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Ten Highest Paying Graduate Degrees

Our list of the highest paying graduate degrees  is based on 2011 mean salary data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We’ve split our list into two sections: the first represents the highest paying Ph.D. and professional careers, while the second shows the highest paying careers that typically only require a master’s degree.

We decided to include master’s degrees, because while Ph.D. programs can often lead to higher salaries, they also usually require a bigger time commitment -- something that’s not for everyone.

Note: Chief executives were omitted from this list.

Top paying professional and Ph.D. degrees

It may come as no surprise that doctors and dentists represent all five of the top-paying jobs in the country. These professionals must complete medical or dental school, which usually lasts four years, and up to eight years of residency and internship programs, in addition to passing national and state licensure exams. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for physicians and surgeons is quite good as employment is projected to grow up to 24 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012), while the dentistry field is expected to grow by 21 percent between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012).

1. Anesthesiologists: $234,950 national annual mean salary

Anesthesiologists are medical professionals who administer pain-relieving anesthetics before, during and after surgery. They monitor a patient’s vitals throughout surgery and adjust the level of anesthetics as needed (BLS.gov, 2012).

2. Surgeons: $231,550 national annual mean salary

Surgeons specialize in treating injuries and disease by performing medial operations. Some are general surgeons, while others choose to specialize. Example specialties include orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery, and plastic surgery (BLS.gov, 2012).

3. Obstetricians and Gynecologists: $218,610 national annual mean salary

OB/GYNs specialize in medical care involving the female reproductive system. They provide medical guidance to women during the pregnancy process, and also are experts on women’s health issues, such as breast cancer and hormonal disorders (BLS.gov, 2012).

4. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: $217,380 national annual mean salary

These hybrid medical specialists combine surgical and dental expertise to treat conditions of the mouth, teeth, jaws and face.  According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, they can surgically treat diagnoses like oral cancer, cleft lips and palates, TMJ disorders, sleep apnea, impacted teeth, and facial reconstruction.

5. Orthodontists: $204,670 national annual mean salary

Rounding out the highest-paying Ph.D. programs are orthodontists. Orthodontists are dentists who give people great smiles by realigning teeth and jaws with braces and other appliances. They can help correct issues like overbites, under-bites, spacing and crowding for both cosmetic and health reasons (Colgate Oral and Health Resource Center, 2012).

Highest Paying Master’s Degrees

1. Industrial- Organizational Psychologists: $124,160 national annual mean salary

Utilizing their mental health skills in corporate settings, industrial-organizational psychologists apply their psychological expertise to help improve workplace efficiency and solve problems. They can help boost employee morale and plan policy changes.

While many psychologists must obtain a Ph.D., industrial-organizational psychologists usually only require a master’s degree. Additional certification might be required to practice psychology in certain states.  According to the BLS, job outlook is forecasted to be much better than average (35 percent national growth) between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012).

2. Political Scientists: $105,040 national annual mean salary

The authority on everything politics, political scientists study the intricacies of national and international political systems, both past and present. They research current trends through data analysis and forecast the future political landscape among other duties. Political scientists often specialize in one of four fields: American politics, comparative politics, international relations or political theory.

These professionals typically hold a Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy, Master of Public Affairs, or similar graduate degree. According to the BLS, job outlook is projected to reach up to 8 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012).

3. Mathematicians: $101,320 national annual mean salary

Mathematicians use their number-manipulating and equation-cracking talents to solve practical problems in a variety of business and government settings. They often accomplish this by developing mathematical models and computational methods. Two of the major types of mathematicians are applied mathematicians and theoretical mathematicians.

It is common for individuals with master’s degrees in mathematics to not actually become mathematicians, but to instead get jobs as computer programmers, systems engineers, or statisticians, to name a few. The BLS projects up to 17 percent job growth for mathematicians between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012).

4. Post-secondary Education Administrators: $97,170 national annual mean salary

Post-secondary Education Administrators are responsible for overseeing a variety of administrative functions at the university and college level. Depending on the department they work in, they might help create admissions policies, maintain student and course records, or schedule non-academic student activities and events.   

A master’s degree is usually sufficient for high-level careers in this field; however deans and provosts are required to hold a Ph.D. degree. According to the BLS, national job growth between 2010 and 2020 is expected could be up to 19 percent (BLS.gov, 2012).

5. Elementary and Secondary Education Administrators: $90,200 national annual mean salary

Members of this education profession are often principals in high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. They take charge of general administrative duties and supervise the teaching staff. Principals often have teaching experience in addition to holding a master’s degree in education leadership or administration.

In most states, aspiring public school principals are required to become licensed as school administrators, while private school principals are not. The BLS forecasts this career field to reach up to 10 percent national job growth between 2010 and 2020 (BLS.gov, 2012).

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