Highest Paying PhD Degrees

May 31, 2020

The length of time required to achieve a Ph.D. degree is often quite extensive. Because of this, many individuals who decide to pursue these types of degrees may be especially interested in what Ph.D. degrees lead to the highest-paying careers. Below, we will look at five different doctoral degrees that will prepare individuals for high-paying careers. We will look at common courses found in these program as well as admission requirements.

Highest-Paying Ph.D. Degrees

Ph.D. Degree Career Option Median Salary*
Ph.D. in Physics Physicist $122,850
Top 10%: $201,990
Ph.D. in Biology Medical Scientist $88,790
Top 10%: $159,680
Ph.D. in Political Science Political Scientist $122,220
Top 10%: $164,210
Ph.D. in Mathematics Mathematician $105,030
Top 10%; $162,060
Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering Chemical Engineer $108,770
Top 10%: $176,090

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics (

Many individuals pursue Ph.D. degrees so that they are eligible for more research-oriented positions in math, science, engineering, and other research-heavy professions. Some of these programs allow students to enroll directly after completing their undergraduate studies, while others may encourage students to complete a master's program first. In general, students who are enrolled in Ph.D. programs must also complete a doctoral thesis in order to fulfill the requirements of the program.

Ph.D. in Physics

Students who enroll in Ph.D. programs in physics can expect to spend around five years completing their degree, depending on how long it takes them to complete a research thesis. In addition to a thesis, these programs require that students complete a number of required courses. Courses that could be found in a Ph.D. program in physics may include quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and statistical physics. With a Ph.D. in physics, you could pursue a career as a physicist. In 2019, physicists made a median annual salary of $122,850 according to the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top ten percent of physicists earned more than $201,990.

Ph.D. in Biology

Due to all the subfields that are found in the field of biology, Ph.D. programs in biology often allow students to select a more specific focus area for their degree program. For example, some students may pursue a Ph.D. focused on ecology while others may study neurobiology or molecular biology. Depending on which focus area they select, students will be required to complete a number of advanced-level courses as well as a thesis. A Ph.D. in biology would prepare students for a number of different careers, both in the field and in research. One potentially high-paying option is a career as a medical scientist. In 2019, medical scientists earned a median annual salary of $88,790 though it is possible to earn significantly more in this field, as the top ten percent earned over $159,680 according to the BLS.

Ph.D. in Political Science

Ph.D. programs in political science may take students five or six years to complete and typically are comprised of coursework, examinations, and independent research to write a thesis. Coursework in these programs may include classes that cover topics like voting behavior, comparative politics, and policy-making in developing countries, among many other topics. Ph.D. programs in political science are typically research heavy and students may spend an entire year of the program engaged in field research. With a Ph.D. in political science, students could pursue a career as a political scientist. These professionals made a median annual salary of $122,220 in 2019, with the top ten percent earning over $164,210.

Ph.D. in Mathematics

Students who are interested in studying mathematics at an advanced level may be interested in enrolling in a Ph.D. program in the field. In these programs, students will be required to take a number of different math courses in an area that interests them. For example, they may take courses in probability, differential geometry, and algebraic geometry. Towards the middle and end of the five-year programs, students will usually begin focusing on their dissertation by conducting their own research. A Ph.D. program in mathematics could prepare students for a number of high-paying careers. For example, some students may be interested in becoming mathematicians, a career in which individuals earned a median salary of $105,030 in 2019 according to the BLS, with the top ten percent of mathematicians earning over $162,060 in 2019.

Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering

Like other Ph.D. programs, a doctoral program in chemical engineering typically is completed over four or five years, during which students take courses and work on their thesis in a research area of their choice. Some courses that may be found in these programs include fluid dynamics, chemical engineering thermodynamics, and process systems. In order to enroll in one of these programs, students will need an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering or a very closely related field and some programs may require that you maintained a certain GPA in chemical engineering classes. Students with a master's degree in a related field may be able to enroll in more advanced coursework immediately upon beginning the Ph.D. With a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, you could pursue a career as a chemical engineer. In 2019, chemical engineers made a median salary of $108,770 according to the BLS, though it is possible to make significantly more in this field, as the top ten percent earned more than $176,090.

General Admission Requirements for High-Paying Ph.D. Degrees

While admission requirements for Ph.D. programs will likely vary from program to program, the application process is often similar regardless of the specific field. Students can expect to submit an application form, undergraduate transcripts, graduate transcripts if application, GRE results, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. Some programs may also require that students submit information regarding their thesis interests and desired research area.

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