Highest-Paying Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate can boost your career opportunities and earning potential. Explore some of the highest-paying doctorates and Ph.D.s in tech, healthcare, and more.
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Amy Nigh
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Contributing Writer

Amy Nigh is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Memphis and a writer for BestColleges. Interested in making data trends in higher education reachable to the public, Amy specializes in socially relevant topics in the humanities and...
Updated on April 19, 2024
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Higher Education Research Analyst

Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
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Data Summary

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    Most of the highest-paying doctoral degrees are in engineering and computer science fields.
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    However, doctoral degrees in economics, nursing, and medical-related fields also make the list.
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    Engineering specialties occupy three of the top five highest-paying Ph.D.s.
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    Information science is the fastest-growing field for folks with doctoral degrees, with the BLS projecting 23% growth from 2022-2032.
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    Doctoral degrees in medicine rank low for early-career payout, but mid-to-later career projections make physicians and surgeons top earners.

Whether you love learning for the sake of it or have a sense of the specific career you want, you might find yourself considering a doctoral degree. There's no doubt that adding a professional title to your name can be extremely rewarding, but do the demands on your time and energy pay off?

Advanced degrees come with a massive investment. Options, such as online doctoral programs, can make graduate school more flexible and accessible. It’s also worth noting that grad school alternatives exist, but the prestige that comes with earning the title “doctor” is often matched with a competitive salary.

Featured Online Ph.D. Programs

13 of the Highest-Paying Doctoral Degrees

1. Systems Engineering

Professionals in the systems engineering field study an organization’s current computer systems and procedures and work to design more efficient and effective solutions. This requires in-depth knowledge of engineering, as well as computer science or information systems.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for engineers to grow 7% between 2022 and 2032. For reference, the average projected growth for all occupations is 3%.

  • Median Salary (2023): $102,660
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 7% (faster than average)

2. Economics

Due to an increasing dependence on big data analytics, businesses rely increasingly on economic forecasting. Career economists predict business optics, sales, and market trends. Their insight helps businesses strategize about pricing and advertising. Top-paying industries for economists include management, science, and tech consulting services.

  • Median Salary (2023): $115,730
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 6% (faster than average)

3. Electrical, Electronics, Communications Engineering

Electrical and electronics engineers develop devices and systems that use electricity. They manage everything from the initial stages of design to testing and supervision of product integration. These engineers play a key role in developing and applying sophisticated electronics, solar arrays, semiconductors, and communications technologies.

  • Median Salary (2023): $106,950
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 5% (faster than average)

4. Information Science and Studies

An interdisciplinary field, information science combines computer science, library science, and information management. It is the study of how information is created, organized, stored, and used. With increasing demands for new and better technology, there is a great need for new solutions to data management.

  • Median Salary (2022): $145,370
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 23% (much faster than average)

5. Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineers design power-producing machines such as generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines. They possess knowledge about how these machines work, combining physics and math. As one of the oldest branches of engineering, mechanical engineers are projected to be in high demand over the coming years.

  • Median Salary (2023): $99,510
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 10% (much faster than average)

6. Computer and Information Sciences (General)

With the BLS projecting a much faster growth rate for computer and information sciences roles than for all other occupations, professionals in this field are in high demand. As computer interfacing becomes more integrated into daily life, specialized knowledge about programming, data storage and management, and software integration is more necessary than ever, for businesses and individuals alike.

  • Median Salary (2023): $145,080
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 23% (much faster than average)

Featured Online Ph.D. in Computer Science Programs

7. Computer and Information Technology Administration and Management

Computer tech administrators, or IT managers, help keep companies up to date with their technology. They construct business plans, oversee network security, and direct online operations. Leading teams within an organization, they might install or upgrade hardware and software, work on programming and systems design, or build websites.

  • Median Salary (2023): $169,510
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 15% (much faster than average)

Featured Online Ph.D. in Information Technology Programs

8. Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration

Like medical school, pharmacy school typically requires four years of training from an accredited Pharm.D. program. Strong applicants have undergraduate coursework in anatomy, physiology, physics, and statistics, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology or chemistry.

Once licensed, pharmacists have several options for a career path. A Pharm.D. can lead to positions working directly with patients, more industry-related jobs in pharmaceuticals, or consulting roles for healthcare or insurance providers.

  • Median Salary (2023): $136,030
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 3% (average)

9. Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, Clinical Nursing

Doctoral programs in nursing train students to ensure and improve the quality of patient care in either leadership or research positions. Research in these programs typically covers evidence-based practice, quality improvement, leadership, policy advocacy, informatics, and systems thinking. Recent nursing shortages have created demand for professionals in the field.

  • Median Salary (2023): $86,070
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 6% (faster than average)

Featured Online Ph.D. in Nursing Programs

10. Dentistry

Dentists can practice with a DDS or DMD degree. Specializations, including orthodontics, prosthodontics, and oral and maxillofacial surgery, typically require an additional 2-6 years of training in a residence program. The growing popularity of cosmetic dentistry explains the steady demand for dentists and specialists.

  • Median Salary (2023): $166,300
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 4% (average)

11. Physics

Physics research can take different paths, including within applied physics and theoretical physics. On the theoretical side, physicists use complex machines to learn more about the properties of matter and energy. Graduates can find many opportunities in applied physics, working on advancing the use of existing theories to develop new technologies.

  • Median Salary (2023): $155,680
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 5% (faster than average)

12. Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical Engineering

Commonly known as “rocket scientists,” aerospace engineers design, develop, and test flight vehicles of all kinds. Technological advancements have made outer space increasingly accessible. The faster-than-average growth of this field may be due to growing commercial interest in using drones for new projects, such as forest fire prevention, and personal interest in space travel.

  • Median Salary (2023): $130,720
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 6% (faster than average)

13. Bioethics and Medical Ethics

Bioethics is an interdisciplinary field combining biology, technology, and medicine. Advancements in medical technologies create new moral dilemmas, such as questions about the fair distribution of resources, genetic modification, or the use of human subjects in research. Bioethicists help write policies and guidelines for use in hospitals and clinics to ensure ethical standards are met.

  • Median Salary (2022): $120,330
  • Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 10% (much faster than average)

Did You Know...

Wondering why medicine ranks low on the list?

This may be due to when these early-career salaries were measured. Most careers in medicine require professionals to complete residencies and internships — sometimes lasting 3-9 years. Data for this report measured median salaries four years after graduation. So, some positions that earn higher wages later in their careers don't appear.

Residents typically earn lower salaries right after graduation, but once their training period is complete, earning potential jumps to the top. According to the BLS, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, and surgeons, for example, all earned median salaries of over $239,000 in 2022.

Top-Paying Doctoral Degrees: Full List

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows the highest-paying doctoral degrees. This calculation is based on the median salary in a field of study four years after graduation. To be included, individuals had to have completed their degree, be currently employed, and not be currently enrolled in school.

Note: For disciplines/fields marked with an *, fewer than 20 doctoral programs in the field reported median incomes for graduates four years after graduation.

Highest-Paid Doctoral Degrees by Field and Early-Career Salaries
Rank Discipline/Field Median Salary Four Years After Graduation
1 Systems Engineering $195,600
2 Economics $187,290
3 Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering $149,170
4 Information Science/Studies $145,370
5 Mechanical Engineering $143,460
6 Computer and Information Sciences, General $140,200
7 Computer/Information Technology Administration and Management* $137,260
8 Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration $133,090
9 Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing $131,320
10 Dentistry* $129,840
11 Physics $126,790
12 Management Information Systems and Services* $123,180
13 Computer Science $121,100
14 Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical Engineering $120,420
15 Bioethics/Medical Ethics $120,330
16 Public Policy Analysis $117,870
17 Biomedical/Medical Engineering $115,260
18 Homeland Security* $114,510
19 Human Resources Management and Services $113,690
20 Optometry* $113,630
21 Health and Medical Administrative Services $111,440
22 Medicine $110,610
23 Geological and Earth Sciences/Geosciences $103,710
24 Business/Commerce, General $103,430
25 Public Administration $103,360
26 Veterinary Medicine $101,820
27 Business Administration, Management, and Operations $100,470
28 Ecology, Evolution, Systematics, and Population Biology $100,200
29 Chemistry $99,350
30 Civil Engineering $96,440
Source: U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard[1]

Did You Know...

What's the difference between a doctorate and a Ph.D.?

Often used interchangeably, both doctorate and Ph.D. programs grant the title “doctor” and are doctoral degrees. They both signal the highest level of training in a field. What separates them is the type of training typically offered.

Doctoral programs tend to prioritize applied knowledge and professional skills. They train students to use research techniques in a professional setting.

By contrast, Ph.D. programs tend to prioritize high theory and academic research. In fact, "Ph.D." means "doctor of philosophy." These programs train students to teach, conduct research, and generate original knowledge.

How Much Do Other Popular Ph.D.s Pay?

Take a quick glance at the median salaries for doctoral degree programs in the humanities, natural and social sciences, and public services.


  • History: $64,750
  • English: $61,990
  • Music: $49,470

Natural Sciences

  • Biology (General): $85,470
  • Applied Mathematics: $83,520
  • Neuroscience: $70,450

Public Services

Social Sciences

  • Psychology (General): $88,260
  • Sociology: $83,850
  • Anthropology: $62,310

Behind the Numbers

Unless otherwise stated, we sourced early-career median salary figures from the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard database.Note Reference [1] We relied on BLS data for projected employment growth rates.[2]

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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