What are the Best-Paying Graduate School Degrees?

highest paying grad school careers

One of the most important questions for individuals looking to attend graduate school is whether the work and effort they put into their education will really pay off. Although some rare and exotic types may love pouring their life into schooling with no monetary return, the vast majority of us prefer to see a return on the investment of our time, effort, and money.

According to “Select Findings from What’s It Worth,” by the Center on Education and the Workforce out of Georgetown University, attending graduate school really does pay off. This brief overview will help aspiring graduate students to briefly compare and contrast the highest return on graduate degree programs in each general field of study. The listing of fields as well as general statistics is taken from “Select Findings from What’s It Worth.”

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A graduate degree in engineering improves the earning capacity of its holder by 24,000 dollars annually. Two graduate degrees with some of the highest-earning potential in engineering are Computer Science Engineering and Aerospace Engineering.

  • Computer Science Engineering – Graduates with a master’s degree in Computer Science enjoy an entry-level income of $80,000. Not only does the degree pay off, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a significant increase in demand for these specialists by 2028.
  • Aerospace Engineering – Aerospace Engineers can expect to bring in over $100,000 annually. Training is intensive and often requires a graduate degree.


In the field of health, attaining a graduate degree increases median pay by around $20,000. According to CNBC, Physicians and Pharmacists top the list of highest paying health workers.

  • Physician – The income of a physician ranges between $120,000 and $300,000 a year.
  • Pharmacist/Pharmacy Manager – Studying to be a pharmacist requires a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and yields between $120,000 and $142,000 a year.

Humanities and Liberal Arts

Median pay for those with graduate degrees in the humanities or liberal arts promises to increase by $18,000. Jobs within the humanities and liberal arts that pay well include working as a psychologist or sociologist.

  • Sociologist – Requiring either a master’s or doctoral degree, sociologists earn over $80,000 median income.
  • Psychologist – Making between $100,000 and $150,000, psychologists are some of the highest-paid individuals educated in the liberal arts. Becoming a psychologist requires at least a master’s degree and usually a doctorate.

Industrial Arts and Consumer Services

The industrial arts, as well as consumer services, see a $15,000 increase in pay among those who have attended graduate school vs. those who have not. Two of the highest-paying vocations within these fields include web developers and producers or directors.

  • Web Developer – Although working as a web developer can be effective with only an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, pursuing graduate education in web development is sure to bring one to the top of their field. Web developers on average take home a salary of around $70,000.
  • Producer/Director – Also making around $70,000 a year, producers and directors usually require either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in order to succeed.

Law and Public Policy

With a $20,000 gap in salary between those who have earned graduate degrees and those who haven’t, a graduate degree is often necessary for top law and public policy jobs and always an asset. Top paying law and public policy jobs include trial lawyers and tax attorneys.

  • Tax Attorney – Attending three years of law school allows graduates to bring in an income of $120,000. Tax attorneys can make up to $200,000 a year.
  • Trial Lawyer – Trial lawyers must attend law school as well as be licensed by the state they practice in. Their median income is around $90,000.

Physical Sciences

With one of the biggest disparities between those who have earned a graduate degree and those who haven’t, the field of physical sciences demands a high level of knowledge. Average pay in the area of physical sciences increases by $30,000 for those who have acquired a degree beyond their bachelor’s degree.

  • Physicist – Requiring a doctoral degree, physicists make a median income of over $90,000.
  • Natural Science Manager – A manager of natural science will typically have at least a bachelor’s degree but often a master’s or doctorate as well. Their average income is around $130,000 annually.

Psychology and Social Work

Averaging an $18,000 increase in pay, graduate school is often a necessity for jobs in psychology and an asset in social work. Psychiatrists are psychologists who make one of the largest incomes. In the field of social work, health care social workers bring home the most money.

  • Psychiatrist – Becoming a psychiatrist takes at least 4 years of graduate school along with an internship and specialized training. Their income averages $230,000 a year making it one of the highest-paid jobs on this list.
  • Health Care Social Worker – With an average income of around $70,000, health care social workers usually require a master’s degree in social work.

Social Science

Another field with a large disparity of salary between those who have graduate degrees and those who don’t, social science jobs, in general, provide a $30,000 increase in pay to those who have acquired a graduate degree. Those who enjoy the highest paying social science careers are economists and political scientists.

  • Economist – Usually requiring either a master’s or doctoral degree, working as an economist brings in an income of around $85,000.
  • Political Scientist – Political scientists usually make over $100,000 and the job often requires at least a master’s degree and sometimes a doctorate.

Check this out: The Most In-Demand Master’s Degrees

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor