The Best (and Worst) Master's Degrees for Finding a Job
Many people go to graduate school because they believe it will help them acquire the skills and credentials they need to get the job they want. However, some graduate degrees are more effective than others at setting students up for career success.
Here are two lists of the 10 best and 10 worst master's degrees for finding a job. Our rankings include median annual salary for each degree, as well as projected occupational outlook for the next 10 years.
Of course, you should select a degree program that fits your interests and career goals, regardless of the program's ranking on this list.
But graduate school is often expensive, and it is important to think about the return on investment of any program you consider.
Best Master's Degrees for Finding a Job
The best graduate degrees for boosting your occupational outlook include those that focus on health care, information technology, and finance.
1. Physician Assistant
Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the direction of physicians and surgeons. They can examine patients, diagnose illnesses and injuries, and give treatment. All PAs must complete a physician assistant program (typically, a two-year program). This is one of the fastest-growing careers, with a projected growth of 31% by 2029.
- Average annual pay: $97,133
- Job growth 2019-2029: 31%
- Popular job titles: Physician assistant (PA)
Finance graduate programs teach students critical financial topics such as risk management, insurance, investments, and mergers and acquisitions. With a master's degree, graduates can work their way into high-paying upper-level management positions in which they manage the financial health of an organization.
- Average annual pay: $86,443
- Job growth 2019-2029: 5%
- Popular job titles: Financial manager, financial analyst, personal financial advisor
3. Computer Science
Computer science programs prepare students for jobs in fields such as computer and information research, programming, and information security. Jobs in these fields are expected to increase over the next few years and offer high salaries to those with the proper skill sets.
- Average annual pay: $93,808
- Job growth 2019-2029: 15%
- Popular job titles: Computer systems analyst, software developer, computer and information systems manager
4. Biomedical Engineering
A biomedical engineering master's program teaches students skills in the biological and medical sciences. As biomedical engineers, students will put these skills together to develop medical equipment, computer systems, software, and other devices for various healthcare purposes.
- Average annual pay: $77,660
- Job growth 2019-2029: 5%
- Popular job titles: Biomedical engineer
5. Information Systems
A master's degree in information systems trains students to manage information technology. As organizations apply technology in new ways, jobs in information management are becoming increasingly important. Many of these jobs offer high salaries. The number of jobs in this field is expected to increase faster than the national average over the next decade.
- Average annual pay: $87,834
- Job growth 2019-2029: 10%
- Popular job titles: Computer and information systems manager, software developer, computer systems analyst
Statistics master's programs are sometimes housed under broader mathematics departments. Statistics courses range from statistical computing to probability to applied statistics. With this degree, graduates typically become involved in applying their math skills to real-life scenarios. They might become actuaries, statisticians, or economists. These kinds of jobs are expected to grow much faster than the national average.
- Average annual pay: $84,527
- Job growth 2019-2029: 33%
- Popular job titles: Statistician, actuary, economist
7. Nurse Practitioner
With a nurse practitioner degree, nurses can not only treat patients but often also prescribe medication. A master's degree in this field leads to a jump in salary. Nurse practitioner positions are expected to increase through 2026 by 31%, which is much faster than average.
- Average annual pay: $95,608
- Job growth 2019-2029: 45%
- Popular job titles: Nurse practitioner
8. Civil Engineering
Civil engineers design and oversee construction projects, including the building of roads, skyscrapers, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
A master's degree in civil engineering gives civil engineers the opportunity to serve as managers of these projects. These jobs tend to offer good salaries.
- Average annual pay: $72,473
- Job growth 2019-2029: 2%
- Popular job titles: Civil engineer, civil engineer technician, construction project manager
9. Health Administration
Health care administration degrees teach students how to develop and oversee medical and health services. Those with a healthcare administration degree might manage an entire hospital or health services organization, or a specific department or clinical area. These jobs are in high demand and will continue to grow over the next decade.
- Average annual pay: $77,342
- Job growth 2019-2029: 32%
- Popular job titles: Medical and health services manager, healthcare administrator
10. Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists work with patients with injuries, disabilities, or illnesses to help them perform everyday activities. OTs may work in hospitals, clinical offices, schools, nursing homes, or home health services. Occupational therapists require a master's degree (as well as state licensure) to practice.
- Average annual pay: $66,920
- Job growth 2019-2029: 16%
- Popular job titles: Occupational therapist
Worst Master's Degrees for Finding a Job
Studying fine arts, human resources, or biology? Depending on your focus, an advanced degree might not give you a great return on your tuition investment.
Counseling master's programs train students to serve as counselors in a variety of counseling fields, ranging from mental health to marriage and drug abuse. Counseling jobs are on the rise, but the salaries on average remain under $60,000.
- Average annual pay: $50,676
- Job growth 2019-2029: 22%
- Popular job titles: Mental health counselor, rehabilitation counselor, community service manager, human services assistant
2. Social Work
Social work master's programs teach students the skills they need to become either direct, indirect, or clinical social workers. Clinical social workers help people cope with various issues and diagnose and treat emotional, behavioral, and medical issues. Direct social workers connect people in need with services that can help them. Indirect social workers work on an institutional or government level.
While social work jobs are expected to increase over the next few years, the starting salary is often low, so students may be paying off loans for quite a while.
- Average annual pay: $54,422
- Job growth 2019-2029: 13%
- Popular job titles: Social worker, mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor
A master's degree in music prepares students to become conductors, composers, and performers. The degree is often a minimum requirement for those who want to teach at a university or conservatory. Jobs outside of schools (such as a musician or composer, for example) are more difficult to come by and do not always guarantee stable salaries.
- Average annual pay: $55,231
- Job growth 2019-2029: 2%
- Popular job titles: Music director, composer, musician
Education programs prepare students for careers not only in teaching, but also curriculum development, counseling, and administration. Salaries vary greatly based on the specific position, but education jobs continue to grow at a rate equal to the national average.
- Average annual pay: $59,199
- Job growth 2019-2029: 4%
- Popular job titles: School principal, elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, secondary school teacher, special education teacher
5. Library and Information Science
Library and information science programs prepare students for professional careers in schools, public libraries, museums, and other institutions within the information industry. Many of these jobs are expected to see slightly above-average growth over the next decade or so.
- Average annual pay: $53,567
- Job growth 2019-2029: 5%
- Popular job titles: Librarian, library technician, archivist
History master's programs often prepare students to either teach history or become historians themselves. Depending on their specific jobs, history masters’ might work in schools, government agencies, libraries, or museums.
- Average annual pay: $58,606
- Job growth 2019-2029: 3%
- Popular job titles: Archivist, historian, secondary school teacher
7. Fine Arts
A master's degree in fine arts is a creative degree that allows students to specialize in design, jewelry making, photography, and other related fields. The salaries for jobs in this field vary widely. However, most of the jobs in this field are not expected to see much growth in the next decade or so.
- Average annual pay: $61,754
- Job growth 2019-2029: -4%
- Popular job titles: Art director, craft and fine artists, fashion designer, graphic designer, artist
Biology master's students can focus on a wide variety of subfields, ranging from biotechnology to environmental biology. Based on their focus, students can go into several fields, including teaching and research. Some fields have more promising job outlooks than others, but the projected average growth for all biology jobs is just a little above the projected national growth in jobs.
- Average annual pay: $62,610
- Job growth 2019-2029: 5%
- Popular job titles: Biologist, environmental scientist, wildlife biologist, biological technician, natural sciences manager, high school teacher
Architecture programs teach students how to plan and design buildings and other structures. To get a job as an architect, you need a degree, experience through an architectural internship, and you need to pass the Architect Registration Exam. Jobs in architecture are expected to grow more slowly than the national average over the next few years.
- Average annual pay: $62,818
- Job growth 2019-2029: 1%
- Popular job titles: Design architect, project architect
10. Human Resources Management
Human resources (HR) managers plan and coordinate the administrative functions of a company. They manage the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new employees, and act as a liaison between the company’s employers and employees. They might also handle issues related to salary and benefits. While experience is important for an HR manager, most positions also require a master's degree.
- Average annual pay: $67,987
- Job growth 2019-2029: 6%
- Popular job titles: Human resources manager, human resources specialist