Top 10 Post-Grad Degrees That Lead to High Pay

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.

For example, a worker with a bachelor's degree in business is expected to earn $60,695 in 2022. Their counterpart with a master's degree is expected to reach $71,021. Engineers with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $73,922 in 2022—not too shabby. But the same field with a master's is expected to pull down $85,096.

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. All information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is as of 2021; the most recent data available.

Key Takeaways

  • 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 a 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.

1. Physician

The median annual salary for family medicine physicians is $235,930.

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 $235,930.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow by 3% from 2020 to 2030. This is approximately slower than "the average for all occupations."

Doctors who specialize receive a significant pay increase. Average salaries for anesthesiologists are $331,190. Surgeons make $294,520 on average, while obstetricians and gynecologists typically earn $296,210.

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 median annual salary for a nurse anesthetist is $195,610.

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 $195,610 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 of all nurses, including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, is projected to grow 45% by 2030, meaning these jobs will be very much in demand.

3. Dentistry

The median annual salary for a dentist is $160,370.

The benefits of going into dentistry go beyond helping patients improve their smiles; you end up with a satisfying salary as well. As of 2021, the median salary for a dentist was $160,370, 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 and oral and maxillofacial surgeons was $208,000 annually or more. The top-paying states for dentists were Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Delaware, Connecticut, Oregon, and New Hampshire.

4. Information-Technology Management

The median annual salary for computer and IT managers is $159,010.

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 $159,010 in 2021, 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.

5. Pharmacy

The median annual salary for a pharmacist is $128,570.

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 in 2021 was $128,570, according to BLS data.

6. Law

The median annual salary for a lawyer is $127,990.

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 $127,990 in 2021, 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

The median annual salary for a physician assistant is $121,530; for a nurse practitioner it is $120,680.

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 a median salary of $121,530, while the average for nurse practitioners is $120,680.

The future looks sunny for those who want to enter these professions, with employment expected to increase well above average to 31% by 2030 over the next several years.

Computer sciences and math are also the top-paying specialties for those with a bachelor's degree, with an average expected salary of $72,173 for computer science and $63,316 for math.

8. Economics

The median annual salary for an economist is $105,630.

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 2021, the median pay for an economist was $105,630, according to BLS data.

Median wages were $163,640 for those working in finance and insurance. Economists working for the federal government (but not the post office) earned a median wage of $125,950. Those employed in scientific research and development pulled in a median salary of $101,910.

Overall, the future of jobs in economics is positive, and employment is projected by the BLS to grow 13% by 2030.

9. MBA

The median starting salary for MBA graduates is $105,000.

A master's in business administration (MBA) is often a prerequisite to climbing the ladder in the corporate world. Graduates are offered a median starting pay of $105,000.

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. A Master of Accounting degree is about $75,000 and a Master of Management degree is about $78,000 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.

10. Engineering

The average annual salary for an engineer is $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 2022. That compares to the $71,088 that engineers with just an undergrad degree were expected to make.

What Are the Highest Paying Part-Time Jobs?

You may not get rich fast working these part-time jobs but warehouse workers, administrative assistants, delivery drivers, construction workers, brand ambassadors, nannies, bookkeepers, and personal drivers all make over $15 an hour and up, depending on company and experience.

What State Has the Highest Paying Jobs?

Massachusetts, Washington, 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, medical, and healthcare fields. For example, a diagnostic medical sonographer can earn a median wage of $60,570, and a computer support specialist can earn a median wage of $62,760 as of BLS figures for 2021 (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.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. National Association of Colleges and Employers. "NACE Salary Survey. Winter 2022," Pages 4-5.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Physicians and Surgeons. Pay."

  3. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Physicians and Surgeons. Job Outlook."

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners. Pay."

  5. American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. "Education of Nurse Anesthetists in the United States—At a Glance."

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners. Job Outlook."

  7. U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Dentists. Pay."

  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Dentists. Job Outlook."

  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Geographic Profile for Dentists, General."

  10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Systems Managers. Pay."

  11. National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. "NAPLEX."

  12. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Pharmacists. Pay."

  13. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Lawyers. Pay."

  14. Internet Legal Research Group. "2020 Law School Rankings by Median Salary."

  15. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Physician Assistants. Pay."

  16. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nurse Practitioners. Pay."

  17. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Physician Assistants. Job Outlook."

  18. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Economists. Pay."

  19. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Economists. Job Outlook."

  20. "Employers Explain Why MBA Salaries Are So High."

  21. U.S. News & World Report. "Find MBAs That Lead to Employment, High Salaries."

  22. Payscale. "Master of Finance (MFin) Degree."

  23. Payscale. "Master of Management (MMgt / MM) Degree."

  24. Payscale. "Master of Accounting (MAcc) Degree."

  25. Indeed. "20 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Well."

  26. Economic Policy Institute. "Minimum Wage Tracker."

  27. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer Support Specialists."

  28. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Diagnostic Medical Sonographers."