Doing a master’s or another graduate degree with a specialisation has its advantages. It teaches you more about your favorite subject. It helps you build upon the knowledge and skills that you acquired during your undergraduate course. It may open up more job opportunities. It may even bring you more respect.
But does it fetch you a bigger salary? Well, a few graduate courses do; many others don’t. Enrolling for a master’s course is a major investment of money and time: the tuition fees are high and a graduate course will delay your entry into the job market.
So you better be sure that a specialised postgraduate degree in your field is valued and will put you on a better career path (read higher salaries along with promotions and higher responsibilities).
PayScale studied the salaries of mid-career professionals who hold one or more of 200 graduate degrees to prepare the “2015-2016 PayScale College Salary Report” (here’s the methodology used). Unsurprisingly, most of these degrees were in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths (aka STEM fields). An earlier study of the most rewarding bachelor’s degrees had also come with these same four fields.
But what are the best-paying graduate degrees? Well, it appears that college graduates who take up higher studies related to oil and gas extraction from the earth—petroleum engineering—strike gold right from the start of their careers.
These holders of Master’s in Petroleum Engineering earn annual salaries of $96,500 during their early career (up to five years’ work) and $173,000 mid-career (ten or more years of work), the highest. Interestingly, bachelor’s degree holders may draw higher salaries than postgraduates early on, but the PGs catch up by mid-career.
The next four positions from second to fifth go to Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia (early career $139,000; mid-career $159,000), MBA in Strategy ($93,000, $148,000), MBA in General & Strategic Management ($84,000, $144,000), and MBA in Finance and Real Estate ($78,900, $143,000).
The four positions further down (fifth to ninth) all go to PhDs: Electrical and Computer Engineering ($102,000, $142,000), Computer Engineering ($111,000, 139,000), Chemical Engineering ($92,300, $138,000), and Biomedical Engineering ($86,800, $137,000).
MBA in Economics ($71,999, $136,000) brings up the tenth position in the list of top graduate degrees that fetch the highest salaries.
|Rank||Specialisation||Degree Type||Average Salary in first 5 years||Average Salary after 10 years||% High|
|4||General & Strategic Management||MBA||$84,000||$144,000||51%|
|5||Finance & Real Estate||MBA||$78,900||$143,000||37%|
|6||Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE)||PhD||$102,000||$142,000||61%|
|7||Computer Engineering (CE)||PhD||$111,000||$139,000||61%|
|9||Biomedical Engineering (BME)||PhD||$86,800||$137,000||84%|
|11||Finance & Economics||MBA||$68,100||$134,000||41%|
|13||Electrical Engineering (EE)||PhD||$102,000||$133,000||69%|
|15||Computer Science (CS) & Engineering||PhD||$104,000||$132,000||74%|
Data Source: Payscale
PayScale has added another dimension to these statistics by giving the percentage of PGs in each major subject who feel that their profession makes a difference to the world: 74, 79, and 45 percent of holders of the top three graduate degrees mentioned above find “high meaning” in their jobs. But, among holders of the top ten graduate degrees, a higher percentage of doctorates in Biomedical Engineering (84) are confident about the social value of their work than other graduate-degree holders.
The top four MBAs are obviously the ones listed above. The rest of the top MBA courses are those in Finance and Economics (fifth place, early career $68,000, midcareer $134,000), Management (sixth, $64,900, $132,000), Entrepreneurship ($68,400, $131,000), Industrial Engineering ($83,300, $131,000) (both seventh), Corporate Finance (ninth, $75,500, $130,000), and Computer Science (tenth, $84,000, $128,000)—because of the tie for the seventh place, there’s no eighth place. Among holders of the top ten MBA degrees, a higher percentage of MBAs in Management (58) than other MBAs feel their profession is making a contribution to the world.
PayScale has also organized a list of master’s degrees (excluding MBA) that lead to the highest salaries.
Here, too, Master’s in Petroleum Engineering and Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia grab the top two slots. Master’s degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering ($80,600, $128,000) and in Computer Science and Engineering ($89,000, $127,000) take up places third and fourth. It’s a tie between Biomedical Engineering ($68,400 and $126,000), Electrical Engineering ($78,000 and $126,000), and Taxation ($60,700 and $126,000) for the fifth place.
Next come Master’s in Electronics and Communications Engineering ($84,300, $125,000) and Master’s in Technology Management ($63,600 and $125,000; they are tied at eighth place), and Chemical Engineering ($72,900 and $124,000, tenth place) to complete the top ten master’s degrees (because of the tie for the fifth and eighth places, there’s no sixth, seventh, or ninth place).
Among holders of the top ten master’s degrees, a higher percentage of those with Master’s in Biomedical Engineering (80) than other master’s degree holders believe they are doing valuable service.
|Salary Ranking||Master’s Degree Specialisation||Average Salary in first 5 years||Average Salary after 10 years|
|3||Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE)||$80,600||$128,000|
|4||Computer Science (CS) & Engineering||$89,000||$127,000|
|5||Biomedical Engineering (BME)||$68,400||$126,000|
|5||Electrical Engineering (EE)||$78,900||$126,000|
|8||Electronics & Communications Engineering||$84,300||$125,000|
|11||Materials Science & Engineering||$70,300||$122,000|
|13||Computer Engineering (CE)||$85,000||$121,000|
|13||Computer Science (CS)||$81,200||$121,000|
|13||Computer Science (CS) & Mathematics||$80,000||$121,000|
|18||Information Technology Management||$65,900||$119,000|
|22||Industrial Engineering (IE)||$70,200||$117,000|
|25||Human Computer Interaction||$82,100||$115,000|
Data Source: Payscale
Earlier, PayScale published a list of postgraduate degrees, including PhDs, master’s, and law degrees, adding new dimensions of job satisfaction and emerging fields, apart from midcareer salaries and job growth.
The top five graduate degrees are PhD in Statistics (midcareer salary $131,700, with 71 percent employees reporting they were “highly satisfied”), Master’s in Biostatistics ($113,400, 86 percent), PhD in Computer Science ($144,800, 80 percent), Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction ($115,200, 72 percent), and PhD in Physics ($132,400, 78 percent).
Although MBA secured the 14th rank, job satisfaction was at 72 percent (midcareer salary $101,800). The list also included the worst degrees, topped by master’s in the fields of Interior Design, Educational Administration, and Early Childhood Education.
The portal “The Best Master’s Degrees” describes the master’s degree as the new bachelor’s degree. It draws from PayScale’s report but takes into account other factors such as job growth outlook.
It lists Petroleum Engineering ($130,280), Nurse Anesthesia ($96460), Physician Assistant Studies ($92,970), Mathematics ($101,360), and Political Science ($102,000) as the top-earning master’s degrees. MBA was not researched.
The executive search portal Monster ranks Electrical Engineering (midcareer pay $121,000), Finance ($120,000), Chemical Engineering (117,000), Economics ($114,000), and Physics ($113,000) among the top five master’s degrees (MBA was not researched).
What about the worst five master’s?
These are Counselling ($52,000), Social Work, Music, Library and Information Science, and Education.
The finance website Simple Dollar predicts that master’s degrees in Statistics (midcareer salary $83,310), Political Science ($100,900), Mathematics ($103,310), and Occupational Therapy ($92,230) have among the highest potential for job opportunities (based on figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012-22) and will fetch among the top salaries.