A master’s degree is one of the most prestigious educational degrees available in the U.S., and can lead to a well-paying career in one of several industries. Some of the highest-paying master’s degrees are in nursing and computer science, but psychologists, economists, and mathematicians rank highly too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for a professional with a master’s degree is $1,545, but this can vary depending on your field of study. That’s why we’ve made this list of the top 10 master’s degrees according to pay.

Our Ranking Criteria

To create our list, we relied on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and CareerOneStop to find the median annual salary of the top occupations with each master’s degree. Then we did additional research to find the best school to obtain this degree.

A master’s degree can take one and a half to three years of study after receiving a bachelor’s degree, so it isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. We’ve also included tuition costs and job outlook data so you can make the most informed decision about your career path.

Nurse Anesthetists

The Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get With a Master’s Degree

Nurse Anesthetists

Median Salary: $183,600

What They Do: Nurse anesthetists are specialized nurses who work in hospitals or other medical centers and administer anesthesia to patients undergoing medical procedures. In the U.S., they’re referred to as CRNAs, or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, and must have completed a master’s degree and have a nursing license. Nurse anesthetists can be employed at hospitals, dental offices, surgery centers, and more. Their responsibilities include preparing patients for surgery, assisting in labor and delivery, and other tasks associated with anesthesia and pain management.

How to Become One: To become a nurse anesthetist, you’ll have to start by obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing or another relevant degree. Then, you’ll have to take the NCLEX-RN exam and obtain a nursing license. You’ll also need a year of experience as a registered nurse and a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia to become a CRNA. It’s also worth noting that the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) is expected to require doctoral degrees for new entrants to the field beginning in 2025.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $183,600
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 14.00%
  • Highest Paying States: Oregon, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Nevada, Connecticut

Top Academic Programs for Nurse Anesthetists

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Columbia University $1,584 per credit 63 credits
Northeastern University $20,225 per term 54 credits
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota $675 per credit 64 credits

 


 

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Median Salary: $126,800

What They Do: Computer and information science is a high-paying field, and research scientists within that industry can expect to work on new technologies such as robotics or machine learning. Responsibilities may include developing new software or programming languages, as well as running experiments and writing academic papers about the results. This career path is best for people who work well on teams, love to solve problems, and want to work in a research capacity in fields such as biomedicine or business.

How to Become One: There isn’t a specific degree requirement for becoming a computer and information research scientist. According to the BLS, the federal government may hire research scientists with a bachelor’s degree, although most entrants into the field pursue a master’s degree or a PhD. Those who are interested in the field should start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject. This could be a degree in computer engineering, or a more specific area of focus such as biomedical engineering and computer science.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $126,800
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 15.00%
  • Highest Paying States: California, Virginia, Washington, New York, Oregon

Top Academic Programs for Computer and Information Research Scientists

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Maryville University $765 per credit 36 credits
Northeastern University $1,626 per credit 32 credits
University of West Florida Resident: $377.60 per credit; Non-Resident: $1,037.24 per credit 30 credits

 


 

Political Scientists

Median Salary: $125,400

What They Do: According to the BLS, there are around 7,000 political scientists working in the U.S., nearly half of whom work for the federal government. Their responsibilities include doing research and analysis, which may focus on current events, foreign relations, and other aspects of law and government. Political scientists may track public opinion and economic trends, study voting patterns, and more. Their research helps to shape policy decisions by government agencies, labor unions, private businesses, and other organizations.

How to Become One: Political scientists typically have an undergraduate degree in political science or a related field like statistics. They may also have a master’s degree, such as a master of public policy (MPP) or a master of public administration (MPA). It isn’t necessary to have a PhD, but some political scientists pursue a doctorate in international relations or another area. It’s common for new entrants to the field to gain experience through internships or volunteer positions as they work to obtain their degree.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $125,400
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 6.00%
  • Highest Paying States: Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Washington, D.C., New York

Top Academic Programs for Political Scientists

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Columbia University in the City of New York $1,824 per credit 30 credits
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $860 per credit 66 credits
Illinois State University In-State: $403.59 per credit; Out-of-State: $838.30 per credit 32 credits

 


 

Physician Assistants

Median Salary: $115,400

What They Do: Physician assistants (PAs) do nearly everything that a licensed physician can do, except they work under the supervision of a physician. In a hospital setting, they may work as part of a small team, performing examinations, providing vaccinations, and preparing a patient for surgery. In rural areas with limited healthcare providers, physician assistants may serve as the primary point of contact for patients and their families. Other tasks may include treating broken bones and prescribing medications.

How to Become One: Before pursuing a career as a physician assistant, it’s important to research the licensing requirements in your state. You’ll most likely need to complete a 2-year master’s degree in addition to undergraduate studies in a relevant subject. Unlike doctors, PAs don’t have to obtain an M.D. or complete a residency program. This means you’ll have a shorter, less stressful career path, but you’ll also earn less than a medical doctor – $115,400 per year, compared to $208,000.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $115,400
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 31.00%
  • Highest Paying States: Alaska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, California, Nevada

Top Academic Programs for Physician Assistants

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Stanford University $18,105 per quarter 182 credits
Wagner College $27,460 per semester 36 credits
Pacific University $839.73 per credit 131 credits

 


 

Nurse Practitioners

Median Salary: $111,700

What They Do: Nurse practitioners are a type of advanced practice nurse, and are licensed to provide services including assessing patients, performing medical tests, and prescribing medicine. Nurse practitioners may have a particular area of focus, such as acute care or primary care, which determines whether they offer ongoing care for patients with chronic illnesses, or urgent care, such as treating wounds and other acute injuries. Nurse practitioners have more training than a registered nurse (RN) but must work under a doctor’s supervision in some states.

How to Become One: To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll have to start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. Then, you can apply to a nurse practitioner program to obtain a master’s degree. You may want to choose a practice area and become a Family NP, Pediatric NP, or Adult-gerontology NP. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but you’ll most likely need to be certified through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or another relevant organization.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $111,700
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 52.00%
  • Highest Paying States: California, New Jersey, Washington, New York, Massachusetts

Top Academic Programs for Nurse Practitioners

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Walden University $715 per credit 58 credits
University of California, Davis $30,483 per year 106 credits
University of Rhode Island Resident: $14,096 per year; Non-Resident: $27,214 per year 42 credits

 


 

Nurse Midwives

Median Salary: $111,100.00

What They Do: A certified nurse midwife is a registered nurse who specializes in caring for patients during pregnancy and birth. Nurse midwives focus on holistic, natural childbirth, and aren’t trained to provide C-sections or epidurals or work with high-risk pregnancies. Nurse midwives work at hospitals, birthing centers, and other facilities, and offer everything from birth planning to breastfeeding support and postpartum care. Their responsibilities include performing exams and writing prescriptions.

How to Become One: There are different types of midwives, including doulas, and not all midwives are nurses. Nurse midwives must be trained and licensed as a registered nurse (RN), and undergo additional training in midwifery. One pathway is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing followed by a master’s degree in nurse-midwifery. You’ll need a year of experience working as a nurse before applying to some master’s programs. You’ll have to pass both the NCLEX-RN exam and the American Midwifery Certification Board exam in order to receive your license.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $111,100
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 12.00%
  • Highest Paying States: California, Utah, Mississippi, New York, Minnesota

Top Academic Programs for Nurse Midwives

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
University of Michigan Resident: $1,773 per credit; Non-Resident: $3,221 per credit 46 credits
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Resident: $257 per credit; Non-Resident: $672 per credit 51 credits
University of Cincinnati $662 per credit 57 credits

 


 

Mathematicians

Median Salary: $110,900

What They Do: Mathematics is one of the highest-paying master’s degrees in the U.S., but your day-to-day activities can vary widely between industries. A master’s in mathematics can prepare you for a job in government, where you’ll work on policy proposals based on surveys and statistics, or in academia, where you’ll work on more abstract theories. There are also opportunities available in the healthcare industry, where biostatisticians assess the results of medical studies, as well as in business, engineering, and research and development.

How to Become One: Since career outcomes can vary so widely, it’s important to have an idea of what kind of mathematician you want to be. Mathematicians who work in government may only need a bachelor’s degree, but other roles may require a master’s or doctorate. You can start by obtaining an undergraduate degree in mathematics or economics, with courses in statistics or computer science to round out your education. Then, you can apply for an appropriate master’s degree based on your long-term career goals.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $110,900
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 3.00%
  • Highest Paying States: Washington, D.C, Washington, New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia

Top Academic Programs for Mathematicians

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Wright State University Resident: $448 per credit; Non-Resident: $882 per credit 30 credits
Ball State University Resident: $431 per credit; Non-Resident: $1,179 per credit 30-31 credits
University of Pittsburgh $970 per credit 30 credits

 


 

Economists

Median Salary: $108,300

What They Do: Nearly a quarter of economists work in the federal government, while others work in consulting, R&D, finance, and insurance. Economists may focus on a specific area of expertise, such as healthcare, education, taxes, or employment. A big part of an economist’s job is to make predictions using data analysis software, but other tasks  include writing reports, delivering presentations, and consulting with business clients. Economists need to be familiar with everything from statistical models to historical trends.

How to Become One: Most economists start off their careers by getting a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) in economics. College graduates who have majored in a related field, like accounting or finance, may also be good candidates for a career in economics. Some graduates choose to spend time gaining work experience before they apply to a master’s program, which could be either an MA or MS in economics. An MBA might also be an option for those who already know they want a career in business.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $108,300
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 14.00%
  • Highest Paying States: New York, Washington, D.C., California, Maryland, Vermont

Top Academic Programs for Economists

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Duke University $28,950 per semester 30 credits
American University $1,812 per credit 30 credits
Columbia University in the City of New York $1,929.50 per credit 31 credits

 


 

Psychologists

Median Salary: $105,800

What They Do: There are many different types of psychologists, from clinical psychologists who work in hospitals, schools, and other settings, to counseling psychologists who provide talk therapy to patients with mental health or behavioral issues. Nearly a third of professional psychologists are self-employed and work directly with patients, while others are employed in the corporate sector or as forensic psychologists in the criminal justice system. Most jobs require a PhD, but some roles may be available to candidates with a master’s degree.

How to Become One: Psychologists can have an undergraduate degree in any subject, but having a bachelor’s degree in a related field like social work is preferable. Next, you’ll have to decide whether you want to pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate. A master’s degree may qualify you for a job in government or social services, but you’ll need a doctorate (PsyD) to become a licensed psychologist in most states. Some types of counselors, though, such as Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) only need to obtain a master’s degree.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $105,800
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 3.00%
  • Highest Paying States: California, Alaska, Illinois, Virginia, Colorado

Top Academic Programs for Psychologists

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Walden University $535 per credit 48 credits
Southern New Hampshire University $627 per credit 36 credits
Nova Southeastern University $840 per credit 30 credits

 


 

Education Administrators

Median Salary: $98,500

What They Do: Education administrators are responsible for overseeing the daily operations of educational institutions, from kindergarten to secondary schools. They may also find work managing job-training programs, or working for private businesses or museums. Education administrators must be able to handle a variety of tasks, from managing a school’s budget and academic calendar, to recruiting new students and hiring teachers. They may also be responsible for public relations and enforcing school policies.

How to Become One: Most school administrators start off their careers as teachers. This means you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject that you plan to teach, and gain some real-world teaching experience. Some states allow you to teach with only a bachelor’s degree, but in a few states, you’ll need to pursue a master’s degree in order to maintain your license. If you’re interested in a job in education administration, you can obtain a Master’s of Educational Leadership or another relevant degree to progress in your career.

  • 2020 Median Annual Pay: $98,500
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 4.00%
  • Highest Paying States: New York, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington

Top Academic Programs for Education Administrators

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
University of Texas Permian Basin $346.06 per credit 36 credits
Kent State University $462.30 per credit 30 credits
McKendree University $518 per credit 32 credits

Education Administrators

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is a postsecondary degree that is typically pursued after completing an undergraduate degree. Most master’s degrees take one and a half to three years to complete, making it less of a commitment than obtaining a doctorate degree (PhD). Some industries require a master’s degree in order to get a job, while in others it’s optional, but it may boost your employability or earning potential.

Who should pursue a master’s degree?

Before pursuing a master’s degree, you should find out whether it will be worth the expense and whether it’s necessary for your career. Some students begin their master’s immediately after a bachelor’s degree as part of a long-term career plan, while others may pursue it later in life in order to increase their earning potential or shift careers.

What master’s degree pays the most?

The highest-paying career on our list is a nurse anesthetist, which has a median annual pay of $183,600. If a career in medicine isn’t right for you, then computer science ($126,800) or political science ($125,400) may also be worth considering. Keep in mind that annual salaries can vary from state to state, even with the same credentials.

How much does a master’s degree cost?

The cost of a master’s degree depends on which program you enroll in and which school you attend. Residents of Rhode Island can expect to pay $14,096 per year to become a nurse practitioner, while political scientists at MIT pay $860 per credit.