Graduate Degrees with Best Return on Investment

Jan 26, 2021

When thinking of what makes the best PhD program for a return on investment, it's best to consider the cost of the schooling (almost always over $100,000) along with career options that pay well and have good job outlooks. Combining the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information along with the U.S. News & World Report top ten graduate degree jobs, we've compiled some great programs that could work for you.

Salaries and Outlooks for Graduate Degree Careers

Position Average Salary (2019)* Career Outlook (2019-2029)*
Anesthesiologist $261,730 0%
Surgeon $252,040 -2% decline
Orthodontist $230,830 2%
Psychiatrist $220,430 12%
Internist $201,440 -1%
Dentist, all other specialties $178,040 0%
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) $193,850 -10% decline
Nurse Anesthetist $181,040 14%
Computer and Information Systems Manager $156,390 10%
Architectural and Engineering Managers $152,930 3%
Petroleum Engineer $156,780 3%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Graduate Programs with Good Return on Investment

We'll look at the best graduate degree programs more generically, so that you can understand what kinds of return you can get from taking the program. While it may come as no surprise that most medical professional degrees work for good return, you can also find engineering, computer and information science, and law as some of the highest-paying professions. While CEOs typically earn an MBA, these positions require a lot of experience and the outlook does not look good. Since no other business careers fell in the BLS's top 20 paid careers, MBAs are excluded from this list.

Medicine (MD)

Medical degrees are terminal degrees. You'll typically study medical sciences in a master's degree and work your way through a medical degree program and clinical rotations. The good thing about medical degrees is that you can narrow your focus on any subfield of medicine. Pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, anesthesiology, cardiology, surgery, obstetrics, and psychiatry are just a few of the subjects you can study. From start to finish, it will typically take you seven to nine years to complete your education and become a licensed doctor. For reference, eight of the 20 highest-paying careers were in as physicians with specialties.

Dental Medicine (DMD)

Dental medicine is another high-paying degree program. A DMD will make you a doctor of dentistry. Of the 20 highest-paid careers listed by the BLS, four were specialists in dentistry. Along with a clinical, some of the course topics you'll study include oral pathology, maxillofacial pathology, oral health patient instruction, periodontal therapy, ethics, prosthetics, pediatric dentistry, behavioral sciences, diagnosis assessments, and oral radiology.

Nursing (MSN, PhD, DNP)

Nursing careers have a lot of opportunity for career advancement. Not only is there a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), but there are also Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD programs. Many of the doctoral programs are accelerated, skipping over the master's entirely. While nurse anesthesiologists are in the top-paying careers, both the MSN and the DNP degrees can give you the knowledge needed for licensing as a nurse practitioner in one of the many sub-specialties. Depending on the focus of your study, your courses will vary; however, you can expect to see evidence-based assessments, physiology, and healthcare policy as part of your program. Some of the fields you could consider are women's health, pediatrics, neonatal, gerontology, family health, oncology, health informatics, and nursing education.

Engineering (MEng)

It can be difficult to say which engineering degree is the best: this all depends on your interests, since they are all so different. In general, engineering is the design, creation, and implementation of advanced technology. There are master's and PhD degrees in chemical, petroleum, aerospace, mechanical, materials, civil, electrical, and biomedical engineering, to name just a few. Some of the most important courses you'll study will be about design mechanics and understanding the sciences behind your specific engineering field. The master's degree programs all tend to be about one year in length, or about 30 credits, though some do run longer.

Computer Information Science (MS)

These 30- to 40-credit hour programs include courses in computer networking, network security, algorithm design, computer graphics, database systems, information retrieval, and advancing technology courses (Cloud computing, wireless privacy). These programs prepare you for work in the ever-growing computer and gaming industries. Many universities offer concentrations beyond the CIS major, offering in-depth study in database management, gaming design, web computing, and software development, among others.

The BLS listed the 20 top-paying jobs as of 2019. Of those, we can see that degrees in healthcare, engineering, and computer systems are the most beneficial to these 20 careers. When considering what graduate degree programs will provide the best return on investment, consider which careers pay well and which have good advancement opportunities.

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