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 was expected to earn $58,869 in 2021. Their counterpart with a master's was expected to earn $75,461. Engineers with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $71,088 in 2021—not too shabby. But the same worker 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.

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.
  • A number of the top-paying careers are in healthcare including doctors, nurse anesthetists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.
  • The law, business, and engineering are fields in which an advanced degree can also lead to a lucrative career.
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Top 5 Post-Grad Degrees That Lead To High Pay

Physician

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 actually remained flat for three years due to reduced demand for primary care doctors.

Doctors who specialize receive a significant increase in pay. 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.

Nurse Anesthetist

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.

Dentistry

Median annual salary for a dentist - $159,200

The benefits of going into dentistry go beyond helping patients improve their smile—you end up with a satisfying salary as well. As of May 2019, the median salary for a dentist was $159,200, 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.

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.

Information-Technology Management

Median annual salary for computer and IT managers - $146,360

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 $146,360 as of May 2019, according to the BLS. However, at many organizations, especially bigger corporations, you need at least a master's degree in the field to take on those roles.

Pharmacy

Median annual salary for a pharmacist - $128,090

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, at the end, pharmacists are rewarded with a very respectable salary. Their median pay as of May 2019 was $128,090, according to BLS data.

Law

Median annual salary for a lawyer - $122,960

Careers in law are still among the highest paid in the country. 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 that you pass a bar exam. And considering the students 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 $122,960 as of May 2019, according to BLS data. Of course, where you went to school and whether you work in public or private practice has a significant impact on pay. Lawyers graduating from Vanderbilt University, Stanford University, Cornell University, University of Chicago, and Yale University report being among the highest paid.

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 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. 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 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.

Economics

Median annual salary for an economist - $105,020

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. As of May 2019, the median pay for an economist was $105,020, according to BLS data.

Median wages were $120,770 for those working in finance and insurance. Economists working for the federal government (but not the post office) earned a median wage of $119,580. Those employed in scientific research and development pulled in a median salary of $114,140.

Engineering

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. 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.

MBA

Median base starting salary for an MBA graduates - $105,000

In the corporate world, a master's in business administration (MBA) is often a prerequisite to climbing the ladder. 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 if they can 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. Prior to the pandemic, median starting pay for new hires holding a Master of Accounting or Master of Management degrees 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 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. Keep in mind, however, 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.