4 High Earning Graduate Degrees

Does it pay to go back to school? If you choose wisely, it certainly does. Here are at least 4 degrees that are worth your time and money.

high earning graduate degrees

Deciding to go to graduate school isn’t an easy decision. First, you have to know exactly what you want to do–because you’ll be spending at least two years with a very defined focus in that specific area. Second, you’ll have to consider the cost–most grad programs aren’t cheap these days.

That being said, there is some serious money to be earned by picking the right degree and going into the right field. In this article, I’ll share four graduate degrees that offer some of the highest earning potentials for roles relating to them. Let’s start with a very challenging career path in healthcare:

1. Master of Science in Nursing

With a Master of Science in Nursing, you can aim for different jobs in the nursing field. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a degree designed for nurses who want to go further into the career. It takes an incredible amount of empathy, patience, resilience, and attention to detail to be successful in nursing, and getting an MSN will multiply that, as you’re preparing to take on even more complex jobs in the field, such as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)–responsible for administering anesthesia to patients.

You can go into a variety of specialties with an MSN, and you can even pair them with other types of master’s degree programs, depending on what kind of job you’d like to get into. On average, an MSN takes about two years to complete and requires a nursing background. This includes a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), and an RN (Registered Nurse) license, with a stable amount of clinical experience.

This means you can’t typically finish nursing school and go right into an MSN program–you’ll need to work as a nurse for a while. And you’ll want to, because it’s not a career that everyone can manage. It’s emotionally and physically taxing on most people, but those who are successful genuinely enjoy helping others and don’t mind the long hours and stressful environment it comes with.

Job to aim for: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

One position that stands out from a financial perspective is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). According to salary.com, the median salary for a Certified Nurse Anesthetist with a Master’s Degree or MBA is $172,829 – $181,154. As a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, you provide anesthesia to patients before, during, and after a variety of procedures, such as surgery. This can be either a local anesthetic (numbs the area where it’s applied) or a general anesthetic, which would put the patient to sleep. This job comes with a high level of responsibility which can impact someone’s life. For example, Rasmussen College says that a “CRNA is responsible for evaluating the patient to help determine the best anesthetic plan for them,” while the “next step is to prepare the room with the right equipment for during the surgery or procedure and whatever follows.”

2. Master of Science in Computer Science

Computer Science is a broad field that can allow you to break into many different areas of technology. A good advanced degree in Computer Science will teach you the ability to analyze and improve existing technology within an organization. This can be anything from security and information systems to coding and building new applications for an organization.

Math is a huge component of these types of programs, so if you hate numbers, this won’t be for you. But if you’re the analytical type, you can go into sub-specialties such as Artificial Intelligence (a rapidly growing field right now), Software Architecture, Data Analytics, Cyber Security, or even Game Development.

Nearly every organization needs someone who can analyze computer systems and technology, so getting a graduate degree in Computer Science may also provide some long-term job security.

Job to aim for: Software Architect

According to Payscale.com, a Principal Software Architect earns an average salary of over $136,000 per year. In most cases, you’re the lead person when it comes to technology systems. This can mean establishing and driving standard operating procedures for things like security, coding, and application support. You may also be the person your company calls on when a server goes down, or someone hacks into your company’s social media account. It’s a complicated and constantly-evolving career path that can be an excellent fit for an analytical person who doesn’t mind lots of change. One guy even wrote about his real-life experience as a Software Architect in an article done by LifeHacker.

3. Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering

Getting an advanced degree in any kind of engineering is usually a good decision from a financial perspective. But one specialty in particular–Petroleum Engineering–has quickly risen up the ranks as a career path and option for an advanced degree.

These programs typically build off of an undergraduate degree in some type of engineering but get more specific into this particular field, which can lead to an engineering career in areas such as Green Technology, Drilling, and Mining.

Since you’ll have gotten most of the math and general science courses out of the way in undergrad, this degree will focus intensely on Petroleum Engineering–so classes like Enhanced Oil Recovery, Drilling Engineering, and Testing of Wells and Aquifers will become the norm.

Job to aim for: Petroleum Engineer

This shouldn’t shock you since the degree is specific to the position. But you’re probably wondering what the heck this career does. The University of Southern California does an excellent job at summarizing it:

“Petroleum Engineering involves the technology of economically developing and producing subterranean reservoirs of oil, gas, steam, and hot water and designing underground waste disposal facilities. This technology relies on basic concepts of physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and economics.”

Your job is to engineer safe and effective ways to mine for petroleum. As the engineer, you’re often responsible for identifying onshore and offshore (underwater) sites to drill, which requires keen attention to detail and an analytical mind. Payscale.com pegs this career with a median salary of over $100,000 per year–often with bonuses and commissions. Long-term, the salary range approaches $200,000 for experienced engineers.

4. Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance

This is what my degree is in so I can tell you right away that not all careers lead to you becoming a Chief Financial Officer (CFO; more on this below). But if you love math and you have a passion for finance, this is an excellent graduate degree to pursue.

Getting an MBA can vary in many different ways and lead you down incredibly different paths. For example, you could pursue a focus in Marketing, with the intent of becoming a Chief Marketing Officer for an organization. My recommendation, though, is to focus on Finance/Corporate Finance, Economics, or Strategy.

Most business schools prefer, but don’t require, an undergraduate degree in business. If you go that route, it’ll make your graduate program a lot easier because you’ll be able to waive many of the primary business classes that an MBA requires (assuming you did well in undergrad). If you choose a focus in Finance, you’ll spend a lot of time in classes that deal with investments and accounting–so you’ll need to be good at math. Having a foundational knowledge of investing and Corporate Finance is essential if you want to pursue an executive-level career in this field.

The beauty, and the downfall, of an advanced degree in Finance, is its breadth of options. You could become a financial advisor and make well under $100,000 per year but love your job. You could also go out of finance and get into an area like operations, which requires a great deal of financial knowledge. My advice is to know exactly what you want before pursuing a specific path in a graduate program.

Job to aim for: Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

A CFO is about as high as you can get with a career that’s specific in finance, and it’s a position that most organizations have. Payscale.com shows this job having a median salary of around $128,000 per year. This can vary widely, depending on the size of the organization. For small companies, you may be able to get away with having 10-15 years of experience, but for larger organizations, you’ll need to have 20+ years (the pay is much, much higher too).

Mostly you’re responsible for all the finances of the organization–this includes cash flows, investments, and accounting. You (and ultimately, the CEO) are responsible for the entire financial well-being of the company. Yes, it’s a huge (and stressful) responsibility. But for someone with a knack for problem-solving, strategic visioning, and of course finances, it can be an enriching career.

You’ll want to start with a job in finance (such as a Finance Manager), investments (like an Investment Banker–very tedious job by the way), or operations (like an Operations Analyst). Those types of roles will give you a lens into a company’s finances and help you build your skillset for looking at a holistic view of an organization’s financial position.

Other degrees to consider

In addition to the four listed above, there are some broader fields you can consider looking into if you want to make an excellent salary. Here are a few:

  • Any type of engineering – Nearly every type of engineering job pays over $100,000 a year with good experience and a graduate degree.
  • Mathematics – A background in math can lead you to become a Data Scientist, among many other math-focused careers.
  • IT/Technology – Obviously technology isn’t going anywhere. More organizations are implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning into their processes, so if you don’t want to be the “IT guy,” you can focus on more future-looking technology like robotics.

But wait, what about the cost?

Ahh, that’s the caveat to some of these advanced degrees. While you’re setting yourself up to make more money down the road, it won’t happen right away. You still have to do your time, learn the ropes, and make the right connections.

Until that time, you’ll probably be stuck with a hefty student loan payment. So what are your options?

As you know, one of the fastest-growing ways of borrowing money has become peer-to-peer lending. Now there’s a similar option to do that with your student loans. One of our favorite resources to help you pay those big grad degrees off quicker is CommonBond.

You’ll want to read our complete review to see why it’s become one of our most highly recommended solutions, but in short, it’s a way to pay for, refinance, or even consolidate those high-interest student loans into one payment, often saving you a lot of money. The loan is financed through crowdfunding. You can get up to $220,000 and you’ll even get $200 for referring friends. As you’re making your decision on which grad program to attend, be sure to check out CommonBond as a unique and easy way to pay for it.


These are four of the best graduate degrees you can get, but the degree itself won’t set you up for making big money. You have to earn it by working hard, getting experience, and connecting with the right people in the right geographic areas. For instance, you can be the smartest mind in finance, but if you’re living in a small town in Kansas, you may not be working for a big enough Wall Street-sized firm to maximize your earning potential.

And remember, getting a graduate degree isn’t cheap, but you don’t have to go back to the government for money to pay for it. There are newer, and often more effective ways to pay for school now.

Your turn: what graduate degree are you considering pursuing and why? Please share in the comments below!

Topics: Education

One Response to “4 High Earning Graduate Degrees”

  1. A masters in computer science isn’t generally practical to pursue unless you already have a bachelors in comp. sci. You might be able to do a masters if you’ve got a STEM degree but there may be a lot of pre reqs. you wouldn’t have. I have an engineering degree and I investigated getting a masters in comp. sci. on top of the engineering degree. It wasn’t practical for me based on all the pre requisites required to get into the comp. sci. grad program. I chose to get a 2nd bachelors in comp. sci instead.

    Generally I don’t think a masters in comp.sci. buys you a fat promotion over a bachelor in the workplace so you are often just as good with a bachelors as far as pay and career options go. Grad degrees usually aren’t required for advancement in tech industry or occupations.

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