The Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Finding a Job

October 25 2013 by Borja Saldana

Top 10 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 is a list of the top ten best and worst master’s degrees for finding a job. The lists detail the median annual pay for mid-career workers with each degree (calculated by and the average projected growth for popular jobs held by people with each degree between 2010-2020 (calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Of course, you should select a degree program that fits your interests and career goals, regardless of the program’s ranking on this list. However, graduate school is expensive, and it is important to consider the cost value of any program you consider.

Best Master’s Degrees for Finding a Job

1. Computer Science Median annual pay (for a mid-career worker): $108,316 Average growth (the projected growth of employment between 2010 and 2020): 24% Popular job titles: Software engineer, software developer, computer and information systems manager

Computer science master’s 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 ten years, and offer high salaries to those with the proper skill sets.

2. Electrical Engineering Median annual pay: $111,807 Average growth: 18% Popular job titles: Electrical engineer, electronics engineer, software developer

Electrical engineer programs teach students how to design, create, and test electrical equipment such as radar and navigation systems, electric motors, and communication systems. Some electrical engineering master’s students with experience in programming go on to work as software developers, a high-paying job that is currently in great demand.

3. Physics Median annual pay: $107,088 Average growth: 17% Popular job titles: Physicist, software developer, high school physics teacher

Physics master’s programs offer students the opportunity to study a number of different topics within physics, allowing graduates to pursue a variety of career paths. Many popular jobs for those with an MA in physics – particularly jobs involving software developing and programming – are currently on the rise.

4. Information Systems Median annual pay: $101,308 Average growth: 23% Popular job titles: Computer and information systems manager, software developer, computer systems analyst

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.

5. Finance Median annual pay: $102,146 Average growth: 12% Popular job titles: Financial manager, financial analyst, vice president of finance, chief financial officer (CFO)

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.

6. Physician Assistant Median annual pay: $92,595 Average growth: 30% Popular job titles: Physician assistant (PA)

Physician assistants 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. This is one of the fastest-growing careers, with a projected growth of 30% by 2020.

7. Economics Median annual pay: $100,173 Average growth: 13% Popular job titles: Marketing director, economist, financial analyst, financial manager

Economist students typically go into finance jobs (although, because economists study production and distribution, some go into marketing as well). Many of these jobs are rising in demand, and those who go into finance management can earn high salaries.

8. Civil Engineering Median annual pay: $89,523 Average growth: 16% Popular job titles: Civil engineer, civil engineer technician, construction project manager

Civil engineers design and oversee construction projects, including constructing roads, buildings, 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.

9. Healthcare Administration Median annual pay: $84,642 Average growth: 22% Popular job titles: Medical and health services manager, healthcare administrator, clinical analyst, nursing director

Healthcare 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.

10. Occupational Therapy Median annual pay: $73,502 Average growth: 33% Popular job titles: Occupational therapist

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. Occupational therapy master’s programs are well worth investing in – OT jobs are projected to grow 33% by 2020.

Worst Master’s Degrees for Finding a Job

1. Human Resources Management Median annual pay: $76,868 Average growth: 17% Popular job titles: Human resources manager, human resources specialist

Human resources 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. While experience is important for an HR manager, most positions also require a master’s degree.

2. Architecture Median annual pay: $71,406 Average growth: 24% Popular job titles: Design architect, project architect

Architect 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.

3. Biology Median annual pay: $70,235 Average growth: 15% Popular job titles: Biologist, biological technician, high school teacher

Biology master’s students can focus on a variety of areas, ranging from biotechnology to environmental biology. Based on their focus, students can go into a number of fields, including teaching and research. Some fields have more promising job outlooks than others, but the projected average growth for all biology jobs is about the same as the projected national growth in jobs.

4. Social Work Median annual pay: $53,938 Average growth: 25% Popular job titles: Clinical services director, social worker, clinical therapist, mental health therapist

Social work master’s programs teach students the skills they need to become either direct-service or clinical social workers. Clinical social workers help people cope with various issues, and diagnose and treat emotional, behavioral, and medical issues. While social work jobs are expected to increase over the next few years, the starting salary is not always very high, so students may be paying off loans for quite awhile.

5. Counseling Median annual pay: $50,513 Average growth: 27% Popular job titles: Mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, family therapist, social worker

Counseling master’s programs train students to serve as counselors in a variety of fields, ranging from mental health to marriage and family to school counseling. Like social work jobs, counseling jobs are also on the rise, but students might be paying off loans for a long period of time.

6. History Median annual pay: $60,951 Average growth: 15% Popular job titles: Archivist, historian, secondary school teacher

History master’s programs often prepare students to either teach history or become historians themselves. Historian and archivist jobs are seeing less growth than teaching jobs over the next few years, though their growth is about the same as the national average.

7. English Median annual pay: $62,041 Average growth: 10% Popular job titles: Technical writer, managing editor, secondary school teacher, postsecondary English professor

English master’s graduates follow a variety of career paths. Some become high school English teachers, and others become technical writers or editors for newspapers, magazines or journals. Some of these careers are projected to see very little growth over the next few years: managing editor jobs, for example, will only see about 1% growth by 2020.

8. Education Median annual pay: $56,627 Average growth: 14% Popular job titles: School principal, elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, secondary school teacher, special education teacher

Education programs prepare students for careers not only in teaching, but also curriculum development, counseling, and administration. Salaries vary greatly based on the type of job (school principals can make much more than some teachers, for example). Education jobs as a whole continue to grow at a rate equal to the national average.

9. Music Median annual pay: $53,458 Average growth: 13% Popular job titles: Primary school music teacher, secondary school music teacher, music director, composer, musician

A master’s 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.

10. Library and Information Science Median annual pay: $51,479 Average growth: 7% Popular job titles: Librarian, reference librarian, school media specialist, digital preservationist 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 less-than-average growth over the next decade or so.