Professionals with a master’s degree earn 21.43% more money on average than bachelor’s degree holders, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But not all master’s degrees provide the same earning potential. A master’s degree in some fields will pay less than even a bachelor’s degree in other fields, so if your goal is to increase your earning potential by as much as possible with a master’s degree, you want to choose a master’s degree with high earning potential. That’s where this ranking of the ten best paying master’s degrees comes in. We ranked master’s degrees by their earning potential. Instead of using median salary for these degrees, we used the earnings of the top 10% of people in the highest paying jobs you can get with each degree. Ties were broken first by job growth rate, and second by the number of new jobs projected by the BLS over a ten year period. Of course, earning top dollar takes more than just earning the degree. It also takes hard work, dedication, and a little bit of luck along the way. Still, a high paying master’s degree is a great place to start. And we’ve got you covered.
#1. Master of Business Administration
The master of business administration is one of the most versatile and highest paying master’s degrees you will find. While it’s a natural continuation of an undergraduate degree in business administration, it’s also a good choice for people who have done their undergrad in IT, marketing, or any number of other majors, and who want to go into management. Some of the high paying careers for MBA graduates are IT manager, marketing manager, and sales manager. It’s also one of the most common degrees held by corporate executives.
- Highest Median Pay: $208,000+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 4%
- Number of New Jobs: 115,000
#2. Master of Science in Finance
It’s no secret that finance is a lucrative career. And for top finance industry jobs, you will want a master’s in finance – which certainly ranks high on our list of highest paying master’s degrees. Financial managers, consultants, and financial advisors make great money. Financial advisor positions are generally a stepping stone to financial manager positions but even the financial advisors earn a great income. There’s strong projected job growth in this industry over the next ten years, so it’s a pretty safe major.
- Highest 10% Pay: $208,000+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 15%
- Number of New Jobs: 108,100
#3. Master of Engineering Management
It’s important for those responsible for managing architects and engineers to have a strong understanding of engineering, and management skills. That’s where a master of engineering management comes in. Top engineering managers earn money in the same range as executives and financial managers. The job growth is quite a bit lower, but there also aren’t as many people capable of going into this field as there are many fewer engineering majors than business majors.
- Highest 10% Pay: $208,000+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 3%
- Number of New Jobs: 5,100
#4. Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering
Petroleum engineers focus their application of engineering principles specifically on issues of petroleum production. Job growth in this sector has certainly slowed in the past few years, but the pay is still incredible – that’s why this makes the list of highest paying master’s degrees. Petroleum engineering is the highest-paying engineering discipline. You don’t have to have a master’s to go into any engineering discipline, but earning a master’s mid-career can be a strong choice, as it will help you stay updated on changes in the industry.
- Highest 10% Pay: $208,000+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 3%
- Number of New Jobs: 1,100
#5. Master’s in Applied Mathematics
The highest paying job for applied mathematicians is actuary. Job growth among actuaries is among the highest you will find in STEM fields. People considering actuarial sciences can find applied mathematics courses with actuarial tracks, or simply take the exams required to become a certified actuary. Mathematicians have a ton of other options for careers that pay well. Many of these are research jobs where the mathematician will work on a team researching AI development, quantum computing, financial models, data analysis, cryptography, and economics. Many mathematicians also work alongside physicists, chemists, and other scientists, helping develop the mathematical parts of their research.
- Top 10% Pay: $193,600+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 18%
- Number of New Jobs: 4,900
#6. Master of Science in Computer Science
While there are plenty of high paying jobs for people with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, the best paying jobs tend to be in research and development. Computer and information research scientists make the most of any in the field on average. Job growth is also high for a STEM discipline, which makes sense, as the speed of technological development continues to rise.
- Highest Median Pay: $189,780+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 15%
- Number of New Jobs: 5,000
#7. Master of Science in Healthcare Management
Health management is the most rapidly growing field in this ranking of the best paying master’s degrees. A ten year growth rate of 32% amounting to over 133,000 new jobs in that time period. This is one of those areas where you are almost guaranteed a job if you earn the degree, and the jobs pay incredibly well. Consider this if you’ve done your undergraduate work in health or business related subjects and have decided you want to pursue a career in healthcare.
- Highest 10% Pay: $189,000+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 32%
- Number of New Jobs: 133,200
#8. Master’s in Economics
The global economy has grown by leaps and bounds as the internet and easy international travel has transformed the world over the last 100 years. In a lot of senses, economists are struggling to catch up with these massive societal changes. Most economic models are based on theories created between the 1700s and 1950s and aren’t equipped to analyse the modern global marketplace. This means economists will continue to be essential in the years to come, whether you’re teaching, researching, or both. It’s important to note that while a master’s in economics is a great choice, in order to reach the top in your field, a doctorate in economics or a related discipline will be necessary.
- Highest 10% Pay: $185,020+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 14%
- Number of New Jobs: 2,900
#9. Master of Science in Nursing
Nurses are becoming more and more essential in modern healthcare. They’re even taking over many jobs previously only done by doctors. Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia, nurse practitioners do many of the jobs of psychiatrists and general practitioners, even prescribing medicine, and nurse midwives oversee the delivery of babies. Most of these times these nurses work under the supervision of doctors and have doctors that they report to and can rely on when complications can arise, but for the most part they do the same jobs as many kinds of doctors, and they make doctor money while they do it – this is certainly among the best paying master’s degrees.
- Highest 10% Pay: $184,180+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 45%
- Number of New Jobs: 117,700
#10. Master’s in Political Science
Political scientists are more than just spin doctors and talking heads on television. They are responsible for helping to create and implement the political strategies and policies of the most influential politicians in the world. These are the people behind the scenes who crunch the numbers and work with a variety of professionals to create relevant and, ideally, effective policies. A good political scientist is part marketing guru, part psychologist, part statistician.
- Highest 10% Pay: $164,210+
- Projected 10-year Growth: 6%
- Number of New Jobs: 400
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I fund my master’s degree?
There are many ways to do this, and some are more appealing than others. First, check with your employer. Many employers have professional development and education funds they provide to their employees. While this often won’t cover the full cost of your education, it can put a big dent in your tuition, especially if you choose an affordable public university. There are many great public universities that are among the top schools in the United States. A degree doesn’t have to be expensive in order to be good. Check out the best public universities in your state for a start. Some companies even have education deals with local universities!
Don’t despair if your company doesn’t offer much in the way of education benefits. You still have access to federal financial aid in the form of grants and low-interest student loans. With the potential salary increases from earning a master’s degree, taking on more student debt can still be an option, especially if your master’s is among the highest paying master’s degrees. Of course, many colleges and universities offer scholarships for graduate students as well. And there are a great many private scholarships. We even have some articles that feature some of the best scholarships for various degrees, so check that out!
The third option is to either take out private student loans, which tend to have a higher interest rate, or to save your money and pay for your master’s out of pocket. Both of these are doable, if not preferable, as long as you choose your school wisely.
Don’t I need to go to a top school to earn a top job?
While attending a prestigious Ivy League or private university is certainly beneficial under certain circumstances, it’s by no means necessary in order to achieve your career goals. There are quite a few state colleges with incredible programs and great reputations that offer best paying master’s degrees. And their programs are much more affordable than many of the private universities. My advice would be to identify the programs you’re interested in offered by top private and public universities, and apply to both. Then compare their student aid packages and see which one best meets your needs. There’s no need to limit yourself during the application process. Many universities, even the top in the country, are waiving or reducing application fees due to COVID-19. But even if you’re reading this article when the pandemic isn’t a factor anymore, application fees tend to be fairly reasonable.
Should I earn my master’s online or in person?
This really comes down to your circumstances and personal preference and the nature of the degree. Earning your degree in-person requires you to keep certain time-slots open to attend class. This can be a challenge for somebody who wishes to earn their degree while working full-time. It’s not that earning your degree online is less work. It’s just that online learning provides an inherent flexibility that allows you to fully customize when you do your coursework, watch your lectures, and sometimes even when you take your tests. Of course, in-person master’s degrees try to provide as much flexibility as possible, but online degrees have the advantage when it comes to flexibility.
There’s also the matter of how you learn best. Some people learn best in an interactive, in-person setting; others are perfectly fine learning alone, watching lecture videos in their room and submitting questions on a message board. If you’re part of one of our younger generations, like a zoomer or millennial, you may even learn much better online than in-person because you grew up familiar with all the technologies involved.
The final thing you have to consider is on-campus resources. Some programs may not be offered fully online because they require labs where students use the sophisticated hardware and software available on the college campus. Some degrees may even require experimentation with controlled substances or equipment not available or accessible to the public. In this cas,e you may have to choose at least a hybrid program instead of a fully online program.
Will an online master’s carry the same weight as an in-person master’s?
Reputable institutions strive to ensure their online degrees are of the same quality as in-person degrees. That, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, has normalized online degrees. The other thing to consider is that schools don’t tend to differentiate between online or in-person programs on their diplomas. So if the perception of legitimacy is a concern to you, the choice is yours whether or not to inform potential employers that your degree was earned online. The important thing is to make sure that in addition to regional accreditation (which is essential), the online degree you are interested in is also accredited by relevant accrediting bodies. For instance, an AACSB-accredited MBA whether earned online or in-person, will tend to carry more weight than a degree that isn’t AACSB-accredited, because it meets a higher standard of quality. It’s the same way with engineering degrees and ABET accreditation and nursing degrees and CCNE accreditation.
Sources: All information for this article was gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.