Consider Master’s Degrees With the Best Return on Investment

Posted By Terri Williams on March 2, 2017 at 3:21 pm
Consider Master’s Degrees With the Best Return on Investment

Graduate school can significantly improve an employee’s wages and opportunities for career advancement – or not. It depends on the degree. For example, business is booming for those with a graduate business degree. But, those who are thinking about pursuing a non-MBA  degree must determine if graduate school is worth it; among factors that should be considered is the best return on investment.

A recent PayScale report ranks 189 master’s degrees to reveal those with the best return on investment – and the worst.

The highest-paying master’s degree majors by salary potential:

Rank Major Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
1 Nurse Anesthesia $140,000 $156,000
2 Computer Science & Engineering $95,900 $134,000
3 Operations Research $80,800 $130,000
4 (tie) Electrical & Electronics Engineering $79,500 $129,000
4 (tie) Taxation $61,100 $129,000
6 (tie) Electrical Engineering $79,900 $127,000
6 (tie) Technology Management $65,900 $127,000
8 (tie) Chemical Engineering $73,100 $125,000
8 (tie) Computer Engineering $86,700 $125,000
8 (tie) Computer Science $84,800 $125,000


At the other end of the spectrum, these are the lowest-paying master’s degree majors by salary potential:

Rank Major Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
180 Teaching English as a Second Language $40,300 $55,000
181 Counselor Education & Counseling Psychology $40,000 $54,900
182 Studio Art $38,800 $54,800
183 Professional Counseling $39,400 $54,200
184 Reading & Literacy $40,000 $54,100
185 Divinity $44,000 $53,800
186 Mental Health Counseling $40,200 $51,800
187 Community Counseling $40,400 $51,600
188 Early Childhood Education $38,100 $48,400
189 Human Services $38,000 $48,200


The majority of the master’s degrees with the best ROI were in a handful of majors, so GoodCall® spoke with experts in these areas to learn more about the factors that make these choices a good bet.

Best return on investment: nurse anesthesia

According to Dr. Christian Wright, health sciences department dean at Rasmussen College, “Healthcare is a great field in general for students to consider because the public’s access to healthcare is broadening and more people than ever are needed to support providers.” Nurse anesthesia tops the list in terms of return on investment, and in addition to the lucrative wages, Wright notes that the projected growth rate for this profession is much greater than the national average for other occupations.

Dennis Theodorou, executive search expert and vice president of operations at JMJ Phillip Executive Search, explains, “Fields such as nurse anesthesia, have high compensation packages because schools can’t/don’t produce as many graduates as needed.”

However, Theodorou cautiously adds, “In recent years, there seems to be more schooling options and availability, so this will open up the opportunity for more graduates – but eventually, this could also drive down the salary for those in nurse anesthesia.”

Computer and engineering growth

Seven of the top 10 degrees in terms of best return on investment are in computer and engineering and Karen Panetta, the associate dean of the School of Engineering at Tufts and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, isn’t surprised. “Engineering is not just engineering – every job touches technology,” Panetta says. “Even if you’re a museum curator, you’re online conducting computer searches, so anyone who knows how to design, develop, test, set up and manage computer-related activities; plan and implement security; and create file networks is going to be in demand – and demand drives salaries.”

Salaries in this field have the potential for much more growth. Panetta explains that products are being developed and released at a rapid pace. “Anyone who can design a successful app can become a millionaire.” In fact, if you want to become a millionaire, tech is a better bet than sports.

While students gain a plethora of knowledge pursuing a bachelor’s degree, they can gain a competitive edge with a master’s degree. “Companies want people who can hit the ground running, and a master’s degree allows people to do this – they obtain the depth needed to hit the ground running,” Panetta concludes.

Taxation wins representation

Taxation was tied for fourth place on the list and finance was tied for 13th place. According to David Almonte, co-founder of FountainHead RI, “Most degrees dealing with the business world, whether it be taxes, finance or accounting related, seem to make out pretty well in the real world upon graduation.”

As long as there are taxes, Almonte says there will be a need for qualified, licensed tax professionals. “Similar to law, taxation and finance are like another language to most folks; if you have the expertise to help out, you can make a big impact in the world and in the lives of the people you help every day.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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