10 Careers Where Graduate School Is Worth It

The Jobs Where Graduate School Pays Off the Most

As difficult as it is for many students to justify forking over the money for a college education given rising tuition costs and the difficult job market, it can be even harder to justify footing the bill for graduate school when your student loans from your undergraduate days still need to be paid. However, one new report shows that investing in a graduate-level education more than pays for itself in many professions, though certainly not all. Those who get a master’s degree earn an estimated $2.67 million over the course of their careers, roughly $400,000 more than the median lifetime earnings one gets with a bachelor’s degree, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Doctoral and professional degrees lead to even greater lifetime earnings of $3.25 million and $3.65 million respectively, or at least $1 million more than one makes with just a bachelor’s. In several professions though, the lifetime earnings difference between a bachelor’s degree and these higher-level degrees is minimal if not non-existent. Real estate brokers, for example, earn $1.5 million in their careers whether they have a bachelor’s degree or a graduate-level education, and editors who have a master’s, doctorate or professional degree earn $100,000 less over the course of their lifetimes than those who have a bachelor’s. “For a lot of occupations, the bachelor’s degree is really the end of the line,” said Anthony Carnevale, the lead researcher on the report, who notes that some occupations in industries like publishing and real estate among others do not pay a premium for graduate-level education. “The journalism profession especially is unique in this sense. … There was no tradition of going to journalism school until a few decades ago, so you have lots of people who move into journalism from a variety of different on-ramps.” The Georgetown researchers used median wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to extrapolate lifetime earnings by occupation, as well as education level, gender and ethnicity, based on the assumption that employees in each profession work full-time from the age of 25 to 64. While actual employee earnings may differ somewhat from these estimates due to variations in the number of hours and years worked, the numbers nonetheless provide a valuable reference point for those trying to determine how much education they need. “You may decide you want to get a master’s degree in home decorating just because you are interested in that subject at the moment, but you should know how it does in the labor market because you should be able to generate an income stream that supports the loans you’ll take out for that degree,” Carnevale said. MainStreet combed through the data to find the 10 professions where workers receive the biggest lifetime earnings bump by going to graduate school compared to what they would have made if they stopped with a bachelor's. That means certain professions, many medical occupations in particular, won't be represented on this list since workers rarely if ever enter into the field with anything less than a graduate degree, meaning there isn't enough data to compare what their earnings would be without. Also, as an important note, the graduate earnings listed here include anyone who earns a master’s, doctorate and/or a professional degree, each of which may have different costs attached. Wherever possible, we have included the most common graduate degrees associated with the profession but ultimately each of the jobs on this list earn more than three quarters of a million dollars extra over the course of a career, making the investment in those programs definitely worthwhile. Photo Credit: David Michael Morris


Natural Sciences, Medical & Health Services Managers

Managerial positions across multiple fields pop up on this list multiple times, which Carnevale notes is primarily because many businesses place added value on managers who not only have experience in the field, but the technical degrees to back it up. Medical and health services managers typically work in doctors’ offices and care centers and oversee the facilities and equipment, while natural sciences managers often work in government agencies or the pharmaceutical industry and oversee research projects. The most common degree for both is the master’s, though according to the BLS, natural sciences managers sometimes opt for a doctoral degree instead. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2.7 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $3.5 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $800,000 Photo Credit: familymwr


Marketing and Sales Managers

Marketing managers help handle the advertising and pricing strategies for a business while sales managers oversee the customer service operations. According to the BLS, a master’s will suffice for these occupations, and employers tend to favor those who have studied business and finance. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $3.5 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $4.3 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $800,000 Photo Credit: avlxyz


Sales Representatives, Services, all Other

It may be surprising to learn that salesmen should get a graduate-level education, but for some sales representatives it can pay off. There is a caveat however: this occupation does not include retail, real estate or insurance salesmen, but instead, according to the BLS, it is primarily made up of salespeople who work in more technical services industries like telecommunications and computer systems design, and therefore a greater level of expertise may be rewarded if not required. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2.9 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $3.7 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $800,000 Photo Credit: inno’vision


Other Business Operations Specialists

Business operations specialists manage a company’s pressing day-to-day needs and these particular specialists tend to work in local, state and federal government jobs as well as at colleges and nonprofits. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2.3 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $3.1  million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $800,000 Photo Credit: bpsusf


Purchasing Managers

Purchasing managers oversee the goods and services that their companies buy and work to ensure that the company doesn’t get ripped off. As the BLS notes in its description for this occupation, “a master's degree is essential for advancement to many top-level purchasing manager jobs.” Generally, a degree in engineering or business is preferred. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2.9 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $3.7 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $800,000 Photo Credit: JonTandy


Chemists and Material Scientists

As Carnevale points out, those who receive a degree in the STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) typically earn a decent salary with just a bachelor’s degree by virtue of being qualified for many lucrative professions, but by having a graduate degree they can earn substantially more. “In these cases, you are crazy if you don’t go to grad school because you will get a lot more money, but on the other hand you are probably doing pretty well already so you might not think it’s worth your while,” Carnevale said. Chemists and materials scientists who do pursue higher-level education generally earn a master’s or a doctorate, according to the BLS. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2.5 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $3.4 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $900,000 Photo Credit: Daniel Morrison


Education Administrators

While education administrators and chemists both enjoy a $900,000 lifetime pay bump from a graduate degree, Carnevale argues their motivations for getting the degree are very different. “Teachers start out at relatively low wages, so they need to get a graduate degree.” Carnevale says. “With STEM degrees, it’s more about getting rich whereas with education jobs it’s about building a solid middle class income.” Education administrators don’t actually teach, but rather set policies and manage the teachers and other educators on staff to keep the school running properly. According to the BLS, these jobs require either a master’s or a doctoral degree. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $2.9 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $900,000 Photo Credit: Getty Images


Securities, Commodities & Financial Services Sales Agents

Of all professions, none offers a bigger premium for graduate-level education than those in the financial services industry, with each of the final three on the list falling into this category. The reason, Carnevale says, is because these jobs are particularly competitive. “These jobs are highly competitive and very selective,” he says. “There are ways to enter these jobs with just a BA depending on your major and in the late ’90s, the surge in financial occupations was such that a lot of people gained entry without having higher degrees, but in the end what that did was give a higher premium to those who did have a graduate degree of some kind.” These sales agents include stock brokers and investment bankers, and according to the BLS, employees in this profession usually earn a master’s or professional degree in business. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $3.4 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $4.4 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $1 million Photo Credit: artemuestra


Budget, Credit, Financial Analysts

These workers analyze financial statements from businesses and consumers, and according to the BLS, may either earn a master’s or professional degree to boost their competitiveness. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $2.7 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $3.8 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $1.1 million Photo Credit: Getty Images


Financial Managers

Financial managers include treasurers, comptrollers and finance officers who help oversee a business’s financial reports and investments. As with the other financial services professions on the list, the BLS says financial managers generally can earn either a master’s or professional degree. Lifetime earnings with a bachelor’s: $3.1 million Lifetime earnings with a graduate degree: $4.2 million Overall estimated value of graduate degree: $1.1 million Photo Credit: Getty Images


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