Earning a master’s degree is among the most reliable pathways to improving your earning potential. The master’s degree can qualify you for a leadership role in your field, arm you with a valuable specialization, and create the opportunity for a higher salary. And with the growing availability of affordable, accessible, and fully accredited graduate degrees online, it’s easier than ever before to complete a master’s degree program without disrupting your everyday responsibilities. For working adults, this is a tremendous option, one that can open new doors in a wide range of fields.
Generally speaking, a master’s degree will improve your salary potential regardless of your profession. According to Indeed, getting a master’s in your field will raise your earnings by roughly 20% compared to the earnings of your counterparts with a bachelor’s degree. While bachelors earn a median income of $64,896, those with a master’s degree earn a median income of $77,844 per year to go along with a miniscule 2% unemployment rate.
If you’re interested in improving your salary potential without taking time away from work, you can start with a look at the Best Online Master’s Programs.
Otherwise, read on to find out which careers reward graduates with the biggest wage increase...
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conducted a survey on starting salary for graduates from the class of 2020. Using data from 249 participating schools, NACE reports on the base pay for graduates at both the undergraduate and master’s levels. The result is a clear demonstration of the wage premium for those who have earned an advanced degree in certain subject areas.
The data below is drawn from the NACE Summer 2021 Salary Survey report. Degrees are ranked below in order of the differential between starting salary for bachelor’s and master’s.
Biology is an example of a field in which the master’s degree is actually an essential threshold for reaching the next level in your profession. While a bachelor’s degree in biology is a highly flexible degree that can lead to a wide range of careers in public health, zoology, environmental science, and more, becoming an actual scientist will require an advanced degree.
This is because biology is an inherently research-driven field. The advanced degree in biology provides both the experience and credentials required to qualify as a biologist. It may also be the basic threshold for qualification as a “scientist” in a host of fields including environmental science, epidemiology, immunology, botany, and much more. This explains the 86.5% salary differential between those with a bachelor’s versus master’s degree in biology. Both the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in biology are available on-campus and online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Biology: $37,182
Starting Salary for Masters in Biology: $69,353
The Communication Disorders Sciences refers to the field of speech therapy as well as work with the hearing impaired, or individuals with language disorders. Professionals in this field are expected to hold a master’s degree in Communication Disorders Sciences or a related field such as Behavioral Sciences in order to work at the clinical level.
Many aspiring communication disorders sciences professionals will begin their education with a bachelor’s degree in education. Other undergraduate degrees that can lead to a career in communication disorders sciences include bachelor’s in psychology, counseling, and child development. Each of these degrees may offer a pathway to assistant, support, and aide roles in child care management, nursing, rehabilitation, speech therapy, and more.
However, a master’s degree is the basic threshold for professionals who aspire to work in clinical roles as speech therapists, language pathologists, behavioral therapists, rehabilitation therapists, and more. The advanced degree can also open pathways to administrative leadership in nursing home, rehabilitation, and child care settings.
With a 70.6% starting salary differential, those who earn the master’s degree in communication disorders sciences earn substantially more than their counterparts with a bachelor’s degree. Either of these degrees can be earned in person or online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Communication Disorders Sciences: $34,517
Starting Salary for Masters in Behavioral Sciences: $58,890
The MBA is the single most popular degree at the master’s level. The 51.5% salary differential between bachelor’s and master’s of business administration shows us why. The MBA isn’t technically a threshold for a career in business management or leadership. However, because so many business majors go on to earn this advanced degree, it may be an important credential when it comes to competing for opportunities.
This is why the salary differential is so significant. Those who go on to earn an MBA are more likely to be considered for internal leadership roles and advancement opportunities, which translates into higher salary potential. So too does the acquisition of advanced specializations in your field.
It’s possible to earn both a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Business Administration: $54,392
Starting Salary for Masters in Business Administration: $82,372
While a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences or information technology will readily qualify you to work in a wide range of fields and organizations, the tech fields are highly competitive. You may not need a master’s degree in order to qualify for certain roles, but your candidacy for these roles is much greater when you do earn this advanced degree. With a grad degree, you will command a higher salary than your counterparts who have just an undergraduate degree.
Most importantly, if you desire a leadership role in your area of expertise, you’ll likely need a master’s degree to compete. You’ll note that, at more than $59,000 per year, computer science and IT professionals command fairly strong earnings with just the undergraduate degree. But a 46.9% starting salary differential demonstrates the tremendous potential in this field for those who do earn an advanced degree.
Either of these degrees can be earned in person or online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Computer or Information Technology Management: $59,032
Starting Salary for Masters in Computer or Information Technology Management: $86,695
Communication and media are among the most rapidly growing employment fields, owing in part to the proliferation of opportunities on the digital media sphere. Fields like journalism, social media management, publishing, and public relations are brimming with opportunities. But they are also extremely competitive areas of employment where many talented and ambitious candidates will compete for top jobs.
In most cases, an advanced degree isn’t technically required to earn one of these jobs. However, it can provide you with some valuable forward momentum as you look for ways to advance in this field. With a 46.8% differential in starting salary for master’s of communication versus bachelor’s, going to graduate school could pay off significantly by helping you advance to the top of your area of focus.
Both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication can be earned either in person or online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Communications: $42,345
Starting Salary for Masters in Communications: $62,166
Engineering is, broadly speaking, a well-paying profession. As a point of fact, systems engineering ranks tops on our list for starting salary with a bachelor’s degree. So it should come as no surprise that, with a 45% salary differential, those who hold a master’s in engineering are also the best paid professionals with an advanced degree on our list.
This is for a few important reasons. For one thing, engineers who wish to qualify as licensed Professional Engineers (PE) must complete a minimum of four years of professional experience after earning an undergraduate degree (as well as passing two intensive state-administered exams). For many engineers, this lengthy process may conveniently coincide with the pursuit of a master’s degree. The result is an engineer with an advanced degree, a professional license, and several years of working experience. Combined, these factors translate into meaningful improvement in earning potential.
Also noteworthy, a growing number of engineering master’s will actually parlay their leadership training into extremely well paying roles as top executives.
Either of these degrees can be earned in person or online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Engineering: $73,559
Starting Salary for Masters in Engineering: $106,640
The demand for nurses at every level is extremely high. Nursing professionals play critical roles in an extremely wide variety of healthcare settings from emergency hospitals and mental health facilities to outpatient treatment centers and rehabilitation facilities. Not only are nurses in high demand in each of these settings, but there remains a need for nursing professionals with leadership and administrative capabilities.
The base level of demand for nursing professionals accounts for the healthy starting salary for those who earn their bachelor’s degree and complete the training to become Registered Nurses (RN). However, the need for leadership across increasingly complex and multilayered healthcare systems means that those with master’s degrees in the field of nursing earn a great deal more.
Those with a master’s in nursing are more likely to be eligible for high-paying roles as nurse manager or healthcare administrator, which accounts for the significant 44.4% starting salary differential.
Nursing degrees can be earned in person or online at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Nursing: $58,626
Starting Salary for Masters in Nursing: $84,673
Psychology is a field in which the master’s degree is considered a basic threshold for the clinical practice of therapy. While a bachelor’s degree in psychology is an extremely versatile and valuable degree—one that may qualify you to work as an addiction specialist, family counselor, or research assistant—you will more than likely need to earn a master’s degree in psychology in order to qualify for a wide range of important roles in your field.
Whether you wish to become a psychologist, school guidance counselor, family therapist, child development specialist, or psychology researcher, you must earn a master’s degree first. This underscores the reason that master’s in psychology earn 42.6% more than their undergraduate counterparts.
If you plan to practice in a clinical setting, work as a practicing psychiatrist, educate at the postsecondary level, or lead a research team, you may also need to continue on to earn a PhD in psychology.
Both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology can be earned in person or online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Psychology: $37,006
Starting Salary for Masters in Psychology: $52,786
English and literature are distinctly academic fields. Most who major in English or literature will ultimately pursue a profession either in the written word or in the field of education. Notably, only those who earn an advanced degree in either of these fields will qualify for a role in postsecondary education.
Even at the elementary and high school levels, a master’s degree can earn you access to pay raises and career advancing opportunities such as department stewardship. The master’s degree in English or literature is also highly regarded in the fields of publishing and journalism. This is likely to be a basic threshold for any lead editorial role in these fields.
These distinctions account for the 40.2% differential in starting salary for master’s in English versus those with a bachelor’s degree in the field. Both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English can be earned in person or online.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in English: $38,597
Starting Salary for Masters in English: $54,102
Social work is a field in which the master’s degree is distinctly important. While you can become a social worker with a bachelor’s degree in your field, you must earn a master’s degree in order to practice your profession in a clinical setting such as a rehabilitation, mental health, or addiction facility.
In this regard, the Master of Social Work (MSW) is an important threshold depending on your career goals. With a 36.7% starting salary differential, there is evidence that those with a master’s degree will ultimately earn more than their counterparts with a bachelor’s in social work. It’s also important to note that the MSW may actually be the basic threshold for earning a license to practice in some states.
Fortunately, it’s also possible to earn that master’s degree either online or in person.
Starting Salary for Bachelors in Social Work: $35,622
Starting Salary for Masters in Social Work: $48,711
Still not sure where to start your search? Check out our look at Best Online Master’s Programs.