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What Are the Fastest Growing and Highest Paying Graduate Degrees?

November 2021

Creating more career opportunities and earning a higher salary are arguably the top two reasons most people pursue a graduate degree. These parameters are key factors in one’s decision about what type of degree they want to pursue. While this information may not prompt you to change careers entirely, it may help you choose which graduate degree to pursue if you have some options or flexibility within your current occupation.

An increasing need for master’s degrees

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), jobs that require a master’s level of education are predicted to grow by almost 17% from 2016 to 2026. That is the fastest growth level of any education level. The BLS predicts that doctoral and professional-level occupations will grow by 13%. The average projected growth in the job market is 4%.

While the old adage that there are more law students than lawyers may still be true, the occupation of lawyer is predicted to have the most graduate level job openings through the year 2029. The 2020 median salary for lawyers is $126,930 per year.

The fastest growing jobs

Education and health occupations are predicted to have the most job growth potential over the next decade. Many of these openings come as a considerable number of people leave these fields in part due to the recent pandemic, creating an unusual number of vacancies for newcomers and recent graduates.

Nurse practitioners

Amongst all occupations and education levels, nurse practitioner is the fastest growing profession that requires a graduate degree (master’s), with an average of 14,400 jobs available each year until the year 2026. The BLS predicts a growth rate of 45% between 2019–2029, with a current median salary of $111,680 per year.*

Postsecondary health care teachers

Along with the increased demand in graduate level health care workers is an increased demand in postsecondary health care teachers, or college professors as they are more commonly called. This occupation requires a Ph.D. or medical doctoral degree and is on track to add 121,500 more jobs through the year 2029. The 2020 median salary for postsecondary teachers is $80,790 per year.

Education administrators

Primary and secondary education has also taken a hit during the pandemic, with a higher-than-average number of teachers and administrators taking early retirement or just leaving the profession altogether. This has left a significant gap in this field as demands rise for more candidates to fill vacancies. Education administrators in elementary and secondary schools are set to see a significant growth pattern through the year 2026 with an estimated 21,200 jobs available. As of 2017, the median salary for administrators was $94,490.

Jobs with the highest salaries

Health care field

If salary is a primary driver for choosing a degree, you’ll want to stay in the health care field. The highest paying jobs are in the medical field and require a doctoral degree. Anesthesiologists are the highest paid occupation with a mean annual wage of $265,990 and has projected yearly openings through 2026 of 1,400. (If you’ve ever received a hospital bill after surgery this should come as no surprise.)

Within those health care fields requiring a master’s degree, a nurse anesthetist ranks as the occupation with the highest salary with a median annual income of $165,120.

Other fields

There are some non-medical occupations in this category as well, in case you’re thinking that your bachelor’s in econ may not transfer well into the health science field. The highest paying occupations with a master’s degree include:

  • political scientist
  • computer and information research scientists
  • mathematicians
  • economists

Of course the business industry and its multitudes of specialties accounts for a large number of the workforce, so getting a graduate degree in one of these fields is likely to pay off as well, although it’s not one where a graduate degree is required to do well financially. However, it often helps in improving skills and advancement opportunities in your specific field.

* U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Education level and projected openings, 2019–29, October 2020. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2020/article/education-level-and-openings.htm#s5

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