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

Graduating students
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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 list includes the median annual pay for mid-career workers (workers with more than 10 years of experience) in each career field (calculated by Payscale.com) and the average projected growth for popular jobs held by people with each degree between 2014-2024 (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 often expensive, and it is important to think about the cost value of any program you consider.

Best Master's Degrees for Finding a Job

1. Biomedical Engineering

Median annual pay (for a mid-career worker): $145,000
Average growth (the mean projected growth of employment for the jobs listed below between 2014 and 2024): 23%
Popular job titles: Biomedical engineer

A biomedical engineering master's program teaches students skills in both 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. The average salary is high, and the job rate is expected to grow quickly over the next few years.

2. Physician Assistant

Median annual pay: $117,000
Average growth: 30%
Popular job titlesPhysician assistant (PA)

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.

This is one of the fastest-growing careers, with a projected growth of 30% by 2024.

3. Computer Science

Median annual pay: $115,602
Average growth: 18%
Popular job titles: Computer systems analyst, software developer, computer and information systems manager

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.

4. Finance

Median annual pay: $109,797
Average growth: 16%
Popular job titles: Financial manager, financial analyst, personal financial advisor

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.

5. Information Systems

Median annual pay: $103,021
Average growth: 18%
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.

6. Statistics

Median annual pay: $100,000
Average growth: 19%
Popular job titles: Statistician, actuary, economist

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.

7. Civil Engineering

Median annual pay: $96,211
Average growth: 6%
Popular job titles: Civil engineer, civil engineer technician, construction project manager

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.

8. Nurse Practitioner

Median annual pay: $95,000
Average growth: 31%
Popular job titles: Nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist

With a nurse practitioner degree, nurses can not only treat patients, but also can often prescribe medication. A master's degree in this field leads to a jump in salary. Nurse practitioner positions are expected to increase through 2024 by 31%, which is much faster than average.

9. Health Administration

Median annual pay: $86,813
Average growth: 17%
Popular job titles: Medical and health services manager, healthcare administrator, clinical analyst, nursing director

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.

10. Occupational Therapy

Median annual pay: $81,910 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Average growth: 27%
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 27% by 2024.

Worst Master's Degrees for Finding a Job

1. Counseling

Median annual pay: $57,500
Average growth: 12%
Popular job titles: Mental health counselor, rehabilitation counselor, community service manager, human services assistant

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. Like social work jobs, counseling jobs are also on the rise, but the salaries on average remain under $60,000.

2. Social Work

Median annual pay: $59,887
Average growth: 18%​
Popular job titles: Social worker, mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor

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, helping individuals through larger policies.

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.

3. Education

Median annual pay: $60,686
Average growth: 6%
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 - for example, school principals earn an average of $92,510. Education jobs as a whole continue to grow at a rate almost equal to the national average.

4. Library and Information Science

Median annual pay: $62,253
Average growth: 5%
Popular job titles: Librarian, library technician, archivist

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.

5. Music

Median annual pay: $62,561
Average growth: 3%
Popular job titles: Music director, composer, musician

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.

6. History

Median annual pay: $65,000
Average growth: 5%
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, and salaries are not particularly high, on average.

7. Fine Arts

​​Median annual pay: $69,191
Average growth: 1%
Popular job titles: Art director, craft and fine arts, fashion designer, graphic designer, artist

A master's degree in fine arts is a creative degree that allows students to specialize in design, jewelry making, photograph, and other related fields. While the job opportunities are diverse, most jobs are not on the rise: on average, these jobs are expected to see only about 1% growth by 2024.

8. Architecture

Median annual pay: $76,108
Average growth: 7%
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. Jobs in architecture are expected to grow about as fast as the national average over the next few years.

9. Human Resources Management

Median annual pay: $77,406
Average growth: 7%
Popular job titles: Human resources manager, human resources specialist

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. Human resource management jobs are expected to grow about as fast as the national average over the next few years.

10. Biology

Median annual pay: $100,000
Average growth: 7%
Popular job titles: Biologist, environmental scientist, wildlife biologist, biological technician, high school teacher

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 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. Many careers in biology have average salaries much lower than the median annual pay. The average salary for a wildlife biologist, for example, is $60,520.