Hard work and luck may help you get ahead in the current labor force. However, if there’s one factor that’s almost sure to help increase your earnings, it’s going back to school for a graduate degree.
According to the website PayScale, the average recipient of a bachelor’s degree earns an average salary of around $60,000. Those who have at least a master’s degree, by contrast, typically see their income jump 16%, to $70,000 a year. Some post-graduate programs open the door to substantially higher wages than that. Here’s a look at 10 advanced degrees with some of best starting salaries. (For more, see How Much Is a Graduate Degree Worth?)
The list of high-paying graduate degrees is crammed with healthcare jobs. And, of course, medical doctors are at the top. Physicians who work in primary care earn an average annual salary of $223,000, according to a 2018 survey by Medscape. That figure jumps to $329,000 for those who specialize.
You don’t need an M.D. behind your name to earn a substantial paycheck in the medical field. Nurse anesthetists, who help administer anesthesia to surgical patients, typically earn $169,450 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). To become one, you need to be a registered nurse and complete a specialized master’s degree program. At that point you can sit for the exam to earn the certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA, designation.
The benefits of going into dentistry go beyond helping patients improve their smile – you end up with a pretty nice salary as well. The average pay last year for dentists was $158,120, according to BLS data. And with the aging of the U.S. population, job prospects are expected to stay strong over the next decade.
Companies increasingly need people who are capable of planning and executing their technology goals. That’s why jobs like information-technology managers and IT project managers pay, on average, $139,220, according to BLS. However, at many organizations, especially bigger corporations, you need at least a master’s degree in the field to take on those roles.
Becoming a pharmacist is no easy feat. You’ll have to work toward a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree, which includes challenging biology, chemistry and pathology coursework. Afterward, graduates need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), which is required to practice in all 50 states. Nevertheless, at the end pharmacists are rewarded with a very respectable salary. In 2017 pay averaged $124,170 a year, according to BLS.
Careers in law are still among the highest paid in the country. The median salary for an attorney was $119,250 in 2017, according to BLS. In order to practice you need to earn a juris doctor (JD) degree – typically a three-year post-graduate program for full-time students. Most states also require you to pass a bar exam.
Physician Assistant, Nurse Practitioner
A shortage of physicians means that more hospitals and clinics are turning to physician assistants and nurse practitioners to help manage patient care. Both careers require a master’s degree as well as state licensure. In 2017 physician assistants earned a median salary of $104,860, while the average pay for nurse practitioners was $107,480. The future looks sunny for those who want to enter these professions, with employment expected to increase well above average over the next several years.
A post-graduate degree in economics unlocks a number of lucrative career possibilities that aren’t as readily available to applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Among them are working as a policy analyst, market researcher or professor. Those who earn an advanced degree can do quite well. Last year the median pay for an economist was $102,490, based on BLS data.
Engineering continues to be one of the most in-demand careers in the U.S., although employment prospects vary based on one’s specialization. Median pay for those with a master’s degree was $94,000 last year, according to PayScale. (Engineering is also the top-paying specialty for those with a bachelor's degree.)
In the corporate world a master’s in business administration is often a prerequisite to climbing the ladder. A typical MBA grad will rake in $84,000 a year, according the website PayScale. Those with a finance specialization fare even better, with an average salary of $95,000. (For more, see Traditional MBA or Business Graduate Degree?)
The Bottom Line
A post-graduate degree is one of the surest ways to increase your earning potential. That’s especially true for those who pursue a program in a high-demand field, including healthcare, IT, engineering and law.