THE BLOG
10/03/2013 05:57 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Top 7 Master's Degrees for Making the Most Money

With the cost to attend graduate school being more than any 20-something can realistically afford, students, educators and employers are beginning to debate the necessity of a Master's degree. At a Council for Graduate Schools' conference held late last year, "attendees... said it is unethical to keep admitting students to programs and training them for jobs that don't exist while they are racking up piles of debt," and upon graduation their fate may lead to becoming an adjunct at a university, a low-wage job that doesn't require a graduate degree, or ending up on food stamps. Nonetheless, here is a list of Master's degrees which have proven to be lucrative and which will almost certainly guarantee success in the fields to which they lead.

Photo by sarahstierch on flickr.com

1. MBA (Master's in Business Administration)

Investopedia lists an MBA as a highly flexible degree, meaning that students who obtain one will acquire skills that would help them succeed in most fields, such as business, finance and accounting. Due to their popularity, they can be completed online or by attending school part-time for less than $10,000. According to salary.com, the average salary for a management position is $105,000 and for a CEO position is $1,352,000. However, a Forbes article on the best and worst Master's degrees believes there is a poor job outlook for the MBA circuit, but doesn't state why. David Orozco, MBA Program Director at Florida State University, said:

Research has shown that an investment in an MBA pays off over the long-term. Additionally, our MBA Program at Florida State University is particularly appealing since we have an excellent placement rate at leading companies doing business in Florida such as Accenture, Gartner, CSX, Harris Corporation, ESPN, E&Y, KPMG and Deutsche Bank. These top corporations offer excellent starting salaries and benefits packages.

2. Medicine

Luckily for med students, America will always need doctors. It's important to note the daunting length of the academic path to obtaining a medical doctorate -- beyond three to four years of post-graduate study, the student must complete a residency program lasting as long as seven years. However, Investopedia suggests that the pay-offs are not only in a median annual salary of $180,000 (private practices earn even more) but also in the personal gratification of saving lives. If becoming a doctor doesn't seem feasible or appealing, become a physician assistant -- Forbes indicates that far less time and money is required of a PA student than of a medical student, and a PA can still earn a six-figure salary and practice medicine under the direction of a physician.

3. Engineering

There are many areas of specialization in the field of engineering, and most of them appear to be lucrative. For instance, monster.com"s list of the top 10 best-paying Master's degrees includes a Master's in electrical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering. In fact, a Master's in electrical engineering tops their list, promising a median salary of $121,000.

4. Computer science

Technology is a booming industry with a constant growth rate. An NBC News article suggests that projected employment for the industry is predicted to increase by 27 percent. The opportunities for employment in computer science include database administrator, software architect, IT consultant and more. By mid-career, this degree would earn graduates a salary of about $111,000. Dr. Robert van Engelen, Chair of FSU's Department of Computer Science, foresees a bright future in the field. "For the long-term potential, computer science has always been at the top," he said, largely for its practical applications.

If you're looking for earning potential then going in the direction of software engineer or software architect, especially at the graduate level, is the degree with the most earning potential at this point.

He also noted that the government is looking for 4,000 cyber security specialists, and there is great earning potential in this area due to the shortage of applicants to fill these positions.

5. Nurse anesthesia

NBC News found this degree worth noting, and perhaps it's because there is a nation-wide shortage of nurse anesthetists, who aid doctors, dentists and obstetricians in procedures requiring anesthesia. Since no one seems to want this job, pay averages out at about $120,000 annually.

6. Economics

Monster.com rates a Master's in economics at number four, bringing in a median pay of $114,000. Dr. Stefan Norrbin, Director of FSU's Applied Master's Program in Economics, believes economics is a lucrative option because it's an analytical degree. "Our Master's students deal with big data sets, and big data has become hot in recent times. Lots of companies have lots of data but not much knowledge about what to do with it," he said. "We're actually training analysts. They're not real economists that come out of a Master's program. But that's exactly what the employers want; they want somebody who can think and process data at the same time."

7. Physics

Physics is a growing field with job opportunities expected to rise in the coming years, according to Forbes. "Unlike many of the other physical sciences, physics is one that transitions nicely from a lab to a big data world," said Katie Bardaro, a lead economist with Payscale quoted in the article. "The computations and technical tools utilized in a physics program are highly useful in the growing world of data science." The average salary for these degree holders is about $115,000.

It seems that pursuing a graduate degree in fields that lead to specific positions rather than a plethora of options, like English or music for instance, is more likely to guarantee a high-paying job capable of covering the costs of obtaining the degree.

By Elena Novak, Florida State University

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