Obtaining a doctorate degree can open the door to a wide range of fulfilling and high-paying careers. While doctorate degree programs may take several years to complete, they can drastically boost your earning potential as you join a small pool of experts in your chosen field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) earn an average weekly salary of $2,083, while those with a professional doctorate (M.D., J.D., etc.) earn $2,080. This is significantly more than the average income of workers with a bachelor’s degree ($1,432 per week).

Not all doctorate-level jobs pay the same, though. To help you get as much value as possible out of your college education, we’ve reviewed the ten highest-paying occupations that typically require a doctorate for entry-level positions.

Our Ranking Criteria

To find the highest-paying doctorate degrees, we used the latest occupational projections data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We chose degrees based on their median annual salaries and the types of jobs that can be obtained with them. We also found the top programs for these degrees in the United States to give you a better idea of how you can start your path to your new career.

The Highest-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a Doctorate Degree

1. Physician/Surgeon

Median Salary: $229,300

What They Do: Physicians and surgeons are responsible for diagnosing and treating medical conditions. The day-to-day tasks of a physician typically include examining patients, ordering tests, prescribing medication, and designing treatment plans. Surgeons operate on patients to repair injuries and fight disease. Many physicians and surgeons specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology, neurology, emergency medicine, or family medicine.

How to Become One: To become a physician or surgeon, you’ll need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). These programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and take around four years to complete. You’ll then need to complete an additional three to seven years of training (depending on your specialty) through a residency at a hospital or clinic. All states require physicians and surgeons to be licensed. Board certification, while not required to work in this field, will further enhance your credibility and open up more job opportunities.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 3%
  • Highest-Paying States: South Carolina, Alaska, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma

Top Academic Programs for Physicians and Surgeons:

School Tuition
Harvard University $69,300
Johns Hopkins University $62,850
University of Washington In-state: $54,684, Out-of-state: $96,489

2. Dentist

Median Salary: $212,740

What They Do: Dentists provide medical services for teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth. These services often include examining patients and diagnosing dental issues, removing tooth decay and filling cavities, performing root canals, and applying whitening agents. When necessary, dentists will administer anesthetics and prescribe medication. Dentists spend much of their time educating patients about dental hygiene as well.

How to Become One: After earning your bachelor’s degree, it will take another four years of school to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD). You will also need to be licensed in order to practice as a dentist. Licensure requirements vary by state — in addition to earning your doctorate, you may need to pass the National Board Dental Examination as well as a state clinical examination.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 3%
  • Highest-Paying States: Delaware, Rhode Island, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Arkansas

Top Academic Programs for Dentists:

School Tuition
University of Michigan In-state: $55,710, Out-of-state: $75,390
University of Pittsburgh In-state: $55,570, Out-of-state: $66,634
University of Alabama at Birmingham In-state: $31,902, Out-of-state: $74,362

3. Podiatrist

Median Salary: $148,720

What They Do: Podiatrists diagnose and treat medical issues with feet and ankles, including calluses, ingrown toenails, heel spurs, bone fractures, arthritis, and diabetes complications. They examine patients, review X-rays and other medical tests, prescribe medication, and perform surgeries. Podiatrists may work in a hospital or urgent care facility, operate their own private practice, specialize in sports medicine, or focus on academic pursuits such as conducting research and attending conferences.

How to Become One: You’ll need to earn a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) to work in this field. Most DPM programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and take about four years to complete. After earning your DPM, you’ll then need to complete a residency program in a hospital or clinic, which will take another few years. You must also become licensed to practice in your state.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 1%
  • Highest-Paying States: Minnesota, Nebraska, Connecticut, Washington, Virginia

Top Academic Programs for Podiatrists:

School Tuition
Des Moises University $44,212
Temple University In-state: $45,074, Out-of-state: $47,098
Midwestern University $50,126

4. Physicist/Astronomer

Median Salary: $139,220

What They Do: Both physicists and astronomers study the concepts of space, time, energy, and matter. Their work may include developing theories, conducting experiments, and designing new scientific equipment and software. They often write academic papers and attend conferences to share their findings as well. Astronomy is a specialty within the field of physics that focuses on studying outer space and celestial bodies such as planets and stars.

How to Become One: You’ll need to earn a Ph.D. in physics, astronomy, or astrophysics to become qualified for this role. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree to get into one of these Ph.D. programs, and they typically take about three to five years to complete. Many physicians and astronomers start their careers through a postdoctoral fellowship — these temporary positions allow you to work under the supervision of a senior scientist and continue refining your research skills after earning your Ph.D.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 5%
  • Highest-Paying States: Pennsylvania, Idaho, South Carolina, New York, Connecticut

Top Academic Programs for Physicists and Astronomers:

School Tuition
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $29,875
University of California, Berkeley In-state: $15,260, Out-of-state: $30,362
University of Washington In-state: $18,633, Out-of-state: $32,511

5. Lawyer

Median Salary: $135,740

What They Do: Lawyers provide advice on legal issues and represent their clients in court. Their work may involve researching and interpreting laws, presenting evidence and performing oral arguments during trials, and preparing documents such as contracts, lawsuits, and wills. Lawyers often specialize in a particular area of the law, such as criminal defense, intellectual property, or environmental issues.

How to Become One: This career path will require you to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which takes about seven years of attending college full-time. To access the most lucrative opportunities in this field, you will likely need to graduate from a T14 law school. You will also need to pass the bar exam in order to practice as a lawyer in your state.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 8%
  • Highest-Paying States: District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut

Top Academic Programs for Lawyers:

School Tuition
Harvard University $73,600
Yale University $71,540
Columbia University $78,444

6. Pharmacist

Median Salary: $132,750

What They Do: This occupation involves dispensing medications and educating patients about proper drug usage and storage, as well as potential interactions and side effects. They spend much of their time dealing with paperwork, including tasks such as managing patient records, keeping track of inventory, and corresponding with insurance companies. In compounding pharmacies, they also mix ingredients in order to create custom medications.

How to Become One: After graduating high school, it typically takes about six years for aspiring pharmacists to earn their Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. You’ll also need to complete an internship in a hospital or retail pharmacy. All states require pharmacists to be licensed — the exact requirements for licensure vary by state, but you’ll at least need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and a test on pharmacy law.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 3%
  • Highest-Paying States: California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota

Top Academic Programs for Pharmacists:

School Tuition
University of California, San Francisco In-state: $54,513, Out-of-state: $66,758
University of Michigan In-state: $35,666, Out-of-state: $42,280
University of Minnesota In-state: $27,864, Out-of-state: $32,000

7. Optometrist

Median Salary: $125,590

What They Do: Optometrists diagnose and treat vision problems. Their main responsibilities are performing vision tests, prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses, and performing minor eye surgeries. It’s important to note that there is a difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists — ophthalmologists often work in a similar role, but they have more medical training and are able to perform more complex surgeries than optometrists.

How to Become One: Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree and take around four years to complete. In addition to coursework, these programs include a clinical training element that allows you to practice treating patients. You’ll also need to pass a series of National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) tests and become licensed in your state to practice optometry.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 9%
  • Highest-Paying States: Alaska, North Carolina, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Texas

Top Academic Programs for Optometrists:

School Tuition
Illinois College of Optometry $43,941
Ohio State University In-state: $30,455, Out-of-state: $51,511
SUNY College of Optometry In-state: $30,710, Out-of-state: $51,660

8. Biochemist/Biophysicist

Median Salary: $103,810

What They Do: Biochemists and biophysicists conduct research on the chemical and physical properties of living things and biological processes. Their work involves planning research projects, writing reports on their findings, reviewing literature, and attending conferences. Another key responsibility is writing grant proposals to organizations that may be able to fund their research, such as government agencies and private foundations.

How to Become One: You’ll need a Ph.D. in biochemistry or biophysics to work as an independent researcher in this industry. Such Ph.D. programs usually require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field (biology, engineering, etc.), and they take about five years to complete.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 7%
  • Highest-Paying States: California, Indiana, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey

Top Academic Programs for Biochemists and Biophysicists:

School Tuition
Stanford University $75,316
California Institute of Technology $60,816
Pennsylvania State University In-state: $26,584, Out-of-state: $44,110

9. Veterinarian

Median Salary: $103,260

What They Do: Veterinarians provide medical care for animals. They examine animals for health issues, prescribe medication, perform surgery, and euthanize animals when necessary. Many veterinarians exclusively treat pets — in addition to cats and dogs, this may include birds, reptiles, rabbits, and rodents. Other veterinarians specialize in caring for livestock, such as cattle, horses, pigs, and goats.

How to Become One: After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll then need to complete four additional years of college at an accredited veterinary school in order to earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (also known as a DVM or VMD degree). You will then need to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination and meet any other requirements for licensure in your state. This is the fastest-growing occupation that requires a doctorate for entry-level positions, so you should have no problem finding a job and advancing your career once you have your license.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 20%
  • Highest-Paying States: Hawaii, Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Jersey, Arizona

Top Academic Programs for Veterinarians:

School Tuition
University of California, Davis In-state: $34,397, Out-of-state: $46,642
Cornell University In-state: $41,098, Out-of-state: $61,284
Colorado State University In-state: $39,078, Out-of-state: $65,220

10. Medical Scientist

Median Salary: $99,930

What They Do: This occupation involves conducting medical research, such as investigating the causes of diseases and creating new treatments. The responsibilities of a medical scientist may include researching and developing drugs and medical devices, designing and managing clinical trials, and standardizing drugs for mass production. Also, they often write articles for medical journals in order to share their findings.

How to Become One: To become a medical scientist, you will either need a professional doctorate in medicine (M.D., D.O., Pharm.D., etc.) or a Ph.D. in a related field, such as genomics or immunology. Completing a dual degree program that allows you to graduate with both a medical degree and a Ph.D. would make you especially well-prepared for this role.

  • Projected Job Growth, 2022-2032: 10%
  • Highest-Paying States: Connecticut, New Jersey, Tennessee, California, Massachusetts

Top Academic Programs for Medical Scientists:

School Tuition
Johns Hopkins University $62,850
Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science $64,000
Georgetown University $60,613

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a doctorate degree?

A doctorate degree is the most advanced degree you can obtain in most fields. It serves as proof of your expertise in a specific subject area, as it requires significant time, research, and analysis to obtain.

As mentioned above, there are two types of doctorate degrees: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and professional doctorates such as Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) and Juris Doctor (J.D.). A Ph.D. is a research-focused degree, and to obtain one, students spend much of their time studying and conducting their own research. Professional doctorates focus on practical applications of skills in real-world scenarios.

Who should pursue a doctorate degree?

There are generally two main reasons to consider pursuing a doctorate degree: your ideal job requires it, or you are very passionate about a specific subject.

Keep in mind that a doctorate may take up to seven years to complete, and many high-paying careers only require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. While obtaining a doctorate can be very rewarding, it’s important to consider the significant amount of time, money, and effort you will have to commit to completing your program.

What doctorate degree pays the most?

With an average salary of $229,300, physicians and surgeons make more than any other profession — entering this field will require you to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Several other medical occupations that require a doctorate for entry-level positions, such as dentist, podiatrist, pharmacist, and optometrist, also have exceptionally high salaries.

How much does a doctorate degree cost?

The total cost to get a doctorate degree varies significantly depending on the university you attend, your residency status, your chosen discipline, financial aid eligibility, and more. For example, earning an M.D. at an Ivy League school can cost nearly $80,000 per year in tuition and fees alone, while completing a Ph.D. program at a public college may cost less than $20,000 per year. When planning your program path, make sure to consult your university’s financial aid office to learn how you can get help paying for your doctorate degree.

Interested in a degree instead?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.