People choose to pursue graduate degrees for many reasons. Some are hoping it will give them the skills and experiences needed to advance in their field. Others want to change careers or industries altogether and enroll in a program to get the educational expertise they need to make the switch. Other professionals pursue an advanced degree for the financial incentive, whether it be a higher-paying role in their current field or a new career in a more lucrative industry.
These financial benefits can be the deciding factor for prospective students, and with good reason. According to a recent study, graduates of advanced degree programs earn up to 28 percent more than those with just a bachelor’s degree. There are some cases (as emphasized in the study) where this is not true. For example, a teacher with a master’s degree in education may still make less than an engineer or architect with just a bachelor’s degree. Overall, however, differences in salary between those with a bachelor’s degree and those with a master’s degree are significant enough to inspire many to continue their education.
Breaking Down the Data
Many available resources list the highest-paying jobs in the country or an individual industry. As an educational institution, we’ve decided to break the data down even further. By analyzing the degrees that correlate with the highest-paying careers, alongside data on salary and projected job growth, we’ve established a list of the eight master’s degrees with the highest salary potential in America.
(If you have any questions about the programs listed below, contact a graduate admissions coach for more information.)
The Top 8 Highest-Paying Master’s Degrees
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
A master’s degree in business administration takes the coveted first spot on the list of the top eight highest-paying master’s degrees, primarily due to the broad array of concentrations and high-paying careers that recipients of this degree go on to pursue. The annual median starting salary for MBA graduates is $115,000, making the pursuit of an MBA a natural choice for those looking to advance in a variety of business-related fields.
Top careers for MBA graduates include:
Median Salary: $146,360/year
Growth by 2028: 11 percent (faster than average)
According to U.S. News’s ‘Best Paying Jobs of 2020’ report, this is the second highest-paying non-medical role that is attainable with a graduate degree. The main responsibilities of IT managers include planning, coordinating, and directing online or computer-based work for an organization. Although an entry-level role in this field can be obtained with a bachelor’s degree, to reach the full career potential, employees must obtain an MBA, most commonly with a concentration in technology.
Median Salary: $135,900/year
Growth by 2028: 8 percent (faster than average)
Although some debate whether or not the best route for a high-level career in marketing is an MBA or a direct master’s in marketing, it is clear that the high salary associated with this role is directly correlated with obtaining an advanced degree. Marketing managers are known for working on the promotion of an organization, its products, and its services.
Median Salary: $126,640/year
Growth by 2028: 5 percent (average rate)
Most high-level sales managers graduate from an MBA program, most commonly with a concentration in marketing. Individuals in this position usually come from a lower-level sales background and are in charge of overseeing the sales team in their organization, as well as its various sales initiatives and processes. Alongside a high pay rate, another perk of this role is travel, which is often required for employees at higher levels.
Business Operations Manager
Median Salary: $100,930/year
Growth by 2028: 7 percent (faster than average)
Individuals who hold business operations roles help departments within an organization meet their goals. The responsibilities and functions of this role vary and can include work related to human resources (e.g. hiring), finance (e.g. budgeting), and project management. Individuals in these roles should have excellent leadership and communication skills to help facilitate this work.
Master of Science in Nursing
Nursing is a unique field, in that it fits in among the high-paying medical roles—such as surgeons, physicians, and psychiatrists—without the multi-year residencies and medical degrees that are usually required to obtain those positions. It is because of the increasing demand for high-quality healthcare in today’s society, alongside the labor-intensive elements of this role, that nursing is such a coveted and well-paying field.
To pursue the advanced roles in this career path, individuals must obtain a Master of Science in Nursing. From this degree, certified graduates often go one of two high-paying routes, either becoming a Nurse Practitioner or a Nurse Anesthetist, both of which are considered “advanced practice registered nursing” roles.
Top careers for Master of Science in Nursing graduates include:
Median Salary: $167,950
Growth by 2028: 17 percent (much faster than average)
These are registered nurses that have specialized in anesthesiology, a practice in which intravenous drugs and inhaled gasses are administered to patients undergoing surgeries or other potentially painful procedures to numb or avoid pain or discomfort.
Median Salary: $115,800/year
Growth by 2028: 26 percent (much faster than average)
Nurses in these roles do a combination of clinical work, disease prevention, and health management. Alongside a master’s or doctoral degree, nurse practitioners also must have advanced clinical training that extends past what was received during the process to become a registered nurse. Beyond their direct clinical health work, individuals in this role are known to take part in healthcare forums, conduct research, and then apply that research to their clinical practice.
Master of Engineering Management
Engineers who already have the basic skills from an undergraduate degree often go on to earn a Master of Science in Engineering Management. In pursuit of this degree, engineers develop the business and management skills required to advance into leadership roles.
Top careers for Master of Engineering Management graduates include:
Architectural and Engineering Manager
Median Salary: $144,830/year
Growth by 2028: 3 percent (slower than average)
The primary duties of this role are to oversee activities occurring within architectural and engineering companies. This often includes the planning, directing, and coordinating of all business activities that occur within these organizations, as well as the creation of technical goals and procedures for specific processes. Whether developing new products or ensuring the completion of a live project, it is up to these managers to coordinate with all members of a team to complete tasks.
Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering
This advanced degree directly correlates with a successful career in the petroleum engineering field. Although it is a niche industry, petroleum engineers often are compensated well for their work, both because of the physical demand and the high-risk atmosphere they work in. Professionals that are drawn to a petroleum engineering career also may benefit from an exploration of bioengineering, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, or even industrial engineering.
Top careers for Master of Petroleum Engineering graduates include:
Median Salary: $137,720/year
Growth by 2028: 3 percent (slower than average)
Engineers in this specialty work specifically with oil and gas, developing best practices and methods for extracting these substances from the deposits below the Earth’s surface, and older wells. This role requires many site visits as well as time spent working on methodology in the office. Other career options in this field include drilling engineers, production engineers, and reservoir engineers.
Master of Science in Finance
A master’s degree in finance is a popular choice for students looking to springboard their careers in the financial sector. In today’s job market, graduates with this skillset are often highly coveted because of how easily the skills learned within this type of program can translate into a variety of different fields. What’s more, due to the unwavering need for organizations to have a knowledgeable and impactful employee navigating their budgets, accounting processes, and more, there is much potential for job growth.
Top careers for Master of Science in Finance graduates include:
Median Salary: $129,890/year
Growth by 2028: 16 percent (much faster than average)
Financial managers often hold an advanced degree in economics, business administration, or finance. Individuals in this role take ownership of the overall “financial health” of an organization. They create financial reports and projections, provide tactical advice on investments, and develop strategies to help the organization reach its long-term financial goals. Financial managers are found most commonly in banking and insurance companies, and most commonly come from an accountant, auditor, or financial analyst background.
Median Salary: $108,350/year
Growth by 2028: 20 percent (much faster than average)
Actuaries can receive proper training either through a Master of Science in Finance or a Master of Science in Actuarial Science program—both of which prepare students for this highly lucrative career. Individuals in this role are responsible for “analyzing the financial costs of risk and uncertainty,” via sophisticated software programs, which compare statistics and forecast profitability. They also use these programs to assess the risk involved with potential future events and work with clients to develop procedures in order to reduce the negative financial impact of such risks.
Median Salary: $87,850/year
Growth by 2028: 7 percent (faster than average)
To become certified, many financial advisors receive a master’s in finance degree or an MBA, followed by the completion of a Certified Financial Planner exam. They are hired directly to manage and oversee a client’s finances, including investments, insurance, mortgages, college savings, estate planning, taxes, retirement, and more. Most financial advisors work independently and consult for a roster of individual clients. Others may work for an organization within the finance or insurance industries.
Master of Arts in Political Science
A master’s degree in political science sets up graduates for a career in a variety of political fields. Known for being interdisciplinary, the skills acquired in such a program often intersect with subjects covered in the pursuit of an economics, law, psychology, and sociology degrees. While there are a handful of other jobs in the public administration/public affairs or federal government sectors, the role that correlates best with a political science degree is that of a political scientist.
Top careers for Master of Arts in Political Science graduates include:
Median Salary: $122,220/year
Growth by 2026: 5 percent (average rate)
Individuals who choose to go into a career as a political scientist are interested in the origin of the country’s political systems, the way those systems develop over time, and how they operate in the present. A large part of a political scientist’s job usually includes research in regards to national politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.
Master of Science in Computer Science
A master’s degree in computer science, especially one with a concentration in software engineering/development, teaches aspiring computer program creators how to construct modern, advanced software that has the potential to impact any number of industries. Based on the application of scientific and engineering principals to the creation of new software systems, these types of programs allow graduates to enter their field with the abilities and knowledge needed to thrive.
Top careers for Master of Science in Computer Science graduates include:
Median Salary: $105,590
Growth by 2028: 21 percent (much faster than average)
Understandably, a master’s degree in software development is applied most cohesively to a career as a software developer. Individuals in these positions work closely with computer programmers to create technical systems on which the programs we use daily operate. Developers are in charge of determining a product’s core software functionality so that it gets designed properly and performs as intended. Individuals looking to advance in this field often go on to become information technology (IT) project managers, in which they oversee the creation of the software rather than handle the steps themselves.
Master of Science in Healthcare Management
This terminal degree for healthcare professionals focuses on an analytical and business-oriented approach to management within the healthcare industry. Healthcare management is a popular area of study at this moment in history, due to the changing population trends and the rapidly growing need for such professionals.
Top careers for Master of Science in Healthcare Management graduates include:
Median Salary: $100,980/year
Growth by 2028: 18 percent (Much faster than average)
Individuals in these roles are qualified to handle duties that relate to the administrative rather than the clinical side of healthcare, including managing staff, organizing processes, overseeing budgets, and staying on top of changing regulations and industry trends. Health Managers work in a variety of types of facilities including, hospitals, nursing homes, community-based organizations, private healthcare offices, and more.
The Value of a Master’s Degree
If you’re wondering whether or not earning a master’s degree is worth it, it’s clear that pursuing an advanced education comes with a variety of benefits including increased earning potential. It is, however, important to realize that not all universities are equal. Once you’ve decided to take the next step in your education and career, you will need to find the right graduate school for you.
When choosing a program, be sure to consider how it will help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Northeastern University’s dedication to experiential learning, for example, allows students to gain valuable work experience and develop the real-world skills they need while working toward their degrees. Additionally, industry-aligned faculty bring their expertise to the classroom, providing students with opportunities to get a first-hand look into industry challenges and advancements.
The true value of a master’s degree is related to more than just earning potential. The right degree program will broaden your knowledge while also building hands-on experience and developing a lifelong network of professional connections.
Looking for more on these or other advanced degree programs that can lead to a high-paying career?
Explore Northeastern’s 200+ graduate programs to find the one that can best help you achieve your goals.