Times have changed. A master's degree is the new bachelor's degree. According to the Digest of Education Statistics, about the same number of people have a master's today than had a bachelor's in 1967. Thirty years ago, a bachelor's degree distinguished you in the marketplace. That's no longer the case. The fact is you may not qualify for certain positions with only a bachelor's degree. And when they think about an advanced degree, people are looking for master's degrees that pay.
From 1985-2015, the number of master's degrees awarded has more than doubled, and many are focused on master's degrees that pay off. Master's degree programs are growing and evolving, with degrees now offered in nearly every field of study. Master's degrees can be professional or academic. Professional degrees are designed for employment or advancement within a given field. Academic degrees are designed for intellectual growth and may be a prerequisite for doctoral work. Master's degrees may take anywhere from one to three years to complete.
People choose to pursue a master's degree for a number of reasons. Some choose to put off the job search and continue their education. Others may be forced to stay in school due to the economy and poor job prospects. Many people want to keep their training and skills current and/or become more marketable for career advancement. Having a master's degree may set you apart from other candidates when applying for jobs, like a bachelor's once did.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons people decide to get a master's is to boost their salary. Studies show that people with advanced degrees earn more on average than those with bachelor's degrees. In 2012, the median of earnings for young adults with a master's degree or higher was $59,600, 27 percent more than the median for those with a bachelor's degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Be sure to do a cost-benefit analysis before deciding on a master's program. There's no guarantee that a master's will make you more money or land your dream job, even if the degree you pursue is on a list of the highest-paying master's degrees. In some professions, advanced degrees are becoming mandatory, including teaching, social work, and psychology. In these cases, master's degrees are necessary to advance or get licensed, but there may not be a significant boost in pay.
In the case of the following 15 highest paying master's degrees, you have a chance to earn six figures. Salaries may vary based on position, years of experience, geographic location, and a variety of other factors. To determine the 15 top-paying master's degrees, subjects were ranked based on median pay and job outlook from both PayScale.com and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). These rankings were averaged together to determine the overall rankings listed below. In case of a tie, the job with the highest median pay is listed first. A master's in business administration (MBA) was not included in these rankings.
Top 15 Master's Degrees that Pay the Most
- Petroleum Engineering
The petroleum industry is one of the largest and most prominent in the United States today, and the companies involved are dependent on the services of petroleum engineers to explore, discover, and produce oil and gas to meet energy needs.
Median Pay: $130,280
Job Growth: 26%
Possible Jobs: Petroleum geologist, production engineer, reservoir engineer
- Nurse Anesthesia
Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after medical procedures. They also provide pain management and emergency services. They are the sole anesthesia providers in nearly all rural hospitals, and the main provider of anesthesia to the men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
Median Pay: $96,460
Job Growth: 31%
Possible Jobs: Nurse anesthetist
- Physician Assistant Studies
Physician assistants are master's degree holders who support physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals. These licensed professionals review medical histories, examine patients, and order diagnostic tests, with some also providing treatment. Most work in hospitals or physicians' offices, though some work in outpatient care centers or educational organizations.
Median Pay: $92,970
Job Growth: 38%
Possible Jobs: Physician assistant
Mathematics opens the doors to many promising career paths. Advanced mathematics is used to develop and understand mathematical principles, analyze data, and solve real-world problems in all disciplines.
Median Pay: $101,360
Job Growth: 23%
Possible Jobs: Mathematician, software engineer, statistician
- Political Science
Political Science focuses on the theory and practice of government and politics at the local, state, national, and international levels. Many job opportunities are available in both government and private businesses.
Median Pay: $102,000
Job Growth: 21%
Possible Jobs: City manager, lobbyist, postsecondary teacher
It's the job of the marketing professional to create, enhance, and manage brands. A career in marketing can take you in several different directions, from market research to contract negotiations.
Median Pay: $123,220
Job Growth: 12%
Possible Jobs: Marketing manager, advertising/promotions manager, creative director
- Healthcare Administration
Healthcare administrators direct the operation of hospitals, health systems, and other types of organizations. They have responsibility for facilities, services, programs, staff, budgets, and other management functions.
Median Pay: $88,580
Job Growth: 23%
Possible Jobs: Healthcare administrator, executive director, chief nursing officer
- Computer Science
Computer science is the science of using computers to solve problems in a variety of business, scientific, and social contexts. Computing drives innovation in the sciences, engineering, business, entertainment, and education.
Median Pay: $102,190
Job Growth: 15%
Possible Jobs: Computer and information research scientist, software developer
- Physical Therapy
Physical therapists help patients with injuries or illnesses develop mobility or reduce pain. This type of therapy can help patients recover without surgery and reduce the need for prescription medication. Some physical therapists work in hospitals, but many work in private offices or home care arrangements. All states require licensure for physical therapists.
Median Pay: $81,030
Job Growth: 36%
Possible Jobs: Physical therapist
- Information Systems
Information systems applies computer information to the work environment and management. The need to manage, support, and protect massive amounts of information has made the ever-changing information technology field one of the fastest-growing employment categories.
Median Pay: $120,950
Job Growth: 15%
Possible Jobs: Information Technology (IT) manager, software engineer, systems analyst
Finance deals with matters related to money and the markets. The opportunities with a finance degree span several areas, including corporate and international financial management, personal financial planning, and investment services.
Median Pay: $112,700
Job Growth: 8.9%
Possible Jobs: Finance director, finance manager, financial analyst
- Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists help people of all ages participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. There are six core practice areas of the profession: 1) Children and Youth, 2) Health and Wellness (Life Design), 3) Mental Health, 4) Work and Industry, 5) Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability, and 6) Productive Aging.
Median Pay: $75,400
Job Growth: 29%
Possible Jobs: Occupational therapist
- Civil Engineering
Civil engineers design, review, and maintain public works, including roads, water systems, and other city structures. They split their time between offices and project sites, serving in both planning and supervisory roles. Those who do not work in private engineering or construction firms often work directly with federal, state, or local governments.
Median Pay: $80,770
Job Growth: 20%
Possible Jobs: Civil engineer, structural engineer, project manager
Economics is the study of how people choose to use resources. Opportunities for economists range from positions in the business world in banking, insurance, investment and communications firms to those in academic settings, government agencies, trade associations, and consulting organizations.
Median Pay: $91,860
Job Growth: 14%
Possible Jobs: Economist, data analyst, financial analyst
- International Relations
International relations deals with political, economic, and cultural relations throughout the global community. Whether working for the U.S. government, an international organization, or a non-profit, there are a variety of career options in the field of international relations.
Median Pay: $89,990
Job Growth: 19%
Possible Jobs: Intelligence analyst, research associate, foundation program officer
Job growth is estimated between 2012-2022 from the BLS.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/.