Petroleum engineering offers the highest median earnings among graduate degree holders, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. In fact, many of the top 10 highest-paying graduate degrees are in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) specializations.
The same Georgetown University report also evaluated the most popular graduate school majors. It ranked psychology as the No. 1 most popular graduate degree major, despite noncompetitive median earnings among psychology graduate degree holders.
If you’re deciding on a graduate program, it’s helpful to know what kind of pay your degree may offer later on. Keep reading to learn more about the best graduate degrees to pursue based on potential earnings and the most popular fields of graduate study.
The Georgetown University report, called “The Economic Value of College Majors,” was published in 2015 using 2009 to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s “American Community Survey.” Although the report is older, it provides useful context about the value of graduate programs as a whole.
Researchers evaluated the wages for 15 groups of majors and 137 college major subgroups and used the 25th to 75th percentile wage data for the most representative earnings for each graduate degree.
Additionally, only Census data for full-time, full-year workers ages 21 through 59, were included in the report, if respondents had positive earnings. Figures were also adjusted to 2013 levels based on the Consumer Price Index Research Series. It’s important to note that some majors were combined in the Census survey which limited the University’s ability to separate specific earnings for certain graduate majors.
1. Petroleum engineering
2. Health and medical preparatory programs
3. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration
4. Geological and geophysical engineering
5. Aerospace engineering
6. Electrical engineering
7. Chemical engineering (tie)
7. Metallurgical engineering (tie)
7. Economics (tie)
10. Engineering and industrial management
Medium earnings: $128,430
Petroleum engineers are responsible for designing strategies to effectively extract oil and gas from below the Earth’s surface. These extraction sites may take place on land or offshore.
Working closely with geological engineers about the surrounding drilling location and its obstacles, petroleum engineers determine appropriate drilling methods to use. They also install and maintain the equipment on the field. Since current drilling methods tap into a small portion of a reservoir’s resources, they analyze drilling project results to create new extraction techniques for the surrounding environment.
Median earnings: $128,207
The report data bundles multiple graduate majors into “Health and medical preparatory programs.” Health-related fields of study, including pre-medical, pre-dentistry, pre-chiropractic and pre-veterinary programs, fall under this umbrella.
Professionals in these fields perform hands-on work with patients to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. In addition to listening to patients’ health concerns, they prescribe medication as needed, interpret lab test results, and work alongside other medical staff.
Median earnings: $117,523
Individuals in the pharmaceutical profession may be pharmacists, pharmacy administration staff, or professionals who deal with creating new pharmaceutical drugs.
Pharmacists, in particular, prepare and distribute prescribed drugs and medication to individuals who have consulted with a physician. In addition to measuring prescription dosages, they speak with patients about recommended use for prescription and over-the-counter drugs, inform them of potential drug side effects, and perform insurance- and record-based administrative tasks.
Median earnings: $113,930
When it comes to extracting minerals like gold and coal from the ground, geological engineers are called to the job. They design underground mines, tunnels and mine shafts while ensuring that the areas are safe for workers.
Geological engineers may work with petroleum engineers when drilling for oil and gas. They troubleshoot issues related to the land, water and air in a mine, and develop ways to efficiently transport the mined raw materials for processing. Professionals in this field are also responsible for developing mining processes that are environmentally sustainable.
Median earnings: $112,181
Aerospace engineers work specifically on aircraft, satellites, spacecraft, missiles, rockets and any other aviation-based technology. They develop and supervise the manufacturing of these products, and test their viability. Once tests are completed, aerospace engineers analyze the results and draft reports about successes or issues that arose.
When pursuing a career in aerospace engineering, professionals often take on specialties, like aerodynamics or thermodynamics, within aeronautical and astronautical fields.
Median earnings: $111,861
As the name might suggest, a graduate degree in electrical engineering requires workers to plan, create and test electrical equipment. This can include navigation and communication systems, power generation, automotive and aircraft electrical units. They oversee the complete operations surrounding a particular product, from designing its parts and planned function, manufacturing, analyzing tests and maintaining equipment.
Depending on where they work, they may review customer feedback about a product and design solutions to address those issues during production. Electrical engineers also work closely with project managers to ensure projects are completed on time and within budget.
Median earnings: $108,603
Using various scientific fields of study, like chemistry, biology, physics and math, chemical engineers plan and test the manufacturing of use of various commercial products. In addition to developing new ways to manufacture goods, they’re responsible for setting safety standards in the factory, understanding how the manufacturing process affects the environment, and maintaining operations when working with hazardous chemicals and materials.
Like in other engineering fields, chemical engineers may specialize in specific areas, like oxidation or biological engineering.
Median earnings: $108,603
As a subtype of geological engineering, metallurgical engineering specifically involves the study of the metals and minerals that are extracted from mining facilities. Metallurgical engineers may work on-site to document and identify metals, and also work in laboratories to test and analyze samples.
They create maps and drawings for mining projects and are required to have an understanding of safety and environmental regulations.
Median earnings: $108,603
Graduate degree holders in economics gather qualitative and quantitative data about the resources, goods and services of a particular area. Conducting surveys is one way they collect information. Once they’ve gathered the information needed, economists may analyze historical data and make projections that are used by individuals, businesses or governments for planning and decision-making purposes.
These analyses are presented in the form of a report, academic journal or other types of communication, and may include recommendations about how to proceed based on the findings.
Median earnings: $108,191
Engineering and industrial management is a graduate degree study that prepares students for a career that blends business and finance, with industrial plant operations.
Industrial managers are responsible for ensuring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards are upheld in factories. In addition to enforcing safety practices, industrial engineers and managers project how much an engineering project might cost, and track the budget during production to ensure funds are being allocated effectively.
- No. 11: Engineering mechanics physics and science (tie; $106,839)
- No. 12: Mechanical engineering (tie; $106,839)
- No. 13: Mining and mineral engineering ($105,771)
- No. 14: Applied mathematics ($105,644)
- No. 15: Zoology ($104,259)
- No. 16: Chemistry ($103,573)
- No. 17: General engineering ($103,173)
- No. 18: Computer engineering (tie; $101,498)
- No. 18: Industrial and manufacturing engineering (tie; $101,498)
- No. 20: Physics ($101,453)
Based on the analysis of Census Bureau data, the Center on Education and the Workforce report only included degrees of study that had a minimum sample size of 100. The report also acknowledges that the data doesn’t differentiate between types of degree classifications — for example, Bachelor of Arts versus Bachelor of Science.
- No. 1: Psychology
- No. 2: Biology
- No. 3: General education
- No. 4: Elementary education
- No. 5: Business management and administration
- No. 6: English language and literature
- No. 7: Political science and government
- No. 8: General business
- No. 9: Accounting
- No. 10: Nursing
- No. 11: History
- No. 12: Economics
- No. 13: Electrical engineering
- No. 14: Computer science
- No. 15: Chemistry
- No. 16: Communication and mass media
- No. 17: Finance
- No. 18: Mechanical engineering
- No. 19: Mathematics
- No. 20: No. Sociology
Rebecca Saifer contributed to this report.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2021!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|1.89% – 6.15%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.99% – 5.64%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.85%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.90% – 5.25%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.25% – 6.64%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.89% – 5.90%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.39% – 6.01%||Undergrad |
|2.15% – 4.42%7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.00% – 5.63%8||Undergrad & Graduate|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews! |
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount
The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.
To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of May 1, 2021.
2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application..
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 26, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/26/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of 5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.
As of 04/07/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
6 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.89%-4.78% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.15%-4.42% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
8 Important Disclosures for Nelnet.
Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score.
Interest rate reduction of .25% for automatically withdrawn payments from any designated bank account (“auto debit discount”). Auto debit discount applies when full payments (including both principal and interest) are automatically drafted from a bank account. The auto debit discount will continue to apply during periods of approved forbearance or deferment if the auto debit discount was in effect at the time of receiving the forbearance or deferment. Auto debit discount will remain on the account unless (1) the automatic deduction of payments is canceled or (2) there are three consecutive automatic deductions returned for insufficient funds at any time during the term of the loan.
Request for the cosigner to be released can be made by the borrower after 24 consecutive, on-time payments (not later than 15 days after the due date) of principal and interest have been made. Borrowers in deferment or forbearance must make 24 consecutive, on-time payments after re-entering repayment to qualify for the release. The borrower must be current on their payments at the time of the cosigner release request and show the ability to assume full responsibility of the loan(s) by meeting certain credit criteria on their own at the time of the request, including, but not limited to, being a U.S. citizen or having permanent residency in the United States, being the age of majority in their permanent state of residency, providing sufficient proof of income, and having no student loans in default.
Hardship forbearance allows you to temporarily suspend payments on your loan(s) while you are experiencing financial hardship. It is offered in increments of two or three months, with a maximum of 12 months available, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. If your loan(s) are in good standing at the time of your request, you will be eligible for forbearance in increments of two monthly payments. If, at the time of your initial request, your loan(s) are considered past-due, you will be eligible for forbearance in increments of three monthly payments. Future increments of forbearance, up to a life-time maximum of 12 months, may be requested upon the completion of making a certain number of principal and interest payments. During the two- or three-month forbearance period, you will not be required to make payments; however, any unpaid interest will continue to accrue and will be capitalized (added) onto your principal balance at the end of the forbearance period. You may continue making payments in any amount without penalty during the forbearance period. Your loan repayment term will be extended by the number of months in the forbearance period.
Refinance Loan Eligibility: You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security number, and be the legal age to enter into binding contracts in your permanent state/territory of residency, or be at least 17 years of age and apply with a cosigner who is at least the age of majority in their state/territory. Non-residents can apply with an eligible cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security number. The student loans you refinance must be in their grace or repayment period, and you can no longer be enrolled in school on a half-time or more basis. You must have at least $5,000 in student loans to refinance. You, or your eligible cosigner, must have an annual income of at least $36,000. Approval subject to credit review. Other credit criteria may apply.
Refinance Loan Limits:
Loan Refinancing Risks: Federal student loans include benefits that may not be offered with private student loans. Carefully review any potential benefits that may be lost by refinancing federal and private education loans, such as the loss of any remaining grace periods. To learn more about what to take into consideration when refinancing federal student loans with private education loans, click here
Selecting ‘Get Started’ results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score.
Fixed interest rates range from 2.99% APR (with auto debit discount) to 6.25% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. The fixed interest rate will remain the same for the life of the loan.
Variable interest rates range from 2.00% APR (with auto debit discount) to 5.63% APR (without auto debit discount). Your interest rate will depend on your (and if applicable, your cosigner’s) credit qualifications. Variable rates may increase after consummation. The variable interest rate is equal to the One-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (“One-Month LIBOR”) plus a margin. The One-Month LIBOR in effect for each monthly period (from the first day of the month through and including the last day of the same month) will be the highest One-Month LIBOR published in The Wall Street Journal “Money Rates” table on the twenty-fifth (25th) day (or if such day is not a business day, the next business day thereafter) of the month immediately preceding such calendar month. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for a variable interest rate loan will change monthly on the first day of each month if the One-Month LIBOR index changes. This may result in higher monthly payments. The current One-Month LIBOR index is 0.15% as of 5/4/2021.
The lowest interest rate for each loan type requires automatically withdrawn (“auto debit”) payments, a five-year repayment term, and the borrower making immediate principal and interest payments. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rate. The interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) may be higher depending upon (1) the credit history of the borrower and, if applicable, the cosigner, (2) the repayment option and loan term selected, (3) the loan type selected, and (4) the highest level of education attained. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate qualified for within the stated range.
*Checking your rate results in a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. If you continue with your application, Nelnet Bank will request your permission to obtain your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies. This is a hard credit pull and may affect your credit score. **Your actual savings may vary based on interest rates, outstanding balances, remaining repayment terms, and other factors.