Which College Degrees Produce Higher Pay?

If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years or even a couple of decades, you may be thinking about going back to college to earn an advanced degree. Many people gravitate toward the MBA degree, but it’s not your only option.

The Science of Advanced Degrees

Careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) are a hot trend and offer high pay, low unemployment and growth potential. STEM careers include jobs in labs, clinics, offices and classrooms.

While education has an intrinsic value, if you are seriously considering graduate school, you may want to project your return on investment. Graduate school is expensive and takes a huge commitment in terms of time and energy. Students pay between $30,000 and $120,000 for a master’s degree, depending on the university and the degree program itself. So what’s it worth to have that advanced diploma?

Here are some STEM master’s degrees that have high earning potential, according to PayScale.com’s College Salary Report. The report covers hundreds of graduate degrees, ranking them by the early- and mid-career salary of professionals employed in these fields. (Note: MBAs are not covered in this report. More on that later.)

A master’s degree in Nurse Anesthesia can pull in $140,000 in early career, up to $156,000 in mid-career. Other top tech degrees with high early career earnings: Computer Science and Engineering ($95,900); Operations Research ($80,800); Technology Management ($65,900); Biomedical Engineering ($70,500); Taxation ($61,100); and Applied Mathematics ($67,800).

Of course, not all advanced degrees are created equal. Fields that have much more modest early career earning potential with a master’s degree are Counseling ($41,500); Elementary Education ($41,200); Criminal Justice ($41,500); and Journalism ($46,100). So before you choose your field of study, make sure it’s a good fit for your talents and interests and be realistic about the financial pay-back.

What’s the MBA Worth?

Now back to that standard advanced degree, the MBA. Graduates from the top 100 MBA degree programs can double their pre-MBA salaries within three years, but salary figures vary tremendously. Professionals in Finance/Banking, eCommerce, Consultancy, Healthcare and Industrial fields score impressive salary gains with their new MBA degrees. These degrees are in high demand.

A higher salary is not the only reason to pursue an advanced degree. Many people choose to further their education in order to change careers, gain respect, dive in-depth into the field they already love or just to challenge themselves intellectually.

Whatever your reason for going back to school, investing in a master’s degree is serious business. Start by taking these important steps:

  • First, determine if you need to make financial adjustments right now to quickly grow your savings in order to pay for your advanced degree. Check out these valuable tips on how to maximize your savings.
  • Read U.S. News and World Reports’ ranking of the best graduate schools, profiling 1,900 programs.
  • Make sure your graduate school is accredited, in order to avoid wasting your money and time at a “diploma mill” that will do nothing to advance your career.

The time you spend now planning for your advanced degree will definitely pay off in terms of career success, personal satisfaction and financial well-being.

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