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rjb1983's avatar

Which graduate degrees today have the highest value (highest average post-grad salary for the lowest amount of debt)

Asked by rjb1983 (158points) January 18th, 2011

I’d like to get a graduate degree and am exploring my options in all possible academic arenas (engineering, science, medicine, law, business, teaching, accounting, tech) but am extremely hesitant to take on a lot of debt to do so in light of the economy. Specifically I want to know which programs, whether community college certificate programs, second bachelor’s degrees, or master’s or Ph.D. programs, offer the highest potential post-graduate income for the least possible cost. I know this is a “blue sky” type question, but at this point taking out $45,000 for a Masters in Teaching, which pays on average $45,000, doesn’t seem prudent. Thanks all for your thoughts!

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9 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

MBA. Last time someone showed a graph about highest salaries, MBA came out on top.

Smashley's avatar

Not to throw a wrench in the works, but have you considered quality of life? I know there’s always this drive to make more money, but have you considered what you would actually enjoy doing, or something you’re good at? A good waiter can probably clear $45,000 a year at the right restaurant, without any school, but you have to have the right temperament. “Business” as you put it, can get you anything from a menial desk job, to a multi-million dollar CEO job, depending on how suited you are for it. Teaching pays alright, and more than enough if that’s what your passion is. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never feel poor.

It sounds to me like you have sort of low expectations for yourself. You seem to be shooting for “average” in whatever field you choose. Sure an MBA is the swiss army knife of degrees, but what’s the point if your job makes you miserable? (Unless an MBA excites you! Then by all means, go for it) Everyone needs money, but you only live once, and the person with the most money at the end doesn’t win anything.

All that aside, if you’re really serious about post-graduate work, and you’re just shooting for money above all other considerations, don’t worry about the school debt. Education is an investment in yourself. If you choose your field properly, the differences in cost will be insignificant next to the differences in salary over your lifetime.

iamthemob's avatar

I would say that a combined JD/MBA is the best you could get.

bob_'s avatar

An MBA from a top-rated school.

There are other highly specialized areas that offer attractive and almost guaranteed jobs, like geology.

You should consider that some industries are highly cyclical, so the jobs available now might not be available later, and that if many people study that now, by the time they graduate the salaries could be lower (increased labor supply reduces wages).

SheWasAll_'s avatar

I’d have to agree with @Smashley. I’m currently working on a master of arts in criminology & criminal justice. It’s not a glamorous degree and social sciences are notorious for being paid on the lower end of the salary range, but I love the subject. Even if all I can manage is a $35,000 a year position with my $40,000 in debt from loans, it’ll all be worth it because I took the time and energy to get into a field I love. Also, debt is part of the gig unless you’re fortunate enough to come from a wealthy family.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Just as a quick note, the sciences may not have the highest ending salary, but for industry it can be pretty damn high (especially biotech currently. My chosen field, though not for the money, truthfully). And, as a wonderful added bonus, if you do a full Ph.D. program, most (if not all) colleges pay you to go. Not a huge amount, and it does take 5–7 years, so that’s a decent time to be making sub-standard pay, but in my opinion it beats the heck out of racking up tends of thousands of dollars in debt. And, like i mentioned, industry Ph.D. positions tend to pay quite well, though I admit I don’t have figures on hand.

Edit – a very fast search on google brought up, which shows ~$80,000 on the low end for industry biochemistry Ph.D. Not too shabby.

Jaxk's avatar

I tend to agree with @Smashley but would add one additional point. I found that you like things your good at and are good at things you like. So if your doing something you enjoy, you have a better chance of reaching the higher end of that profession. If you don’t enjoy it, you be more likely to stay at the lower end of the profession.

I realize that early on it’s difficult to decide on a career but think about what your good at and what you enjoy. Use that to narrow the selections.

jenandcolin's avatar

Most “well-respected” social science graduate programs fund their scholars. It’s something they pride themselves on.
it’s b/c being able to fund your graduate students means you are getting a good amount of funding and able to attract the best scholars.
I am in a Ph.D. program (actually, I am taking a year off…my son was just born) that pays my tuition and provides me a considerable stipend. These examples are not too difficult to find.

Also, although certain graduate degrees end up yielding more money than others, it depends on what you do with your degree. With my Ph.D. there are two main roads I could go down. I could do research (many people with my degree work for places like the Urban League or the Census Bureau) or be a professor. That decision will make a huge difference on how much money I eventually make.

In any case, good luck to you! Graduate education is always a good decision (in my opinion). I hope it all works out for you!

rainbow_brite's avatar

Contrary to what most people believe, majoring in business is not necessarily a ticket to a high salary. Check out actual salaries according to college degree:

I personally agree with the person who posed the question, acquiring a large debt should be avoided if possible. Have you considered study abroad? If you are willing to leave home, you could get a great education at a fraction of the price.

Don’t overlook Hong Kong and Malaysia! They are working hard to compete with universities in the west, and they certainly rank higher than the university I attended in America. Check out the top universities in the world:

Salary is important, and there is probably more than one thing that you love doing, more than one thing that you can do well. So if teaching doesn’t pay well, perhaps you have other skills that are more highly valued, and thus more highly compensated, in this society. I disagree with the poster who said that it sounds like the asker has low expectations of him/herself. I think it sounds like he/she is considering the costs and benefits of pursuing a master’s degree, really, is considering whether or not to stay in the education field. I think, you are right to think twice before acquiring a debt that will take years to pay back. As you can see from the list of the best paid jobs according to college major (the first link I posted) a teaching degree will earn you one of the worst salaries in the country. And let’s face it, although we all love to teach (at least when we start) teaching can also be frustrating and stressful, and whether or not we actually enjoy our job often comes down to our school administration and co-workers.

If you do decide to stay in teaching, find a master’s program that you can finish quickly, and even better, one that you can complete while working, so that you don’t have to give up a year’s salary.

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