As countless studies have shown, one of the best ways to boost your career is to obtain a master’s degree. In fact, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, those with a master’s degree earn an average of $403,000 more over the course of a lifetime than do those who hold only a bachelor’s degree.
Of course, not every master’s degree is created equal. While some offer a substantial return on investment, others are worth neither the time nor the money it takes to return to school to obtain an additional degree. So which master’s degrees are best when the goal is to increase salary and accelerate a career?
To find out, we began with PayScale’s data on the highest-paying degrees by salary potential. Specifically, we looked at which degrees provided the most significant increase in salary from bachelor’s degree, to entry-level master’s degree, to mid-career master’s degree. Finally, we compared our list to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ register of the fastest growing industries and careers, because after all, a master’s degree will never be of use in a dying field.
Pursuing a fast online master’s degree in accounting is one of the best ways to increase salary and accelerate one’s career. According to PayScale, having a bachelor’s degree in accounting leads to an average annual salary of $47,655, but that average increases by almost 8% — to $51,361 — when one holds a master’s degree. Better yet, pursuing a master’s degree allows students to expand their knowledge on the topic of finances and accounting, while also working towards the 150 credit hours required to take the test to become a certified public accountant (CPA).
Thanks to the widespread popularity of the internet and social media, advertising is one of the most rapidly growing industries. This means that jobs are plentiful, but some of the best opportunities are reserved for those with a master’s degree. A master’s degree in advertising can be obtained either online or in a brick-and-mortar classroom, and from a variety of different institutions, including traditional colleges and universities, or art schools such as Academy of Art University. Regardless of institution type, most advertising programs assist students in building an impressive portfolio of work, while also allowing students to choose a focus such as marketing strategy, digital campaigns, copywriting, or interactive media. According to PayScale, the starting salary for an employee with a master’s degree in advertising averages $45,600, though this average increases to $89,400 by mid-career.
Biostatistics is a rapidly growing field related to public health. Thanks in part to a quickly evolving healthcare industry in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs requiring a degree in biostatistics will grow by 15% by 2022. That makes now an excellent time to accelerate your career by pursuing a fast online master’s degree. Many institutions offer this degree in a variety of formats, though most will focus on public policy as it relates to biostatistics, life sciences, engineering, and pharmaceuticals. Though jobs within this field vary, the average professional with a master’s degree in biostatistics rakes in $113,400 per year.
Obtaining a master’s degree in business management and/or administration is one of the most effective ways to accelerate a career, and fortunately, there are plenty of flexible, fast degree programs from which to choose. Many of these master’s programs focus on leadership skills and the facilitation of both production and human actions — skills necessary for those working in management or administration to move their careers forward. Upon completing a master’s degree program in business management and/or administration, one can earn up to $22,000 more per year, and often earn a six-figure salary by mid-career.
The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave American infrastructure a D+ grade. Furthermore, it found that the country will need to invest $1.6 trillion by 2020 in order to improve our bridges, public transit systems, levees, and dams. On the bright side, that means there will be plenty of jobs for civil engineers. Most civil engineering master’s degree programs can be completed in as few as two years, meaning civil engineers looking to accelerate their careers and boost their salaries can do quickly. According to PayScale, the average salary for civil engineers with a bachelor’s degree is $52,000, though that average salary grows to $67,800 with a master’s degree.
Whether the goal is to accelerate a current career in computer science or jump into the industry from something else entirely, obtaining a master’s degree in computer science is sure to boost even the most stagnant career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 546,100 new computer science jobs will be created by 2026, while Forbes predicts that computer science degree-holders will remain in high demand due to the fact that all types of companies and industries depend upon technology to get things done. There are dozens of master’s degree programs to choose from, and once completed, an employee with a master’s degree in computer science can expect to boost their average salary by approximately $30,000 per year.
Those routinely working on residential, commercial, industrial, or infrastructural construction sites would do well to consider a fast online master’s degree in construction management. According to PayScale, doing so would have the potential of boosting one’s salary to an average of $99,600 per year. Of the many colleges and universities offering this master’s degree, most can be completed on an accelerated schedule, and all focus on such topics relating to efficiently leading a construction project or construction business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, now is an ideal time to pursue a master’s degree in construction management, as the organization predicts jobs in this field will increase by 16% by 2022.
Economics is at the forefront of myriad issues headlining current events, including taxes, government spending, trade agreements, and income inequality, to name but a few. Perhaps that’s why the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for economists to increase by 6% by 2026. Most economists work for research institutions, the federal government, financial organizations, or even private businesses, and in all of those sectors, employees with a master’s degree in economics are increasingly valuable. Economists holding a master’s degree can expect to make approximately $75,000, but can even earn as much as $110,000 to $134,000 per year by the time they’re considered mid-career.
Teachers who return to school in order to earn a master’s degree in education can experience up to a 34% increase in salary — that’s a jump from an average of approximately $42,000 to $56,000 per year. Though that may not be the biggest increase on our list, it’s important to remember that an increase in salary is only one way to accelerate one’s career. Obtaining a master’s degree in education may also allow a teacher other benefits, such as a more flexible career path or the ability to work in additional places. According to various studies, pursuing a master’s degree in education is most beneficial for principals, college and university educators, and high school teachers.
Electrical engineering is yet another engineering degree that can be obtained quickly and is sure to accelerate your career. And with an estimated 21,200 electrical engineering jobs expected to be created by 2026, there may be no better time than now to pursue a higher degree. Myriad schools offer fast master’s degree programs that are rigorous, flexible, and affordable, and many of them can even be completed online. Most programs can be completed in as quickly as one year, and apply to careers in software engineering, hardware engineering, electrical engineering, and even entrepreneurship. Best of all, the average salary for an employee with a master’s degree in electrical engineering jumps from an average of $62,000 per year to nearly $90,000 annually, according to PayScale.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineering managers with a master’s degree are some of the highest paid professionals in the country. Not only do engineering managers average salaries of $124,995 per year, but job prospects in engineering management are expected to increase by 7% by 2020, providing plenty of opportunities for engineering-inclined people to accelerate their career. Plenty of schools offer this degree online, and especially ambitious students working on an accelerated curriculum can complete their degree in as little as 18 months.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in finance are some of the most rapidly growing. With finance jobs expected to increase 19% by 2026, more and more people from all career stages are looking into fast finance degree programs. Not only will a master’s degree in finance garner a higher salary, but it also provides a broader set of skills, increased knowledge, and strengthened job security in a highly competitive industry. A degree in finance can lead to a variety of career options, including investment banker, financial analyst, personal financial advisor, and financial manager, to name but a few. While those with just a bachelor’s degree in finance average $47,000 per year, those with a master’s tend to average $75,000 annually.
Although there are plenty of job types suitable for graphic designers, this creative industry tends to be quite competitive. For that reason alone, many graphic designers find it beneficial to complete an online master’s degree program. Programs vary widely, but most can be completed within two years, and nearly all provide students the opportunity to boost their portfolios and expand their skillsets. Graphic designers holding only a bachelor’s degree average approximately $42,500 annually, according to PayScale, though this number increases to $52,400 with a master’s degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of industrial psychology jobs will increase by more than 50% in the decade between 2012 and 2022. That makes industrial psychology one of the fastest growing careers in the United States. Industrial psychologists — that is, psychologists who study human behavior specifically within the workplace — are often required to have a master’s degree to begin their career. The average starting salary is $52,200, though according to PayScale, salaries average $96,800 by mid-career. The American Psychological Association, however, notes that the top industrial psychologists can earn as much as $250,000 annually.
International corporations, global nonprofits, NGOs, and government agencies frequently seek out employees with the skills to guide his or her employer through the legal, financial, and cultural intricacies of global commerce. In other words, these entities want employees who hold a master’s degree in international business. International business degree programs are available from a variety of colleges and universities, and can often be completed online and/or at an accelerated pace. Although salaries vary dramatically, the average starting salary of someone with a master’s degree in international business is just under $57,000 (though this average balloons to $104,000 by mid-career).
Since graduate degrees are preferred or required for most careers relating to international relations, a master’s degree is hugely beneficial for those interested in this field. Myriad colleges and universities offer degree programs in international relations, both online and on traditional campuses, though programs vary dramatically in terms of curriculum and number of required credits. It’s also worth noting that many schools offer dual master’s degree programs, which allow students to earn a master’s degree in international relations as well as a degree in business, law, journalism, or public policy. The average mid-career salary of a person holding a master’s degree in international relations is $101,000, more than double that of the average starting salary.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, marketing is one of the fastest growing industries thanks to the evolution of Internet-based commerce. In fact, the Bureau expects the number of marketing jobs to increase by 9% by 2026. For this reason, it’s a good time for marketing-inclined people to pursue a fast online master’s degree. According to PayScale, the average salary for those with a master’s in marketing is $98,849 per year — nearly 20% more than the average salary of those working in marketing with only a bachelor’s degree.
Obtaining a master’s degree in mathematics can increase an employee’s salary by as much as $22,000 per year. Plus, it is useful for a variety of careers, including investment analysis, data analysis, statistics, and teaching. Though salaries for these careers and others vary dramatically, according to PayScale, those with a master’s degree in mathematics average $129,000 by mid-career.
Mechanical engineers work in a variety of fields, and those with a master’s degree are rewarded with some of the highest pay of any industry. While mechanical engineers with only a bachelor’s degree average annual salaries of $59,000, those with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering often begin their career with an average income of $75,415, which balloons to $92,992 by mid-career. This massive difference in average salary provides quite the incentive for pursuing an online master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Employers in research, academics, government, medical manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals continuously seek out quality employees with degrees in microbiology. Though most jobs consisting of independent research require a Ph.D., a master’s degree usually suffices for other types of work (while also making for a good stepping stone towards a Ph.D. program). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person with a master’s degree in microbiology, but fewer than five years of experience, can expect to earn an average of $45,200 annually. However, this average increases to $87,100 by the time the employee has reached 15 years of relevant work experience.
Nurses and other health professionals looking to accelerate their careers would do well to consider a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia. Nurse anesthesia master’s degree programs prepare students to administer anesthesia during surgical operations, as well as to oversee a patient’s recovery process. Most programs last from 2-3 years and can be completed either online or on a brick-and-mortar campus. According to PayScale, nurse anesthesiologists just beginning their career make an average of $143,000, while those in mid-career make closer to $165,000.
Approximately one-half of all registered nurses in the United States already holds a master’s degree, though the Institute of Medicine has declared that this percentage should increase to 80% by 2020. No wonder master’s degree nursing programs are some of the most sought-after graduate programs! Many institutions, both online and on campus, offer these programs, which can be completed in one to three years, depending upon whether the student is already working in nursing or not. Nurses with a bachelor’s degree currently average $68,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but this number increases to $107,000 annually with a master’s degree.
Like a business administration master’s degree program, a master’s degree in organizational leadership is beneficial to professionals looking to accelerate their career. However, unlike a master’s degree program in business administration, which tends to focus on management in the areas of finance, accounting, statistics, and marketing, a degree program in organizational leadership focuses on a variety of management topics. These topics include leadership theory, the dynamics of a multicultural workplace, team development, and communication techniques. Though a traditional organizational leadership master’s degree program takes approximately 18 months to complete, many institutions offer the degree as part of an advanced program.
Philosophy might seem like an unexpected topic to include on our list, but according to Business Insider, a master’s degree in philosophy is surprisingly beneficial. Like most of those who pursue a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, people who take the time to obtain a master’s degree in philosophy are not working philosophers. Rather, they have jobs focusing on analysis, problem-solving, and logic. These jobs are often high-paying ones, and a master’s degree can increase one’s yearly salary by as much as 45% (from an average of $61,000 to $80,000).
The number of jobs for physician assistants (PAs) is expected to increase nearly 40% by 2026, making now an excellent time to pursue a Master of Physician Assistant degree (MSPA). PAs most often work alongside doctors and surgeons, examining patients, reviewing medical histories, and providing primary treatment. Myriad programs are available both online and on brick-and-mortar campuses and can be completed in as quickly as two-and-a-half years. Perhaps most appealing is the average boost in salary for a physician assistant holding a master’s degree. While the average salary for a PA with a bachelor’s degree is $86,606, a PA with a master’s can earn as much as $104,500 per year.
With an average mid-career salary of $107,088, a degree in physics is one of the highest paying master’s degrees around. That fact, along with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ expectation that jobs in the field of physics will grow by 10% by 2022, makes a master’s degree in physics an excellent option for accelerating one’s career. A physics degree is beneficial for a wide variety of careers, and most physics degree programs allow students to focus their education on mechanics, electrodynamics, solid state physics, or any number of other physics subtopics. A master’s degree in physics is also likely to earn its holder an average salary of $107,088 per year.
Political Science and Government
Despite its seemingly specific focus, a master’s degree in political science and government is beneficial for a variety of careers, including those jobs within government, NGOs, and even private companies. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts relatively slow growth for political careers (only about 3% by 2020), the average salary difference between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree is a whopping $26,000 per year. This increased salary is especially beneficial considering an online master’s degree in political science and government can be completed in as quickly as 15 months.
People who are [usually] working in accounting and interested in accelerating their career often look at a Master’s of Science in Taxation degree program. Such programs, often available online as well as at a traditional college or university, prepare students to both advance their accounting skills and acquire new knowledge on topics such as corporate taxation, international taxation, and estate planning. Best of all, a master’s degree in taxation can be earned in as little as one year, and mid-career salaries average $126,000, a whopping 108% more than an entry-level bachelor’s degree salary.
With each new year, more and more colleges and universities are offering master’s degree programs in technology management. This is certainly a reflection of just how rapidly technology industries are evolving, and how quickly jobs in IT are being created. According to Georgetown University, which offers one of the top technology management master’s degree programs in the country, a student pursuing this degree will work through a curriculum heavy on information security, entrepreneurship, and product management. Raises come quickly in the IT world, and although a master of technology management makes an average of $67,600 early in their career, by mid-career, they can expect to be earning nearly $130,000.
Telecommunications engineers often work maintaining internet access, telephone connections, and cable and satellite television. Though a telecommunications engineer can rake in a salary in the $70,000s with just a bachelor degree, those with a master’s degree can expect to make an average of $83,910 per year. That number increases for some careers for which a degree in telecommunications engineering is applicable, namely network engineers, software engineers, and test/quality assurance engineers. Master’s degree programs in telecommunications engineering are offered by a large number of institutions, and most can be completed within two years.