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Compared to prior decades, enrollment in graduate education is at an all-time high. According to U.S. Census data, 13.1 percent of all adults and 37 percent of adults who completed a bachelor’s degree hold advanced degrees. These degrees include master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees, such as in medicine or law. But in the wake of increased enrollment, rising tuition, and highly variable financial outcomes across advanced degrees, prospective students should look closely at the return on investment before going back to school.
Similar to recent increases in undergraduate tuition, price increases in graduate education have also surpassed the inflation rate. In the year 2000, the average graduate school tuition was $11,566, while in 2017, it was $18,416 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Notably, the average annual price of graduate education has been consistently more expensive than that of four-year undergraduate education, which was $10,091 in 2000 and $15,512 in 2017.
In general, graduate education correlates with higher median salaries and lower unemployment rates. For example, the median annual earnings for an employee with a bachelor’s degree is $62,296, only about two-thirds of what someone with a doctoral degree ($94,900) or a professional degree ($97,968) would expect to make. Likewise, the unemployment rates for professionals with a master’s, professional, or doctoral degree are significantly lower than the unemployment rates for those who attain a bachelor’s degree or below.
However, there’s a huge spread in salaries among occupations requiring an advanced degree.
At the master’s level, nine of the 10 most lucrative master’s degrees earn a median wage above $100,000. Most of these highest salaries are in healthcare fields or the social sciences. For example, nurse anesthetists earn a median wage of $167,950.
By contrast, other professions requiring a master’s degree command far less than the typical bachelor’s degree-holder. This is particularly true for occupations related to social work or archival research. Among all occupations that require a master’s degree, rehabilitation counselors have the lowest median salary, at $35,630. When it comes to salary, investing in an advanced degree is not always worth it.
Fortunately, there are many high-paying jobs that don’t require a master’s degree or higher. To find which occupations have the highest median salaries without requiring an advanced degree, tutoring agency HeyTutor analyzed salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Report. Its researchers also calculated projected employment growth for each occupation as it compares to the average 7.4 percent projected growth across all occupations. The final list of occupations only includes those with the educational requirements of a bachelor’s degree or lower. Here’s what they found.
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A natural sciences manager is a supervisory role which involves managing the work of chemists, physicists, and biologists within an office or laboratory environment. Natural sciences managers are responsible for directing activities related to research and development, quality control, and production. Since this occupation usually requires at least five years of work experience, most natural sciences managers previously worked as scientists themselves before taking on a managerial position.
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Sales managers oversee the sales team within an organization. The typical job duties of a sales manager includes setting sales goals, analyzing statistics, and creating training programs for sales representatives. Most sales managers previously worked as sales representatives, and this job requires less than five years of work experience. The employment growth is projected to remain fairly steady, at just 1 percent above average.
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Air traffic controller is the only occupation on this list that typically does not require a bachelor’s degree. Instead, it is possible to become an air traffic controller with an associate’s degree from an accredited Air Traffic Training Initiative program with additional exams from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Academy. Air traffic controllers ensure flight safety by coordinating aircraft movements both on the ground and in the air to maintain safe distances between planes. Air traffic controllers typically work out of route centers or control towers. Employment growth is expected to be 53 percent slower than average, but no work experience is required.
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Financial managers work within an organization to compile financial reports, manage investments, and develop long-term financial plans. Financial managers can work for a variety of industries or companies in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. However, the job can be labor-intensive and require a lot of time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, about one in three financial managers work more than 40 hours per week. The projected employment growth is 153 percent above average, the highest growth on this list.
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Marketing managers collaborate with sales teams and art directors within companies to coordinate the promotion of the company’s products and services. A marketing manager may conduct research on consumer demand, competitors, and pricing strategies. Marketing managers are also likely to coordinate events, work with external advertising partners, and create promotional materials using different forms of print and digital media. Since this is a managerial role, at least five years of work experience is expected.
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Petroleum engineers work in a highly technical field that involves extracting oil and gas from the land. While some of the designing and development work takes place in an office, petroleum engineers often travel to drilling and well sites to oversee the extraction process. Texas employs the highest number of petroleum engineers in the country, at 17,840 workers. Alaska and Oklahoma are two other major hubs for this field.
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Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers are skilled professionals who fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft to transport passengers and cargo. While no graduate-level degree is required, pilots must obtain a commercial pilot’s license and an FAA-issued Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.
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Architectural and engineering managers are responsible for planning and directing activities in architectural and engineering firms. These activities include coordinating staff, overseeing construction sites, developing architectural plans, collaborating with subcontractors, and proposing budgets. Most architectural and engineering managers work in offices, but on-site work at construction sites is also common. About half of architecture and engineering managers work more than 40 hours a week.
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Also known as IT managers, computer and information systems managers are mainly responsible for determining the information technology goals of an organization and implementing the appropriate computer systems. IT managers work in-house to analyze existing technology infrastructure, install new hardware and software, manage IT budgets, and upgrade technology systems. Some IT managers also focus on an organization’s data security.
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Usually the highest position within a company, chief executives direct operational activities to ensure an organization meets its goals, especially those related to finance and production. Chief executives can work in any industry, and their specific job duties vary depending on the size of the organization. Chief executives often rely on junior-level and senior-level managers for additional administrative support. Although chief executives have the highest median annual salary on this list, it takes most CEOs a long time to reach the top.
The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Report. Salary data is the median annual wage for 2018. For each occupation, its difference in salary from all occupations requiring the same level of education was calculated. Additionally, the projected employment growth for each occupation was calculated as its difference from the average of 7.4 percent across all occupations. The final list of occupations only includes those for which the education needed for entry is a bachelor’s degree or lower. Occupations are ordered by their respective median annual wages for 2018 as reported by BLS. For a full list of the 100 highest-paying occupation, see the original version on HeyTutor.
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