10 Best Graduate Degrees for Thriving in a Recession

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Updated: March 13, 2024, Reading time: 14 minutes

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A recession is defined as a temporary economic decline or negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters. As the appropriate governing body, the National Bureau of Economic Research makes the official declaration of a state of recession in the country after consideration of several factors.

When there is a decline in the country’s economic conditions such as the gross domestic product (GDP), employment rate, production, trade, consumer demand, and business revenues, the country is in a state of recession. The recession hits the country’s economy and industry in all aspects.

The Great Recession, both referring to the US and global recession in 2009, is one of the sharpest downturns experienced in the economy. Its severity has been felt in the unemployment rate which peaked at 10% at the time and businesses were closing down.

In times of great recession, all companies, whether big or small, are affected. For both employers and employees, recession means layoffs, a hiring freeze, and a declining job market. Even successful companies such as Facebook, Netflix, and Google, among others, are not left unscathed as these companies decide to lay off employees and put hiring on hold.

Grad School Center 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.

Preparing for a Recession

At the early signs of a looming recession, one must come up with a plan on how to survive life and even thrive during an economic downturn. Some of the things one can do are to budget and reallocate one’s money, give up unnecessary expenses, pay off debts that generate high interest, monitor business cash flow, and invest in your education for career growth.

People enter grad school to either step up in their current career or for a full career change. Either way, pursuing higher education such as a doctorate or master’s degree will serve as an added barricade against the effects of an economic downturn. Equipping one’s self with the skills that only grad school can hone will surely put one above anyone else.

For those unemployed or laid off, the time of recession is also the perfect time to go to graduate school. It’s a good use of time while job opportunities are scarce and difficult. The master’s degree earned will make one more marketable for future job postings of one’s career prospects when the economy bounces back from a recession.

Finding the Best School for a Graduate Degree

Graduate schools are flexible and have adapted to the needs of both students and the working class. A Master’s degree and doctorate can be taken at one’s own pace either as a full-time or part-time student and through online or mixed learning.

Some colleges offer dual degree programs that allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in a short period of five years. The availability of this program depends on the graduate degree to be pursued and one’s chosen school.

Graduate school is costly and not everyone who wishes to complete a graduate program can afford it. Fortunately, most grad schools offer financial aid for full-time students and even professionals. Financial aid is also greater and more lenient in times of recession.

The 10 Best Recession Proof Graduate Degrees

This list provides the best graduate degrees for thriving in a recession that are offered in many graduate schools. Mainly because they are essential professions that will always have greater demand in the job market.  

These are also associated with jobs that have the highest projected rise in employment ranging from 26% to 46%  in the years 2021 to 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aside from the projected growth rate which is a good indicator of the chances of getting hired, the annual pay should also be given great consideration.

Find a graduate degree that will help you land recession-proof jobs.

Master’s in Computer Science

Job Title: Computer and Information Research Scientists

Growth Rate: 21%
Average Annual Salary: $131,490

With the fast-changing and evolving modern technology, there is an increased demand for workers who are knowledgeable in the field of information technology, software engineering, and data processing, among others. 

Due to the job’s high technicality, business and tech companies prefer workers with a master’s degree in computer science. This industry involves a lot of money and companies have large allocations for human resources.

Designing new and innovative existing technology, systems, and programs for use in different fields such as business, education, medicine, and science is the main task of computer and information research scientists. Companies are willing to pay high for those with specialization, for example in programming or robotics

Some of the largest employers of computer and information research scientists are the federal government, life sciences, and colleges. Being crucial sectors, it gives a sense of security that this position will still be in demand even when the country is experiencing a recession.  

Master of Science in Nursing

Job Title: Nurse Practitioner

Growth Rate: 46%
Average Annual Salary: $123,780

A master’s and a registered nursing license are the two major requirements to start this career. APRN programs are open to those who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing or other health or medical-related undergraduate degree.

Grad school offers several areas of specialization for a graduate degree in nursing. The highest paying careers are in the areas of anesthesiology, psychiatry, pediatrics, orthopedic, and urology. These specializations further require licenses and certifications from accredited institutions.

Nurse practitioners belong to a group of professionals referred to as advanced practice registered nurses. On top of the duties of a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner possess the knowledge and skills that allow them to diagnose, analyze tests and evaluate patients, provide or alter treatment plans, prescribe medication, order laboratory tests, advise patients and family members on how to manage illnesses, and conduct research. 

They have the license to do all of these with or without the supervision and collaboration of physicians.

With the projected shortage of physicians, nurse practitioners could help lighten its impact by delivering health care within the limits of their licenses.

Master of Physician Assistant Studies

Job Title: Physician Assistants

Growth Rate: 28%
Average Annual Salary: $121,530

Physician assistants engage in medical practice just like physicians who examine, diagnose, and treat patients. Their duties also include interpreting x-rays, blood tests, and other diagnostic test results, counseling families regarding the patient’s illness, prescribing medication, and many others.

To become a physician assistant, one must complete a master’s program from an accredited school and get a license. Applicants who have prior medical experience or healthcare-related college education are most likely to get into an accredited educational program.

PAs may also choose to specialize in specific areas of medicine like psychiatry, primary care, surgery, family medicine, or surgery, to name a few.

Unlike nurse practitioners, physician assistants always work in collaboration with physicians and other medical workers. Although the extent of what and how they are to perform their duties and the level of supervision required vary in each state. PA positions are expected to further rise due to the shortage of physicians.

Master in Economic Studies

Job Title: Economists

Growth Rate: 6%
Average Annual Salary: $105,630

Economists gather and analyze data as well as study economic trends and issues to know the status of production and distribution of resources. It is through their expertise that they are able to forecast market trends and recommend solutions. The findings and information provided by economists are heavily relied on by organizations in decision-making. This is a skill that is very apt during a period of recession.

Most economists work for the government either locally, for the state, or for the federal government. One of the most secure sectors even in a time of great recession is the public sector, more specifically, the federal government. Direct employees and even professionals from consulting firms such as economic advisers will greatly be in demand to help the government address the economic downturn.

The private sector such as corporations, businesses, local and international organizations, and even research journals offer many jobs for master’s in economic studies degree holders.

Master’s in Health Services Management/Master of Health Administration

Job Title: Medical and Health Service Managers

Growth Rate: 28%
Average Annual Salary: $101,340

The health care industry will continue to function as is despite a recession. Career and jobs in this field are considered essential and will still be in demand even in the middle of a recession. One of these jobs is that of a health service manager.

A graduate degree in health services management will be preferred by employers over bachelor’s degree holders if not totally made part of the job requirements. This is because the program often includes a related learning administrative experience that employers primarily look for in a job candidate. A master’s degree is also necessary for career advancement in this field.

Health service managers are responsible for the management of a health care facility. For example, managing the administrative affairs of a hospital, clinic, or medical group. The responsibilities of the job include supervising hospital workers, ensuring compliance, fiscal management, scheduling, and representing the facility. 

It is important that a health service manager keeps himself or herself up-to-date information about health care laws and regulations.

Master’s in Education Administration/Education Leadership

Job Title: School Administrators/Principals

Growth Rate: 5%
Average Annual Salary: $98,420

A school administrator or more often referred to as the school principal is the head and overseer of all school operations from hiring and evaluating teachers, managing activities, establishing class curriculum and class schedules, disciplining students, giving advice to parents, preparing progress reports, and complying with state and federal regulations, among other duties.

A master’s in education administration or education leadership, teaching experience, a college degree in education or related field, and a state-issued license are the mandatory requirements in order to fill this position. However, those who intend to apply to a private school need not apply for a state license.

The type of master’s degree you can take depends on the level of education you want to oversee whether elementary, middle, high school or higher education. Opportunities for career advancement include becoming superintendent, higher level education administrators, or instructional coordinators.

Although the demand as shown in the projected growth rate is low for the next decade, schools and education continue to operate even during a recession.

Master of Science in Mathematics/Statistics

Job Title: Mathematicians and Statisticians

Growth Rate: 31%
Average Annual Salary: $96,280

Any industry, company, or business makes use of math and statistics in their daily and future operations especially in problem-solving. They play a vital role in research and development, government, the healthcare industry, and schools like colleges and universities. This makes the job of mathematicians and statisticians all the more important during a recession when the economy takes a dip.

This job entails determining needed data, using mathematical theories to address practical problems, designing surveys, interpreting data collected, and developing statistical models. Mathematicians and statisticians should also be adept at using statistical software in order to accurately analyze loads of data.

Companies often require a master’s degree as the minimum education requirement for this job. It would be advantageous to take math courses as early as high school and have a mathematics-related college degree.

Other job prospects for those who want to take this master’s degree are a career as a college professor or in a managerial role.

Master of Science in Financial Analysis

Job Title: Financial Analysts

Growth Rate: 9%
Average Annual Salary: $95,570

Financial analysts help individuals and companies decide which profitable investments are worth risking. This involves the study of stocks, bonds, current and historical financial data, and business trends. The information gathered is then integrated into an individual’s or business’s goal and then recommends investments through written reports. This is the same for both buy-side analysts and sell-side analysts.

A degree holder of a master of science in financial analysis, especially those specializing in financial risk, is in a knowledgeable position to assess the right investments during a period of recession. Businesses will continue to seek the expertise of a financial analyst and in fact, would greatly need their services at this time.

Job candidates who have a master’s degree are preferred by employers over those with just a business-related bachelor’s degree. Licenses cannot be acquired prior to actually being hired as the application must be sponsored by an employer. 

Certifications and specializations are stepping stones to advancing the career ladder. For example, being a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) gives one global recognition in this field.

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy

Job Title: Occupational Therapist

Growth Rate: 14%
Average Annual Salary: $85,570

Occupational therapy is a therapy to help patients with physical and cognitive problems due to disabilities, illnesses, and injuries adapt to their environment in order to go about their day-to-day life and work. The goal is to reintegrate patients to be functional and somewhat independent in home, work, school, and community settings.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 10,000 job openings for occupational therapists in the US every year. Health care facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, schools, and even homes have a constant demand for degree holders in occupational therapy. A downturn in the economy will not affect the demand for these professionals.

Currently, in order to practice as an occupational therapist, one must have a master’s or doctoral degree and be registered. These programs must be duly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy of the AOTA. A healthcare-related college degree such as biology and physiology is required for admission.

The NBCOT – National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy is the administering body of the national examination for occupational therapists. One must pass the exam to be considered an OTR in any state. AOTA also offers specialty certifications for those who want to specialize with a certain age group or specific disability.

Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy

Job Title: Marriage and Family Therapist

Growth Rate: 14%
Average Annual Salary: $49,880

A recession may appear to greatly affect the economy alone but if you look at the big picture, the basic unit of society in which the family suffers the most. The pressure to keep the family’s finances afloat can cause tension among spouses and all family members and bring out deep-seated mental and emotional issues.

This is where the job of marriage and family therapists can actually save a marriage by addressing marital distress, depression, conflict, and other concerns.

As master’s degree holders, MFTs are highly educated, trained, and experienced in the nature of their profession. The graduate program must be duly accredited by acknowledged organizations such as:

In order to practice, they should be licensed which can be acquired by passing the examination in the state where they will practice and comply with the mandated continuing education classes.

Why Pursue a Graduate Degree

The primary driving force for college students and professionals alike to pursue higher education is the high salary employers are paying graduate degree holders. The average annual salary associated with a graduate degree is a great motivation in itself to go get that advanced degree. 

Another strong point why workers enroll in grad school is because of the accelerated expectation of moving up the career ladder. A graduate program serves as an avenue for experience and gaining the skills employers look for when hiring a candidate for a high-paying position or promoting career advancement.

Sectors and industries that are considered essential will continue to thrive in terms of employment amidst the recession. This includes public health, the public sector, academia, and business. The growth for careers in these fields is constant regardless of economic downturns.

A graduate program will not only be a great addition to your job skills but it will also expand your professional network. Grad schools are full of industry leaders, company heads, and business owners. Depending on your performance, they can recommend you for a job, absorb you in their company, or even propose business with you.

With an impending economic downturn, those with a recession-proof graduate degree are at a great advantage in terms of job security and job prospects.

Additional Information:

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