Best-paying and worst-paying master's degrees

Should you go to graduate school? Check out the best degrees to get that will pay you back with a big salary-and which ones may cost more than they're worth.

Best-paying and worst-paying master's degrees

Is grad school the right choice for you?

You have a bachelor’s degree—but is it enough to get a job? For freshly-minted college grads and students, you might be eager to start your search for an entry-level job. For veteran employees who have been in the workforce for a while, perhaps you’re looking for ways to increase your salary or take your career to the next level?

Regardless of where you’re at in your career, surely, at some point, you’ve considered going back to school and earning your master’s degree. Before you start applying to grad schools, one thing you should know if you’re looking for the most bang for your postgraduate educational buck is that some master’s degrees yield bigger financial returns than others.

Katie Bardaro, lead analyst at online salary database, says that many of the top-paying master’s degrees are in technical fields, such as engineering and computer science. “These are areas where it pays to get additional training and build upon the knowledge acquired in an undergraduate program,” Bardaro says.

Although Bardaro says any degree that allows you to increase your technical know-how is valuable when it comes to salary and job prospects, she cautions that more education does not always result in higher income, especially when you factor in the cost of obtaining the degree. “Education is like any other investment, in that one needs to do some cost-benefit analysis before taking the plunge,” she says.

Remember, salary depends on your level of experience, specialty, and where in the country you're employed. For example, a software engineer salary in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is 4% higher than the national median; an electrical engineer salary in San Jose, California, is 18% higher than the national median; and a case worker salary in New York City is 3% higher than the national median.

Check out the 10 best-paying* and worst-paying master’s degrees along with some top-paying typical jobs for graduates, plus median mid-career salary information.

Best-paying master’s degrees

1. Nurse anesthesia

Median pay: $165,000 per year

Find all nurse anesthetist jobs on Monster.

2. Telecommunications engineering

Median pay: $141,000 per year

Jobs: Senior software engineer ($127,000), senior network engineer ($113,000), systems engineer ($107,000)

Find all telecommunications engineering jobs on Monster.

3. Finance and economics

Median pay: $134,000 per year

Jobs: Senior financial analyst ($106,000)

Find all finance jobs on Monster.

4. Electrical engineering

Median pay: $130,000 per year

Jobs: Vice president of operations ($254,000), vice president of engineering ($219,000), vice president of business development ($190,000)

Find all electrical engineering jobs on Monster.

5. Computer engineering

Median pay: $129,000 per year

Jobs: Vice president of engineering ($200,000), principal software engineer ($150,000), software development manager ($147,000)

Find all computer engineering jobs on Monster.

6. Biomedical engineering

Median pay: $129,000 per year

Jobs: Director of engineering ($164,000), engineering program manager ($143,000), staff engineer ($109,000)

Find all biomedical engineering jobs on Monster.

7. Mathematics and statistics

Median pay: $129,000 per year

Jobs: Data scientist ($94,600)

Find all mathematics jobs and statistics jobs on Monster.

8. Technology management

Median pay: $127,000 per year

Jobs: Information technology architect ($150,000), IT senior project manager ($112,000), senior software engineer ($111,000)

Find all technology management jobs on Monster.

9. Computer science

Median pay: $126,000 per year

Jobs: Vice president of product development ($286,000), chief information security officer ($245,000), vice president of engineering ($230,000)

Find all computer science jobs on Monster.

10. Corporate finance

Median pay: $126,000 per year

Jobs: Chief financial officer ($195,000)

Find all corporate finance jobs on Monster.

Worst-paying master’s degrees

1. Human services

Median pay: $46,600 per year

Jobs: Non-profit program manager ($46,600), non-profit program coordinator ($42,500), social worker ($42,000)

Find all human services jobs on Monster.

2. Early childhood education

Median pay: $49,200 per year

Jobs: Executive director ($59,500), child care director ($49,100), elementary school teacher ($48,300)

Find all early childhood education jobs on Monster.

3. Professional counseling

Median pay: $51,200 per year

Jobs: Clinical therapist ($47,200), grief counselor ($45,200), mental health counselor ($44,100)

Find all professional counseling jobs on Monster.

4. Community counseling

Median pay: $51,700 per year

Jobs: Clinical supervisor ($54,800), clinical services director ($53,900), licensed professional counselor ($50,200)

Find all community counseling jobs on Monster.

5. Museum studies

Median pay: $52,700 per year

Jobs: Curator ($40,800)

Find all museum jobs on Monster.

6. Divinity

Median pay: $54,200 per year

Jobs: Senior pastor ($65,000), youth pastor ($50,100), chaplain ($46,000)

Find all divinity jobs on Monster.

7. Mental health counseling

Median pay: $54,600 per year

Jobs: Non-profit executive director ($80,000), behavioral health director ($78,100), clinical services director ($65,000)

Find all mental health counseling jobs on Monster.

8. Library science

Median pay: $55,000 per year

Jobs: Library director ($61,600), librarian ($49,100), catalog librarian ($46,000)

Find all library science jobs on Monster.

9. Pastoral ministry

Median pay: $55,100 per year

Jobs: Senior pastor ($52,500), chaplain ($51,900), pastor ($48,700)

Find all pastoral ministry jobs on Monster.

10. Art therapy

Median pay: $55,300 per year

Jobs: Art therapist ($44,800)

Find all art therapy jobs on Monster.

Put your degree to work

Whether or not the jobs you want to apply to require an advanced degree, you want to make sure your resume highlights not only the degree itself, but also the work you put in to achieving the degree. Were you published in journals? Invited to lecture? Part of a research team? All of those (and more) belong on your resume. Need some help putting everything together in a comprehensive package? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. You've got the smarts in your field, so be sure your resume demonstrates the value you'd bring to the position.

*The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is not included in this list.

Source: All salary data provided by online salary database PayScale analyzed 134,309 salary profiles for employees holding master's degrees collected between August 2015 and August 2017 from 1,691 different specialties. We reduced the list to degrees with significant samples for both early- and mid-career pay and removed redundant hybrid titles (e.g. "Electronic & Electric Engineering.") Remaining degrees were ranked by mid-career (10+ years’ experience) pay, and the top and bottom 10 concentrations are reported here.