nurse midwife; nurse practitioner
According to the BLS, APRNs collectively earned a median annual salary of $113,930. Among the different APRN roles, nurse anesthetists had the highest median earnings with $167,950.
The BLS predicts jobs for APRNs to increase by 31% during this 10-year period. Nurse practitioners boast the highest projected growth rate of 36%.
A master's in public health prepares students for a number of professions. Most of these programs include coursework in epidemiology, which studies the causes and effects of diseases, injuries, and other health risks for humans. Other core topics include biostatistics, a field focused on collecting and interpreting health-related data, and community health education. Many public health master's pathways offer specializations in these areas, along with other related fields such as global health and public health policy.
Most programs span two years, but some schools offer accelerated tracks that students can complete in less than 18 months. According to the 2017 NACE report, this degree saw an 87.2% postgraduate employment rate.
Epidemiologist; biostatistician; health educator
According to the BLS, epidemiologists earned a median annual salary of $69,660. However, those working for certain employers -- such as scientific research facilities and hospitals -- earned median salaries of $82,000-$99,000.
A master's in software engineering teaches students to design and develop computer programs and applications, along with the operating systems that power devices and computer networks. Entry-level software developers often write code for computer programmers and test products to ensure they function properly. This master's may also prepare students for computer and information systems manager roles. Also known as IT managers, these professionals plan and facilitate various projects and activities related to their organization's technology systems.
The curriculum for a master's in software engineering may also cover project management, database development, and network architecture.
Software developer; computer and information systems manager; network architect
In 2017, the BLS reported that computer and information systems managers earned a median annual salary of $142,530, while software developers earned a median annual salary of $105,590.
The BLS projects jobs for software developers will increase by 24% over this decade. Jobs for computer and information systems managers should grow by 12% during the same period.
Tips for Master's Graduates Entering the Workforce
Piotr Sosnowski is the head of HR and co-founder at Zety. He boasts seven years of experience in recruitment in top companies and managing teams and HR projects. He has expanded the InterviewMe and Zety team from three people to over 50 in less than four years.
Here are his top 6 tips for master’s graduates entering the workforce:
Start networking in the mist of earning your top master's degree. Build a professional network of contacts and reach out to the companies and thought leaders you admire. Follow their steps and interact with them. LinkedIn is a great place to start; it allows you to create a presentable, professional profile and connect with people who can play a significant role in your career.
Attend networking events and industry workshops, joining online groups and webinars to keep up with the industry buzz.
Prepare a Winning Entry-Level Application
Considering that as a graduate you may not have extensive work experience, learn how to create an entry-level job application and highlight what's unique about you. From a tailored resume, through a robust online presence, to an online portfolio or innovative solution of a video resume -- the internet supplies you with a significant amount of guides and tutorials on how to prepare a job application.
Reach Out to Your “Dream Come True” Companies
Do not wait for a job to find you. If you have no work experience, the chances are you may not get on the recruiters' radar immediately. If you are passionate about a certain industry, read the industry news and magazines. Attend the thematic events. Compose a list of the companies you'd want to work for and simply reach out with a "spontaneous application." Let them notice you and do not give up in your searches.
Attend Companies’ Open Days and Job Fairs
Many companies organize recruiting events or open days. Keep track of those and always bring your resume with you and a winning elevator pitch.
Start with an Internship
Starting with an internship at a company lets you get your foot in the door. Companies tend to keep the employees they trained themselves rather than looking for new ones. And even if that is not the case, having such experience opens many other doors for you.
Find a Mentor
Once part of a company, find yourself a mentor and learn. Learn a lot. This is your time to shine and show what can do; so, show as much initiative as you can.
The Importance of Accreditation for Online Master's Programs
Most colleges and universities undergo a comprehensive assessment known as accreditation to demonstrate high levels of quality in various areas, such as course curricula, campus resources, and student outcomes. Organizations known as accreditors conduct the accreditation process, which can take months.
Accreditation is voluntary, but a school's accreditation status may impact its students' eligibility for federal loans, scholarships, and grants, and their ability to transfer course credits. For these reasons, students should carefully research the accreditation status of each potential institution before settling on a school for their master's degree.
Accreditors award two types of accreditation to colleges and universities. The first, institutional accreditation, applies to the school as a whole and further subdivides into two categories. Regional accreditation normally applies to private, nonprofit schools and four-year public universities emphasizing a liberal arts education. National accreditation, on the other hand, typically applies to for-profit institutions and vocational and professional schools.
Most regionally accredited schools do not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited ones, which may restrict students who begin their education at a nationally accredited institution.
The second type of accreditation, programmatic (or specialized) accreditation, applies to degrees, departments, and smaller schools belonging to larger institutions. Programmatic accreditation primarily covers graduate-level studies, though it may also include undergraduate programs in certain majors, such as law, psychology, and nursing. Many colleges and universities receive both institutional and programmatic institution.
Two separate organizations oversee the approval and designation of accreditors: The Department of Education (ED), a cabinet of the U.S. government, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-government organization. The ED and CHEA websites each maintain a list of recognized regional, national, and programmatic accreditors. Visit these directories to ensure your top schools hold full accreditation in all applicable areas.
Additional Resources for Students
This page lists the best schools with online master's programs for the 2018-19 academic year, along with top degree fields and an overview of graduate-level education requirements.
This guide provides a comprehensive rundown of graduate degree types and fields, application requirements, financial aid options, and other important considerations for prospective grad students.