There's no question about it: earning a master's degree is a great way to make more money. If money is what drives you toward success, the 15 Master's Degrees that Pay the Most can help you get started in the right direction for 2020.
In a recent survey of graduate students, the vast majority of respondents indicated they were considering graduate school to make more money, advance in their careers, or make a switch to a new career. While some students enroll in graduate programs for a love of learning or a general interest in the topic, almost all of today's graduate students are motivated to join a degree program for the potential career boost a master's degree offers. The good news for these students is that their hard work is mostly paying off with career and income gains.
According to Census.gov, the number of people with master's degrees has nearly doubled since 2000. In 2019, researchers found how 13.1% of adults have either a master's degree, professional degree, or doctorate – that's more than 4.5 million Americans who have pursued their education beyond a bachelor's degree.
With the average graduate program taking at least two years to complete, deciding to earn a master's degree is a big commitment. However, the dedication and effort are worth it. Payscale.com reports that graduate-degree holders earn an average of $17,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's degree. While results may vary from one industry to another, a graduate degree helps the average biology graduate student earn $96,000 per year versus the $56,000 someone with only a bachelor's degree in biology makes on average.
A graduate degree can make a lot of sense, especially for someone looking to land a new job, advance in their current position, or even just hoping to earn more money. By focusing on specific degrees and career tracks, the time it takes to earn a master's degree can be especially worth it.
Since today's typical graduate student is a working professional, most degree programs listed here can be completed at least partly online. Studying online offers several advantages, from being able to study whenever one has the time, to better retention of course materials. Whether you consider online or in a classroom-based program, earning your graduate degree is sure to help you achieve your career and academic goals. Here's a look at the top 15 Master's Degrees that Pay the Most.
Ranking Methodology: "It's science!"
The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees don't make recommendations based upon preference – we back our rankings with science. Here's a quick breakdown of how we organize ranking data:
- Finances (40%)
- Academic Rigor (35%)
- Student Gratification (25%)
Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances and is acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Education, Glassdoor, and PayScale. Financial data encompasses the cost of tuition, fees, and class supplies; the average price of living; access to financial aid and social services; and lastly, the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment.
The second-largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and how exclusive a degree program is overall. The final 25% of collected data is dependent on student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.
Want to Learn More?
The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as we can. Check out our Methodology page for more information and resource links.
#15 – Finance
Earning a graduate degree in finance prepares students for rewarding careers working in a wide range of industries. Nonprofits and top corporations alike need financial experts to manage financial instruments and navigate finance regulations. Degrees are sometimes listed as Master of Science in Finance or as concentrations within Master of Business Administration degree programs. Graduate programs in finance often feature coursework in corporate finance, quantitative methods, financial market analysis, and more.
Degrees can also often be customized for students seeking careers in corporate finance, portfolio management, and other areas. Some graduate students pursuing their degree in finance can choose to sit for examinations to become either a Certified Financial Analyst or a Financial Risk Manager. Both certifications can broaden career opportunities, as many large corporations require senior staff members to have both advanced degrees and certification within their fields. With in-depth training, students can expect to launch a rewarding career as the demand for finance managers is strong and continues to grow.
Median Pay: $112,700
Job Growth: 19%
Possible Jobs: Finance Manager, Money Manager, Financial Planner, Financial Analyst
#14 – General and Operations Manager
General and Operations Managers oversee the daily operations of businesses and organizations in nearly all industries. A typical day in the lives of general and operational managers may include directing and coordinating day-to-day activities and working closely with managers of finance, Human Resources, and other areas. The goal of a general and operations manager is to produce his or her company's product or service as efficiently as possible. Graduate degree programs that include training in supply chain management, project management, and leadership are excellent preparation for management roles.
Before applying to graduate programs for management, students should consider taking the Graduate Management Admission Test. The GMAT is a common admission requirement, along with minimum GPA scores and letters of reference. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accredits management programs, which are typically housed within business departments. The AACSB evaluates several areas of a university to ensure programs meet a high level of quality.
Median Pay: $113,100
Job Growth: 9%
Possible Jobs: General Manager, Operations Manager, Supply Chain Manager
#13 – Industrial-Organizational Psychologist
If you're interested in understanding how organizations perform and how to improve them, a Master's in Industrial and Organizational Psychology may be a perfect fit for you. I/O psychologists analyze workplaces for performance and work to improve the efficiency of Human Resources, work environments, training and development, and more. Part of their work includes identifying conflicts and helping to maintain employee well-being. Because of the demands of the job, I/O psychologists need training in research methods, data analysis, psychological concepts, and critical thinking.
Most employers require a master's degree in any industrial-organizational psychologist positions. While I/O psychology programs won't prepare students for licensure, the course content is drawn from standards set by the American Psychology Association. Students typically study research methods and are required to complete statistics or other quantitative methods courses. Additional coursework may focus on the psychology of groups, learning psychology, theories of personality, and more.
Median Pay: $114,040
Job Growth: 53%
Possible Jobs: Workforce Analyst, Talent Management Specialist, Trainer, Organizational Development Specialist
#12 – Strategy
When it comes to making big-picture decisions, many organizations turn to experts trained in business strategy. These are professionals who specialize in developing business strategies and tactics that help businesses navigate periods of change. Strategy experts need a broad knowledge of how companies have faced important decisions in the past. Through their graduate education, strategy experts learn to analyze business case studies and study the outcomes of business activity in a range of industries and sectors.
Graduate degree programs in strategy are often offered as concentrations within most Master's of Business Administration programs and can help graduates reach new career heights. Coursework feature a mixture of management and advanced business classes such as negotiation theory, corporate innovation and change, business modeling, and more. Students learn to manipulate business data analytics, building strong problem-solving skills along the way. Strategic management graduate programs give students a real-world advantage. Employers list critical thinking and the ability to plan for the future as top qualities for hiring candidates.
Median Pay: $114,040
Job Growth: 9%
Possible Jobs: Director of Strategic Planning and Management, Director for Management Strategy, Program Manager
#11 – Natural Science Manager
Professionals serving as natural science managers oversee the activities of scientists in a wide range of settings and industries. Natural science managers have typically trained as scientists and have amassed years of experience working in research, data analysis, data collection, and more. Natural science managers must understand scientific concepts while also having outstanding communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills. Qualifying for positions in natural science management requires a graduate degree in a specialized discipline. Graduate programs may be listed as Master of Science in Natural Resources or Master of Natural Science degrees.
In some cases, degrees such as a Master of Public Administration or Business Administration may qualify students for careers as natural science managers. Recognizing the need for leadership within the sciences, many schools now offer dual degree programs that combine a Master of Science with a Master of Business Administration degree. While these degrees take longer to complete, they provide extensive career preparation. Expect job growth for natural science managers to remain steady with good wages.
Median Pay: $116,000
Job Growth: 6%
Possible Jobs: Biological Manager, Applied Science Manager, Principal Science Manager, General Natural Sciences Director
#10 – Financial Manager
Master's degree programs for financial managers emphasize business, investment strategies, and analysis. Many industries, from banking to insurance, employ financial managers to produce financial reports, plan investments, and develop economic forecasts. Employers often seek a combination of education and work experience when hiring candidates, as financial managers are directly responsible for the financial well-being of a company. Master's degree programs in finance explore topics in analytics, advanced mathematics, computer science, economics, and business fundamentals. Students should expect to take courses in corporate and international finance, accounting principles, research methodology, and more.
Graduate programs also often feature a focus on scholarly writing and research. Students can further enhance their career potential by concentrating their degrees in areas such as eCommerce, global supply chains, risk management, real estate, fund management, risk assessment, and other regions. By completing an original research thesis, graduate students can prepare to enter Ph.D. programs in finance as well.
Median Pay: $116,970
Job Growth: 7%
Possible Jobs: Chief Financial Officer, Controller, Director of Finance, Finance Manager, Treasurer
#9 – Information Systems
Information systems experts help businesses and other organizations manage their information technology and other technological resources. Master's degree programs in information systems management provide students with advanced training in computer networking, database design and management, and the social aspects of information technology. Job candidates seeking information systems careers need both technical expertise and management skills, as a large part of their job will be coordinating the activity of other professionals.
Graduate degree programs that combine business and management principles with training in state-of-the-art technology prepare students well for this growing and rewarding career. Information systems graduate programs are sometimes cross-listed as data science degrees. These programs feature a curriculum focused on data analysis, software development, information security, and more. In most graduate programs, students complete a capstone experience or an original research thesis as a culminating experience. Thanks to advanced educational technology, today's online programs in information systems can deliver the same high-quality instruction as their classroom-based counterparts.
Median Pay: $120,950
Job Growth: 11%
Possible Jobs: Computer Systems Manager, Computer Systems Analyst, Network Administrator, IT Manager
#8 – Marketing
Marketing supports the activities of businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations by capturing consumer attention and converting potential buyers into customers. The responsibilities of marketing encompass brand management, direct marketing, advertising, social networking, and more. As a rapidly changing field, marketing can be an exciting and rewarding career for those interested in human behavior, sales, and business principles. Master's degree programs in marketing expose students to advanced concepts in marketing such as consumer behavior, managing a brand's identity, developing a brand strategy, and marketing research methods, to name just a few.
Because every industry benefits from the practice of marketing, many graduate programs offer specializations in areas such as entertainment or sports marketing. Graduate programs in marketing may be provided as either a specific Master of Science in Marketing degree or as a concentration within a broader Master's of Business Administration program. Students can anticipate taking classes that train them in market analysis, sales and pricing, business strategy, and digital marketing.
Median Pay: $123,220
Job Growth: 9%
Possible Jobs: Marketing Manager, Advertising Manager, Promotions Manager
#7 – Architectural and Engineering Manager
By studying for a career as an architectural and engineering manager, you'll be preparing for a future involved in the planning and oversight of significant construction projects. Architectural and engineering managers benefit their community through their knowledge of design, technology, workplace safety, and more. Students with the latest knowledge of green building, risk management, and project management are ideally suited to take advantage of career opportunities in this field.
Master's degree programs in architectural and engineering management include courses in building management, cost estimating, modeling, and management practices. Architectural and engineering managers are also responsible for some business areas such as finance, accounting, and personnel management, as these professionals often occupy senior roles in their firms and businesses. As such, students need a combination of technical and business skills, along with strong communication and leadership abilities. In some industries, specific certifications or licenses may be required, and earning a graduate degree can provide excellent preparation for professional credentialing.
Median Pay: $125,900
Job Growth: 3%
Possible Jobs: Architectural Manager, Materials Manager, Construction Manager, Industrial Engineer
#6 – Petroleum Engineering
The world is fueled by petroleum, and petroleum engineers play a critical role in the discovery and processing of petroleum products. Master's degree programs in petroleum engineering are multidisciplinary, and participants are exposed to a variety of topics in both business and STEM fields. Students explore concepts in geology, physics, chemistry, engineering, and business management to become qualified petroleum engineers. Because of the math and science demands of the profession, most employers require graduate school experience of candidates seeking advanced positions, though some on-the-job training is typically available. Petroleum engineering graduate degrees often feature concentration areas, which may include studies in reservoir engineering, well drilling, and production engineering.
Graduate students are encouraged to pursue professional development during their studies, and student chapters of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the American Association of Drilling Engineers are available through most petroleum engineering schools. Life-long learning is emphasized within the career, and students should expect to add to their education beyond the graduate level continuously. Some students may even choose to pursue a Ph.D. or graduate certificates to augment their master's degree studies.
Median Pay: $130,280
Job Growth: 10%
Possible Jobs: Refinery Systems Engineer, Petroleum Engineer, Field Engineer, Engineering Technician
#5 – Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists play an essential role in the medical field. These professional medical practitioners are responsible for assisting Doctors of Anesthesiology in operating rooms, intensive care units, and surgical facilities. In some cases, CRNAs work autonomously, especially in rural or remote medical facilities. Master's degrees are required for all CRNAs, and graduate programs that offer Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist programs require applicants to have relevant training and educational experience as a condition of admission.
Master's degree programs in CRNA feature coursework in a range of medical disciplines along with hands-on training through internship and practicum experiences. Applicants should be aware that most graduate programs require at least one year of professional experience before they can be accepted to a degree program. Additionally, students need to pass a National Certification Examination before beginning professional practice; these tests are administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. As the profession requires rigorous and advanced training, graduates of CRNA master's degree programs can expect excellent salaries and numerous career opportunities.
Median Pay: $140,900
Job Growth: 31%
Possible Jobs: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
#4 – Clinical Therapists
A career as a clinical therapist requires rigorous training, but the result is a rewarding career that helps others reach their full potential. Master's degree programs in clinical therapy are typically offered by psychology and social work departments at universities. These graduate programs combine coursework with hands-on application of the latest research and practices. Graduate programs also feature several areas of concentration, including family counseling, addiction counseling, organizational psychology, and more.
Most master's degree programs also require students to prepare an original research thesis, which has the benefit of exposing students to new concepts while also qualifying them to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology in the future. Therapists typically hold licensure in the state in which they practice, and completing a graduate degree program along with a clinical internship is the quickest way to qualify for state certification. As more people become aware of the need to manage mental health, expect the number of job opportunities for clinical therapists to grow.
Median Pay: $150,000
Job Growth: 14%
Possible Jobs: Counseling Psychologist, Medical Psychologist, Clinical Case Manager, Behavioral Health Psychologist
#3 – Business Administration
Businesses and organizations in every sector rely upon highly trained managers and administrators to run the daily operations that create business activity. Master's of Business Administration degree programs are designed to give students a broad understanding of business that's necessary to succeed in today's competitive economy. General MBA degree programs help students gain experience in accounting, finance, management, and leadership. However, students with specific career goals should look for MBA programs with concentrations in areas such as healthcare management, international business, marketing, supply chain management, and other in-demand fields.
Many students who enroll in MBA programs are actively working in their fields. Accordingly, most MBA degrees offer an online version that can be completed without having to visit a physical campus. Look for programs that provide asynchronous classes, which means there are no set meeting times, and students can study at their convenience. Courses offered in MBA programs cover subjects like operations management, research methodology, managerial statistics, accounting, and corporate finance.
Median Pay: $158,560
Job Growth: 8%
Possible Jobs: Manager, Administrator, Operations Manager, General Manager, Project Coordinator
#2 – Director of Nursing
Directors of nursing play a critical role in the supervision and administration of nursing staff. While all nursing positions require some form of higher education to rise to a leadership role, nurses need to earn a graduate-level degree or higher. To become a director of nursing, most hospitals, clinics, and other medical organizations require candidates to hold both a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing and a Master's of Science in Nursing. Most states also offer several certifications that help nurses to advance in their careers, and some employers may require these as part of the requirements for director-level positions.
Obtaining advanced training in nursing does pay off: currently managing nurses are in high demand with a salary that reflects that need. Graduate nursing programs feature a combination of advanced nursing specialties, such as oncology, pediatrics, cardiology, and beyond. Post-graduate nursing programs are also available, along with Ph.D. programs. As the nursing field requires life-long learning and recertification, pursuing an advanced degree is an ideal way to stay competitive in the workplace.
Median Pay: $173,000
Possible Jobs: Director of Nursing, Nurse Director, Registered Nurse, Managing Nurse
Job Growth: 20%
#1 – Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officers provide vision and direction to businesses, in hopes of leading them to greater success. Becoming a CEO depends on several factors, with education being a leading component. Master of Business Administration degree programs or graduate programs focused on finance or leadership can prepare students for the requirements of a CEO position. The demand for top executive jobs is growing; however, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, job seekers should expect to face stiff competition for these in-demand jobs. Students can prepare for a competitive marketplace by building the skills most sought after by a CEO.
Graduate business programs offer students classes in accounting, corporate finance, Human Resources management, strategic leadership, and analytics. In some cases, students may pursue a specialized graduate program, especially to land positions at hospitals or in other specialized industries. Whichever path a student chooses, strong leadership skills and professional experience are necessary for a career as a CEO.