10 Careers Where a Masters Degree Pays Off

There are definite advantages for graduates of master’s degree programs. Clearly, they often earn more than those with an undergraduate degree. Having an M.S. can lead to a quicker advancement in the graduate’s current field of endeavor. Also, an advanced degree is sometimes required by employers.

According to the website PayScale, the average salary of U.S. workers with a bachelor’s degree is $63,386, while those with a master’s degree or higher earned an average salary of $76,405.

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Naturally, salaries for college graduates vary by field, as well as the level of degree earned. The location of the hiring company is also a factor. For example, a Sept. 2013 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), reports that graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in elementary education earned an average starting salary of $39,000. In comparison, graduates of master’s degree programs in elementary education earned an average starting salary of $48,600.

Another example: accountants with bachelor’s degrees earned average starting salaries of $53,000; accountants with master’s degrees earned an average wage of $62,700. That’s substantial.

What follows are the 10 specialties where master’s degrees appear to matter most, with statistics provided by CareerBliss (which analyzed 600,000 jobs in a variety of ways to come up with their lists).

10. Software Engineer

masters salary

Thinking about signing on as a staff software engineer? You might want to stay in school for two extra years for some monetary rewards the average worker with this job title and a four-year degree pulls in $79,104.09, according to CareerBliss.

But if you have the same title plus an extra couple of years of education, you can earn 17.57 percent more, or $95,960.47. And doesn’t that difference help pay back some of the costs incurred during those two extra years?

9. General Management

masters degree average salary

The long road to the C-suite begins with an advanced degree. As you start in business, getting a master’s degree pays off if you are aiming for the job title of general manager. The term “general manager” is used throughout all kinds of businesses.

A general manager of administration is simply a title indicating that he or she specializes in the administrative field or oversees administrative tasks. Many of these people have a background working for larger companies, giving them skills beyond that of a generic manager.

General managers with only a four-year degree earn, on average, $79,818.09. Those with a master’s do 17.92 percent better, earning $97,246.27.

8. Graphic Designer

masters degrees that pay off

Having a sense of graphic design is somewhat of an inborn ability, but becoming a designer in the corporate world, and making a good living at it to boot, often requires advanced education. But that extra work and time certainly will pay off.

Try to make it as a graphic designer with only a bachelor’s degree and your salary will be $42,545.52 on average. Put in an extra few years to earn a master’s and you’ll earn 18.90 percent more, or $52,457.67. That way you can be an artist and skip the starving part.

7. Financial Adviser

average salary of masters degree

If you’re on the path to becoming a financial adviser, you might want to first do a financial evaluation of the investment needed to take your bachelor’s degree to the next highest level. Is it worth it? Consider yourself your first client.

What you’ll likely learn with a little due diligence is that those with the job title of financial adviser and an undergraduate degree earn, on average, $62,710.51. Now add another two-year degree to your qualifications and that goes up to $77,625.64, an increase of 19.21 percent. Now decide for yourself: Does a master’s degree make sense?

6. Program Director (in Education)

masters degree salary

You probably already understand that having a Master’s degree pays off handsomely for educators, both teachers and administrators, and no surprise, the hard facts bear that out.

Those looking to run educational or degree programs as a program director have a strong incentive to keep going to college to get a master’s degree. Skip those additional two years of college and you’ll earn $72,349.01. Go back to school for your master’s and that rises to $89,568.32 — an increase of 19.22 percent. Any way you cut it, that’s a strong incentive to stay in school.

5. Marketing Director

average income for masters degree

A marketing director is one of the key people in any organization. This person is key to directing and managing your marketing plan which ultimately decides the success of your company, no matter the size of the organization. Marketing is a creative, high-octane career with plenty of appeal, but of course, being a marketing director is an even better proposition if you’re earning nearly 20 percent more than many folks with the same job title.

How can you do that? Get a master’s degree, where you’ll earn $98,849.61, a 19.95 percent premium on the average salary for your fellow marketing directors with only a bachelor’s degree ($79,133.73).

4. Managing Partner, Business

average salary for masters degree

If you’re going to take on extra duties at your professional firm as a managing partner, making sure your practice is running smoothly and prospering, it pay to have a master’s degree.

You’ll probably do alright as a senior professional working as a managing partner without one — the average salary for a managing partner with just a bachelor’s is a very healthy $111,530.87 — but spend another two years at college and that increases 20.15 percent to an even healthier $139,671.59.

3. Database Administrator

average salary for someone with a masters degree

In this age of the paperless office (I know, that’s a joke), where organizations are overflowing in data, a database administrator who can organize and maintain all that information is in high demand. The Db administrator, Db analyst or Db developer is responsible for managing the information within an organization. As companies continue to experience inevitable growth of their databases, these positions are probably the most solid within the IT industry. In most cases, it is not an area that is targeted for layoffs or downsizing.

Here’s some good data: A database administrator with only a bachelor’s degree earns, on average, a pretty good $75,807.21. Head back to school for a master’s and you’ll likely see that increase by 21.06 percent to $96,028.15.

2. Web Designers

masters degree average salary

More and more of our lives are conducted online so more and more folks are finding work as web designers. Should they bother going on to get a master’s degree or stop after finishing a four-year degree?

You might think web design is the sort of skill that one picks up primarily by practicing it, but more schooling actually pays – by 21.21 percent. Get a gig as a web designer straight after your undergrad years and you’ll make $46,657.80 on average. Earn a master’s and that jumps to $59,218.32.

1. Teachers, Administrators

master's in education salaries

Let’s end this list with teachers, since their role in society is so important. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, full-time teachers who held a bachelor’s degree earned an average salary of $46,340 across the U.S. during the 2011 to 2012 academic year. Salaries vary by school district, of course.

The average starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $38,490. The average salary increases to $40,600 after five years, to $51,290 with between 15 and 19 years of experience and to $59,560 for those who have 35 or more years of experience.

The NCES reports that full-time teachers with a master’s degree earned an average of $57,830 per year. That’s an average of $11,490 more per year than teachers whose highest degree is a bachelor’s. Teachers with a master’s degree reported an average starting salary of $45,240 in 2012.

But that number increases even more to an average of $47,420 after five years of experience, $62,460 with between 15 and 19 years of experience, and $66,120 with 35 or more years of experience.

Earlier, we talked about geography and school districts. But on average, according to the NCES, teachers with bachelor’s degrees earned the highest average salaries in California ($62,010), New Jersey ($61,120) and New York ($60,460). The lowest average pay among teachers with bachelor’s degrees, $36,030, was reported in Mississippi.

Among teachers who held master’s degrees, the highest-paying states were New York ($73,180), New Jersey ($68,910), California ($67,830) and Connecticut ($67,040), while Oklahoma paid the lowest average salary ($39,490). Wages for teachers tend to be highest in the Northeast and West and lowest in the South and Midwest.