If there's one factor almost sure to help increase your earnings, it's going back to school for a post-graduate degree. Those who obtain a master's degree typically see a significant bump in pay. These highest-paying jobs are ranked the best salaries starting with the highest.
For example, a worker with a bachelor's degree in business was expected to earn $58,869 in 2021. Their counterpart with a master's degree is expected to reach $75,461. Engineers with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $71,088 in 2021—not too shabby. But the same work with a master's is expected to pull down $80,320.
For some post-graduate programs, the increase in wages can be substantially higher. Below, we look at 10 careers that require advanced degrees and have some of the best salaries.
- Workers who earn an advanced degree can expect a significant bump in pay compared to those who hold just a bachelor's degree.
- Even if a job doesn't need a degree, you may need special certification or an associate's degree.
- A number of the top-paying careers are in healthcare, including doctors, nurse anesthetists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.
- Law, business, and engineering are fields in which an advanced degree can also lead to a lucrative career.
- Hourly minimum pay rates are highest on the coasts.
The average annual salary for family medicine physicians—$240,000
The list of high-paying graduate degrees is crammed with healthcare jobs. Not surprisingly, physicians are at the top. The average starting salary for family medicine physicians is $240,000—a level that has remained flat for three years due to reduced demand for primary care doctors.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029. This is approximately as fast "as the average for all occupations."
Doctors who specialize receive a significant pay increase. Average salaries for cardiologists are $409,000 (non-invasive) and $640,000 (invasive). Orthopedic surgeons make $626,000 on average, while urologists typically earn $477,000 per year.
Keep in mind that specialization adds extra years to an already long timeline of study. Medical school lasts four years, and residency takes at least three years, and generally, both come after four years of undergraduate college.
2. Nurse Anesthetist
The average annual salary for a nurse anesthetist—$215,000
You don’t need an M.D. after your name to earn a substantial paycheck in the medical field. Certified registered nurse anesthetists who help administer anesthesia to surgical patients earn an average of $215,000 per year.
To become one, you need to be a registered nurse and complete a specialized master's degree program and other requirements. At that point, you can sit for the exam to earn the certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) designation.
The employment for all nurses, including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, is projected to grow 45% by 2029, meaning these jobs will be very much in demand.
The median annual salary for a dentist—$164,010
The benefits of going into dentistry go beyond helping patients improve their smiles—you end up with a satisfying salary as well. As of May 2020, the median salary for a dentist was $164,010, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With the aging of the U.S. population, job prospects are expected to stay strong over the next decade.
The median pay for orthodontists, prosthodontists, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons was $208,000 annually or more. The top-paying states for dentists were Rhode Island, Vermont, Alaska, Maine, and New Hampshire.
4. Information-Technology Management
The median annual salary for computer and IT managers—$151,150
Companies increasingly need people who are capable of planning and executing their technology goals. That's why the median pay for jobs like information-technology managers and IT project managers was $151,150 as of May 2020, according to the BLS. However, at many organizations, significantly bigger corporations, you need at least a master's degree in the field to take on those roles.
The median annual salary for a pharmacist—$128,710
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 must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), which is required to practice in all 50 states.
Nevertheless, in the end, pharmacists are rewarded with a very respectable salary. Their median pay as of May 2020 was $128,710, according to BLS data.
The median annual salary for a lawyer—$126,930
Careers in law are still among the highest-paid in the country. 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 that you pass a bar exam. And considering the student loans needed to finance a degree, prospective law students must decide for themselves: is law school worth it?
The median salary for an attorney was $126,930 as of May 2020, according to BLS data. Of course, where you went to school and whether you work in public or private practice significantly impact pay. Lawyers graduating from Vanderbilt University, Stanford University, Cornell University, University of Chicago, and Yale University report being among the highest-paid.
7. Physician Assistant or Nurse Practitioner
Average starting salary: $112,000 for physician assistant and $126,000 for nurse practitioner
A shortage of physicians means that more hospitals and clinics turn to physician assistants and nurse practitioners to help manage patient care. Both careers require a master's degree as well as state licensure. Physician assistants earn an average starting salary of $112,000, while the average for nurse practitioners is $126,000. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can also look forward to a signing bonus of $8,500.
The future looks sunny for those who want to enter these professions, with employment expected to increase well above average to 31% by 2029 over the next several years.
Computer sciences and engineering are also the top-paying specialties for those with a bachelor's degree, with average expected salaries of more than $71,000 for 2021.
The median annual salary for an economist—$108,350
A post-graduate degree in economics unlocks several 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. As of May 2020, the median pay for an economist was $108,350, according to BLS data.
Median wages were $129,060 for those working in finance and insurance. Economists working for the federal government (but not the post office) earned a median wage of $125,350. Those employed in scientific research and development pulled in a median salary of $122,220.
Overall, the future of jobs in economics is positive, and employment is projected by the BLS to grow 14% by 2029.
Median base starting salary for MBA graduates—$105,000
A master's in business administration (MBA) is often a prerequisite to climbing the ladder in the corporate world. However, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has put a crimp in starting salaries for MBA grads. Before the pandemic, corporate recruiters planned to offer a median starting pay of $115,000 in 2020. That's been cut back to around $105,000 per year.
The highest starting salaries go to those working in consulting, finance, and technology. MBA grads also command significant salaries to get hired by a Fortune 100 company or a company employing more than 10,000 people.
Another option to consider is a business graduate degree. Before the pandemic, median starting pay for new hires holding a Master of Accounting or Master of Management degree was about $75,000 per year. A new hire with a Master of Finance could expect $80,000, while a Master of Data Analytics might earn $85,000 per year.
The average annual salary for an engineer—$80,320
Engineering continues to be one of the most in-demand careers in the United States, although employment prospects vary based on specialization. The average pay for those with a master's degree was expected to be $80,320 in 2021, up 3.9% from 2020. That compares to the $71,088 that engineers with just an undergrad degree were expected to make.
Highest Paying Jobs FAQs
What Are the Highest Paying Entry Level Jobs?
There are many high-paying entry-level jobs in multiple fields, these include paralegals, executive assistant positions, and various IT-related positions from marketing to data security.
What Are the Highest Paying Sales Jobs?
Real estate agents, pharmaceutical sales reps, and sales jobs related to technology can all be lucrative sales careers.
What Are the Highest Paying Truck Driving Jobs?
If you are comfortable driving a huge vehicle for long stretches, long-haul trucking can be a high-paying job. Ice road trucking, hazmat hauling, driving oversized loads, and luxury car hauling can net close to $100,000 annually if you have experience on the road.
What Are the Highest Paying Part-Time Jobs?
You may not get rich fast working these part-time jobs but warehouse workers, nannies, bank tellers, and skilled bookkeepers all make over $15 an hour and up, depending on company and experience.
What State Has the Highest Paying Jobs?
Massachusetts, California, and Washington D.C. offer the highest minimum wage for jobs. In terms of which state has the highest paying jobs, this is dependent on the type of job. Jobs in finance that pay high salaries tend to be situated in cities like New York and Boston, and in Washington and California, tech moguls are high earners.
What Are the Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree?
Some of the highest-paying jobs you can get without a degree include work in the technology and medical and healthcare fields. For example, a diagnostic medical sonographer can earn a median wage of $59,100, and a computer support specialist can earn a median wage of $65,450 as of BLS figures for 2020 (the most recent data available).
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, information technology (IT), engineering, or law. However, keep in mind that certain bachelor's degree programs can also be worth considering if you're not prepared to put extra time and money into your education.