New Report Reveals Highest-Paying Graduate Degrees for the Class of 2015-2016

Posted By Terri Williams on April 13, 2016 at 9:37 am
New Report Reveals Highest-Paying Graduate Degrees for the Class of 2015-2016

Employers are now requiring a 4-year degree for positions that previously only required a high school diploma or an associate degree. And they’re also selecting applicants with a master’s degree for jobs that require just a bachelor’s degree.

But that doesn’t mean that every master’s degree has a good return on investment. Payscale’s 2015-2016 College Salary Report sheds light on the highest-paying graduate degrees.

In a previous article, GoodCall covered the highest- and lowest-paying bachelor’s degrees. In this article, we’re covering the top overall graduate degrees and also the highest paying master’s and MBA degrees – in addition to the lowest-paying graduate degrees, along with commentary on factors influencing these trends.

Highest-paying graduate degrees (includes master’s, MBA and Ph.D.)

Major Degree Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
1 Petroleum Engineering Master’s $96,500 $173,000
2 Nurse Anesthesia Master’s $139,000 $159,000
3 Strategy MBA $93,100 $148,000
4 General & Strategic Management MBA $84,000 $144,000
5 Finance and Real Estate MBA $78,900 $143,000
6 Electrical & Computer Engineering PhD $102,000 $142,000
7 Computer Engineering PhD $111,000 $139,000
8 Chemical Engineering PhD $92,300 $138,000
9 Biomedical Engineering PhD $86,800 $137,000
10 Economics MBA $71,900 $136,000

Highest-paying master’s degrees

Major Mid-Career Pay
1 Petroleum Engineering $173,000
2 Nurse Anesthesia $159,000
3 Electrical and Computer Engineering $128,000
4 Computer Science and Engineering $127,000
6 Electrical Engineering $126,000

Highest-paying MBA degrees

Major/Concentration Mid-Career Pay
1 Strategy $148,000
2 General and Strategic Management $144,000
3 Finance and Real Estate $143,000
4 Economics $136,000
5 Finance and Economics $134,000

Highest-paying Ph.D. degrees

Major/Concentration Mid-Career Pay
1 Electrical and Computer Engineering $142,000
2 Computer Engineering $139,000
3 Chemical Engineering $138,000
4 Biomedical Engineering $137,000
5 Economics $134,000

Lowest-paying master’s degrees

Major Mid Career Pay
5 Early Childhood Education $60,000
4 Library and Information Science $57,100
3 Music $56,900
2 Social Work $67,900
1 Counseling $52,300

Positive outlook for STEM major salaries

GoodCall asked Dennis Theodorou, JMJ Phillip Executive Search’s vice president of operations and executive search expert, to comment on the report. “We believe that if you look at what many of the highest-paid master’s degree undergrads went to school for, you will find a similar or matching undergraduate degree to go with it,” says Theodorou. He explains, “Many on the top of this list are related to the STEM field, with a great chance that you already had a STEM bachelor’s degree as a foundation, that was also high-paying to begin with.”

Theodorou is correct. For example, according to Payscale’s report, at the mid-career point, a petroleum engineer with a master’s degree earns only $5,000 more than a petroleum engineer with a bachelor’s degree.

However, Theodorou also notes that the highest-paying degrees are value-driven. “For example, computer science isn’t just about building the next Facebook; many of those graduates end up in the industrial automation and robotics fields and they may be working as an embedded software or controls engineer if they had a BS in mechanical engineering or BS in electrical engineering as an undergrad.”

And since STEM subjects such as engineering and math are difficult, he says the number of graduates in these fields is low, which helps to boost salaries.

Regarding other fields, such as Nurse Anesthesia, Theodorou warns that additional schooling options may result in more graduates, and this could eventually drive down salaries in this field.

“Overall, you really need to look at how hard it is to get the degree that you’re pursuing or want to pursue, ask yourself what is the current and future demand, and perhaps even ask yourself if a robot can do this job in 15 years,” advises Theodorou.

And with an average of 1.8 million graduates each year, he says students who choose a more difficult major may have an advantage. “In the end, it looks like anything in science, technology, engineering or math gives you a great chance for a higher salary.”

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.

You May Also Like