Best Graduate Degrees by Earnings, Popularity

 May 11, 2020
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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.

10 best graduate degrees by median earnings
Next 10 best graduate degrees by median earnings
20 best graduate degrees by popularity

10 best graduate degrees by median earnings

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

1. Petroleum engineering

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.

2. Health and medical preparatory programs

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.

3. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration

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.

4. Geological and geophysical engineering

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.

5. Aerospace engineering

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.

6. Electrical engineering

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.

7. Chemical engineering (tie)

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.

7. Metallurgical engineering (tie)

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.

7. Economics (tie)

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.

10. Engineering and industrial management

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.

Next 10 best graduate degrees by median earnings

  • 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)

20 best graduate degrees by popularity

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.

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LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.74% – 8.70%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.74% – 7.99%2Undergrad
& Graduate

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4.44% – 8.09%3Undergrad
& Graduate

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1.74% – 7.99%4Undergrad
& Graduate

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1.89% – 5.90%5Undergrad
& Graduate

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1.74% – 7.99%6Undergrad
& Graduate

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2.05% – 5.25%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

1.86% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

& Graduate

Visit PenFed

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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 4, 2022.

2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 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%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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 Apr 22, 2021 and may increase after consummation.

4 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 1.74% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.

5 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

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.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

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%.


This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.

6 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.99% – 8.24% APR (2.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (1.74% – 7.99% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.

7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via 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 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 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 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

8 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Fixed Rate Loan Terms: 5 years/60 monthly payments, 8 years/96 monthly payments, 12 years/144 monthly payments or 15 years/180 monthly payments. Annual Percentage Rate is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rates range from 3.29% to 5.43% APR. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed APR: Fixed rates will not change during the term. This rate is expressed as an APR. Since there are no fees associated with this loan offer, the APR is the same percentage as the actual interest rate of the loan. 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.