Highest-Paying Master’s Degrees

Master's degrees in several health and STEM-related fields were the best for students looking to earn top-dollar.
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Jane Nam
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Jane Nam is a staff writer for BestColleges' Data Center. Before her work on higher education data trends, Jane was a news writer and the managing editor for an academic journal. She has graduate degrees in social and political philosophy and women's...
Updated on January 18, 2024
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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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    Computer and information science was the highest-paying master's degree discipline in 2022. Graduates made a median starting salary of over $105,890.[1]
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    Highest-paid specialties for master's graduates included: electromechanical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, data science, physics, law, and allied health.Note Reference [1]
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    The average starting salary for all master's degree graduates in 2022 was about $77,590.Note Reference [1]
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    Among all occupations that require master's degrees, nurse anesthetists earn the most, with a median salary of $203,090 in 2022.[2]
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    Master's-level nursing and computer science jobs have the highest projected employment growth rate from 2022-2032.Note Reference [2]

As of 2022, the average annual household income for master's degree holders was approximately $165,000, or $65,480 per individual.[3] During the same period, the average annual household income for bachelor's degree holders was around $24,000 less.

While higher educational attainment typically pays off, not all master's degrees are created equal. In fact, some graduates of master's programs end up with significant debt and insufficient income.

Discover the highest-paying master's degrees by field, including data on job growth to gauge employability.

Highest-Paying Master's Degrees by Starting Salary

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed 187,000 master's degree graduates in 2022.[4] It found:

  • The highest-paid master's discipline was computer and information sciences.Note Reference [1]
  • Engineering, engineering technologies, business management, and transportation rounded out the top five.Note Reference [1]
  • The average starting salary for those graduating with master's degrees in 2022 was $77,590.Note Reference [1]
  • Bachelor's degree graduates earned a lower starting salary on average — $61,870 — and doctoral degree graduates earned more — $101,740.Note Reference [1]
Master's Degree Disciplines by Starting Salary, 2022
Rank Master's Degree Discipline Average Starting Salary
1 Computer and Information Sciences $105,890
2 Engineering $98,040
3 Engineering Technologies and Related Fields $90,610
4 Business Management, Marketing, and Related Services $87,980
5 Transportation and Materials Moving $84,100
6 Mathematics and Statistics $83,440
7 Legal Professions and Studies $74,650
8 Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, Humanities $72,680
9 Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies $71,940
10 Health Professions and Related Programs $70,960
11 Physical Sciences $69,600
12 Biological and Biomedical Sciences $68,540
13 Social Sciences $65,060
14 Architecture and Related Services $63,080
15 Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Services $62,350
16 Area, Ethnic, Cultural, and Gender Studies $61,350
17 Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics $60,160
18 Natural Resources and Conservation $58,630
19 Public Administration and Social Services $59,540
20 Communications and Journalism $58,790
21 History $58,630
22 Psychology $58,280
23 Agriculture and Related Sciences $57,600
24 Family and Consumer Sciences and Human Sciences $56,850
25 Visual and Performing Arts $55,810
26 Library Science $54,050
27 English Language and Literature/Letters $53,320
28 Education $52,880
29 Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies $48,720
30 Theology and Religious Vocations $48,480
31 Philosophy and Religious Studies $45,880
Note: This table only includes disciplines with more than 200 graduates reporting salary data. All salary figures were rounded to the nearest $10.
Source: National Association of Colleges and EmployersNote Reference [1]

Get to Know the Top 10 Highest-Paying Master's Degrees

For each of the highest-paying master's degrees, there's some variability in how much graduates earn. That difference depends on someone's specialization and on their ultimate career path.

Find detailed salary breakdowns within the highest-paying master's degrees below. Plus, find the rate of new graduates in each field who were employed within six months after graduation and the projected employment growth rate for relevant industries.

(For reference, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects all occupations to grow by about 3% between 2022 and 2032.Note Reference [2])

Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services

Overall, those who earned a master's degree in computer science earned the highest starting salaries compared to graduates in other disciplines.

Additionally, professionals in this field earn higher than average salaries, and some jobs are projected to grow faster than average.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Computer Science
  • Average Starting Salary: $117,591
  • Percentage Employed: 81.4%
Computer Software and Media Applications
  • Average Starting Salary: $107,030
  • Percentage Employed: 81.8%
Human Computer Interaction
  • Average Starting Salary: $103,190
  • Percentage Employed: 72.7%
Information Science/Studies
  • Average Starting Salary: $69,520
  • Percentage Employed: 80.9%

High-Paying Jobs for Computer Science Master's Degrees

Computer and Information Research Scientists
  • Median Salary: $136,620
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 23%
Computer Programmers
  • Median Salary: $97,800
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): -11%
Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, Testers
  • Median Salary: $124,200
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 25%

Did You Know...

You might not need a master's degree for a high-paying job in computer science.

According to the BLS, you can typically become a computer programmer or software developer by having a bachelor's degree and knowing a programming language.

Featured Master's in Computer & Information Sciences Programs

Engineering

There are several types of engineering, and most of these specialties can result in high earnings for graduates with master's degrees. Long after graduation, engineering careers like petroleum engineering and aerospace engineering tend to pay off in six-figure salaries.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Computer Engineering
  • Average Starting Salary: $122,900
  • Percentage Employed: 90.2%
Electrical and Communications Engineering
  • Average Starting Salary: $100,290
  • Percentage Employed: 74.4%
Mechanical Engineering
  • Average Starting Salary: $87,910
  • Percentage Employed: 78.7%
Chemical Engineering
  • Average Starting Salary: $83,000
  • Percentage Employed: 71.2%
Civil Engineering
  • Average Starting Salary: $73,870
  • Percentage Employed: 77.2%

High-Paying Jobs for Engineering Master's Degrees

Petroleum Engineers
  • Median Salary: $131,800
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 2%
Computer Hardware Engineers
  • Median Salary: $132,360
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 5%
Aerospace Engineers
  • Median Salary: $126,880
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 6%

Featured Master's in Engineering Programs

Transportation and Materials Moving

Most of the transportation and materials moving master's graduates NACE surveyed specifically studied air transportation. These programs focus on the planning and management of air transportation systems. Graduates might end up working for airlines or the government.

While employment for these master's degree graduates may appear low, another 21% aren't working because they're continuing their education.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Air Transportation
  • Average Starting Salary: $85,670
  • Percentage Employed: 65.1%

High-Paying Jobs for Transportation Master's Degrees

Aviation/Aerospace Program Managers
  • Average Salary (December 2023): $120,650
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 6%

Engineering Technologies and Related Fields

Engineering technology master's students learn how to solve technical problems in manufacturing, electrical processes, and communication networks. These programs may help prepare students to become research and development engineers.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Electromechanical Technologies
  • Average Starting Salary: $134,347
  • Percentage Employed: 65.7%
Other Engineering Related Fields
  • Average Starting Salary: $89,430
  • Percentage Employed: 89.6%

High-Paying Jobs for Engineering Technologies Master's Degrees

Senior Research and Development Engineers
  • Average Salary (September 2023) Salary: $112,450
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 4%
Senior Project Engineers
  • Average Salary (September 2023) Salary: $98,900
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 4%

Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services

There are many business master's programs outside of the popular MBA degree. And many of them pay off with high earnings for recent graduates.

Check out our tips for deciding between an MBA vs. a master's in business.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Business/Commerce
  • Average Starting Salary: $110,700
  • Percentage Employed: 83.2%
Management Information Systems and Services
  • Average Starting Salary: $100,470
  • Percentage Employed: 88.2%
Real Estate
  • Average Starting Salary: $104,240
  • Percentage Employed: 94.4%
Business Administration, Management, and Operations
  • Average Starting Salary: $95,200
  • Percentage Employed: 87.6%
Construction Management
  • Average Starting Salary: $82,990
  • Percentage Employed: 87.8%
Finance and Financial Management Services
  • Average Starting Salary: $76,070
  • Percentage Employed: 86.2%
Human Resources Management and Services
  • Average Starting Salary: $73,860
  • Percentage Employed: 89.5%
Marketing
  • Average Starting Salary: $70,900
  • Percentage Employed: 85.8%
Accounting
  • Average Starting Salary: $68,970
  • Percentage Employed: 90.3%
International Business
  • Average Starting Salary: $68,480
  • Percentage Employed: 75.9%

High-Paying Jobs for Business Master's Degrees

Financial Analysts
  • Median Salary: $96,220
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 8%
Project Management Specialists
  • Median Salary: $95,370
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 6%
Top Executives (e.g., CEOs)
  • Median Salary: $100,090
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 3%

Featured Master's in Business Administration Programs

Mathematics and Statistics

Master's degrees in mathematics and statistics — especially applied statistics — can earn graduates top dollar.

While at first glance, graduates with master's in mathematics make less money and are less likely to be employed than their statistics counterparts, note that many of them are still in school. Nearly half of mathematics students at the master's level (31.8%) are continuing their education beyond their master's degrees.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Applied Statistics
  • Average Starting Salary: $70,780
  • Percentage Employed: 81.7%
Statistics
  • Average Starting Salary: $98,840
  • Percentage Employed: 77.8%
Applied Mathematics
  • Average Starting Salary: $80,180
  • Percentage Employed: 78.5%
Mathematics
  • Average Starting Salary: $68,010
  • Percentage Employed: 45.3%

High-Paying Jobs for Mathematics Master's Degrees

Mathematicians
  • Median Salary: $112,110
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 2%
Statisticians
  • Median Salary: $98,920
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 32%

Featured Master's in Applied Mathematics & Data Science Programs

Physical Sciences

Graduates with master's degrees in physics earned higher-than-average salaries after graduation.

That said, it's worth noting that many physical sciences students don't stop at their master's degrees. One-third of graduates in this discipline (38.4%) are continuing their education.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Physics
  • Average Starting Salary: $79,290
  • Percentage Employed: 50.2%
Chemistry
  • Average Starting Salary: $64,150
  • Percentage Employed: 43.9%
Geological and Earth Sciences
  • Average Starting Salary: $65,600
  • Percentage Employed: 69.0%

High-Paying Jobs for Physical Sciences Master's Degrees

Physicists
  • Median Salary: $142,850
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 5%
Physical Scientists
  • Median Salary: $83,760
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 5%
Geoscientists
  • Median Salary: $87,480
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 5%

Legal Professions and Studies

A master's degree in law is different from a juris doctorate (JD) — the common pathway to practicing law as an attorney.

Graduates with a master's degree in law might work in positions helping employers navigate contracts or maintain legal compliance, for example, in a human resources or compliance department.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Law
  • Average Starting Salary: $135,740
  • Percentage Employed: 8%
Legal Research and Advanced Professional Studies
  • Average Starting Salary: $79,426
  • Percentage Employed: 65.2%

High-Paying Jobs for Legal Professions Master's Degrees

Compliance Directors
  • Average Salary (December 2023): $110,910
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 6%
Contract Negotiators
  • Average Salary (November 2023): $79,770
  • Projected Employment Growth in Industry (2022-2032): 6%

Featured Master's in Legal Studies Programs

Health Professions and Related Programs

Salaries for students in the health professions field vary widely. We find some lower salaries among dieticians and mental health service providers. However, nursing students graduate with higher-than-average salaries. Plus, nursing careers are set up for explosive growth.

Top earners in this field are master's graduates in allied health, which includes physician assistants, respiratory therapists, and others who study medical therapies and diagnostics.[5]

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment Professions
  • Average Starting Salary: $85,900
  • Percentage Employed: 82.2%
Nursing
  • Average Starting Salary: $85,060
  • Percentage Employed: 85.6%
Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration
  • Average Starting Salary: $85,930
  • Percentage Employed: 83.1%
Public Health
  • Average Starting Salary: $62,890
  • Percentage Employed: 73.7%
Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services
  • Average Starting Salary: $55,570
  • Percentage Employed: 58.5%
Mental Health Services
  • Average Starting Salary: $49,160
  • Percentage Employed: 72.4%

High-Paying Jobs for Health Professions Master's Degrees

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
  • Median Salary: $125,900
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 38%
Physician Assistants
  • Median Salary: $126,010
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 27%
Occupational Therapists
  • Median Salary: $93,180
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 12%

Featured Master's in Nursing & Healthcare Programs

Social Sciences

The social sciences include anthropology, sociology, political science, and more fields that focus on how societies work.

Master's grads in the social sciences may go on to work in jobs researching human interactions and patterns in societies to inform policy and decision-making.

Post-Graduation Outcomes by Major or Specialization

International Relations and National Security Studies
  • Average Starting Salary: $72,340
  • Percentage Employed: 77.0%
Economics
  • Average Starting Salary: $70,220
  • Percentage Employed: 56.2%
Political Science
  • Average Starting Salary: $53,340
  • Percentage Employed: 61.2%
Sociology
  • Average Starting Salary: $54,280
  • Percentage Employed: 45.0%

High-Paying Jobs for Social Sciences Master's Degrees

Economists
  • Median Salary: $113,940
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 6%
Social Scientists
  • Median Salary: $84,000
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 5%
Urban and Regional Planners
  • Median Salary: $79,540
  • Projected Employment Growth (2022-2032): 4%

Featured Master's in Social Science Programs

Behind the Numbers

We drew from several sources to inform the figures in this data report.

  • Average starting salaries for master's graduates came from NACE and pertain to graduates from the class of 2022.Note Reference [1]
  • Median salaries and projected employment growth for occupations came from the 2022 BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.Note Reference [2]
  • In the absence of available salary data from the BLS, we reported on average salary data as of November or December 2023 from Payscale.com.
  • We rounded all salary figures to the nearest $10.

Highest-Paying Master's Degrees Outside of STEM

It's no surprise that computer science and engineering top the list of the highest-paying master's degrees. But what about fields outside of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?

  • Master's degrees in legal and business-related fields top the list of highest-paying non-STEM degrees.
  • While most visual and performing arts students made median salaries closer to $50,000 or less as of 2021, design and applied arts made an impressive average starting salary of $68,552.Note Reference [1]
Highest-Paying Non-STEM Master's Degree Specialization, 2022
Master's Degree Major or Speciality Average Starting Salary
Real Estate $104,240
Business Administration $95,200
Construction Management $82,990
Urban Studies/Affairs $72,040
Homeland Security $69,870
Sustainability Studies $69,790
Linguistic, Comparative, and Related Language Studies $68,840
International Business $68,480
Public Policy Analysis $68,390
Economics $67,330
Public Administration $66,730
Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, and Humanities $72,680
Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations $64,970
Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy $64,780
Design and Applied Arts $63,850
Clinical, Counseling and Applied Psychology $59,370
Research and Experimental Psychology $58,250
Note: All salary figures in this table were rounded to the nearest $10.
Source: National Association of Colleges and EmployersNote Reference [1]

Highest-Paying Master's Degrees by Career

According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists were the highest-paid professionals who must possess a master's degree in 2022. The median annual salary for folks in this role was $203,090.Note Reference [2]

  • Several other nursing occupations, including nurse practitioners and midwives, earned over six figures.
  • The BLS also projected faster-than-average job growth for health-related occupations in the coming year.
  • Nurse practitioners had the highest projected job growth, with the BLS projecting 50,000 or more job openings.
  • STEM-related workers, including those in computer research, science, and math, all made a median of well over six figures as of 2022, ranging from $105,630-$131,490.
Highest-Paying Jobs For Master's Degree Graduates, 2022
Occupation Median Salary
Nurse Anesthetists $203,090
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $139,280
Computer and Information Research Scientists $136,620
Political Scientists $128,020
Physician Assistants $126,010
Nurse Practitioners $121,610
Nurse Midwives $120,880
Economists $113,940
Mathematicians $112,110
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals $101,320
Postsecondary Education Administrators $99,940
Statisticians $98,920
Sociologist $98,590
Occupational Therapists $93,180
Genetic Counselor $89,990
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists $85,330
Note: In 2009, the Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) announced that nurse anesthesia programs must offer doctoral degrees for entry into practice by 2025. Nurse anesthetists will be required to possess a doctorate rather than a master's.[6]
Source: BLSNote Reference [2]

Difference in Salary: Master's vs. Bachelor's

The payoff of continuing your education may depend on your field. Here are some of the top academic disciplines in which getting your master's degree may be worth it.

  • In 2022, those who got their master's degree in a biological science field made 84% more on average than those who just graduated with their bachelor's.
  • Those who graduated with a master's degree in psychology made 63% more than their peers who finished with their bachelor's in the same major.
Percent Difference in Average Salary: Master's vs. Bachelor's, 2022
Academic Discipline Percent Difference in Average Salary
Biological Sciences 84%
Psychology 63%
Legal Studies 62.9%
Natural Resources 53.4%
Business 52.3%
Security 48.9%
Visual and Performing Arts 46.3%
Area and Ethnic Studies 45.5%
English 45.0%
Family and Consumer Science 43.4%
Communications 41.2%
Education 41.1%
Engineering Tech 41.0%
Physical Sciences 40.1%
Liberal Arts/General Studies 36.8%
Source: National Association of Colleges and EmployersNote Reference [1]

Other Factors to Consider Apart From Salary

While potential earnings are important to consider before pursuing a master's, taking into account other factors, such as the ones noted below, may also be worthwhile.

Salary Range

While the median salary can be useful in considering potential earnings, it is just one metric. Salary ranges for certain professions are extremely wide.

For example, the median annual wage for sociologists was $98,590 in 2022. However, the bottom 10% made less than $57,490, and the top 10% earned more than $166,040.Note Reference [2] This is a salary range of over $108,000.

Employability

Some high-paying jobs have very few openings. For example, industrial-organizational psychologists make a higher median wages than clinical and counseling psychologists — by over $20,000 a year. However, there are about 10,000 industrial-organizational psychologists in the country, versus more than 67,000 clinical and counseling psychologists.Note Reference [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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