In the past, a bachelor’s degree was enough to get an excellent job in a high-demand field. Today, students need at least a master’s degree to be competitive and to secure the best positions in terms of both pay and career longevity. While some fields are disappearing or changing with the shifting needs of a society that is becoming more mobile, other fields are emerging or growing. Students who have four-year degrees or are looking for enrollment options for the future can benefit from these program choices. In terms of pay and predicted job growth, these are 10 of the current wisest degree choices for 2020 and some examples of careers that are tied to them.
1. Master of Science, Physician Assistant
Since they work alongside doctors, physician assistants are often confused for doctors. They can ask patients questions, examine them, order routine blood work or other tests, read imaging tests and prescribe some medications. However, they do not perform complex surgeries or certain medical procedures. Since there is a shortage of doctors, PAs and nurse practitioners are in high demand. They are also employed in medical practices and clinics that want to offer patients lower prices for routine care.
This master’s degree path is more challenging than some online programs that accept most people. To qualify for entry, a candidate must have a four-year degree with a strong concentration in biology or medical sciences. Additionally, an applicant must have practical experience as a volunteer or staff member at a medical facility. Once a student enters a PA program, that individual must take a heavy class load to complete the degree. It is almost as lengthy as a doctoral program. There are hands-on clinical components to the program in addition to the classroom work. Some programs may be completed partially online. In most cases, students are required to complete about 2,000 hours of clinical rotations.
After PA students complete their clinical rotations and classroom work, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam to gain a license to practice. To maintain that license, they must complete 100 hours of continuing education every couple years. Every 10 years, they are required to be re-certified. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PAs earned a median salary of about $108,000 in 2018. There were 118,000 positions held by PAs in 2018. Recently, the BLS predicted job growth to be 31% for this field during the next decade.
2. Master of Science in Nursing
Like all career counselors say, there will always be a demand for medical professionals. There has been a nationwide shortage of nurses for several years, and people who finish with a two-year degree or higher usually do not have a hard time finding a job. However, the best pay comes with a master’s degree. With the MSN degree, nurses have several prestigious job options. One of the top-rated jobs in this degree category is a nurse anesthetist. Many nurse anesthetists make about $150,000 per year, and some make upward of $200,000 annually.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses with master’s degrees can also become practitioners. Many people prefer to see nurse practitioners instead of doctors for non-emergent issues. They can evaluate patients and provide routine care. Their role is similar to that of a physician assistant. Nurse practitioners are in high demand in all sizes of medical clinics around the country.
The BLS predicts job growth of more than 25% for nurse practitioners, anesthetists and midwives between 2018 and 2028. According to data gathered from 2018, the median annual salary for this group of nursing professionals was just over $113,000. For that year, there were at least 240,000 jobs held by practitioners, anesthetists and midwives across the United States. For busy nurses who want to advance their careers with flexibility, there are several online MSN programs to consider. Some come with stricter and more extensive admission criteria than others.
3. Master of Business Administration
This versatile degree usually ranks among the top five options every year. MBA graduates have a wide variety of specialties and career paths to consider, and some pay better than others. For example, those who enter the non-profit specialty often earn less than those who go into finance. According to Northeastern University, the top-paying job for MBA graduates in 2019 was in IT management. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field may earn an MBA to find this type of job, which had a median salary of nearly $140,000 in 2018. Job growth was predicted to be about 12% between 2018 and 2028. In comparison with other jobs, this was a faster-than-average growth rate.
Another career path for business administration students is marketing. There are MBA programs with a focus in marketing, and an undergraduate degree in a related field is helpful. One lucrative career option is a marketing manager. Last year, the annual marketing manager salary was about $130,000. Expected future growth was predicted to be about 10% during the next decade. With recent growth projections of 7% and a recent average salary of about $120,000, a sales manager position is another high-paying choice. MBA grads who become business operations managers may earn an average of $100,000 per year. This job has an expected growth rate of about 9%, which also means that it is an in-demand field. Many schools offer online MBA programs to graduates of most four-year degree programs. Some schools also have fast-track degrees with more intensive study programs that are designed to help MBA students graduate faster.
4. Master of Engineering Management
This is a degree option for students who have a four-year engineering degree. It is similar to an MBA program. However, the business and management skills that are taught to students are designed to fit in engineering applications instead of in a broader spectrum of commercial settings. Students are taught how to manage a related business, communicate with other parties and carry out all aspects of a multi-faceted project. One of the top-paying career paths that is in high demand is in architectural management. Engineers who specialized in architecture or civil engineering during their four-year degree programs will already have most of the necessary skills and knowledge. Engineering management is classified in the same group and is also a lucrative choice for graduates.
According to 2018 BLS data, architectural and engineering managers had a median salary of about $140,000 per year. There were more than 192,000 jobs in the field on record, and the BLS predicted that growth would be 3% between 2018 and 2028. Although that is a slower-than-average rate, it is higher than several other specialties for engineers. In many fields that are related to engineering, growth is slower than average. However, there are additional specific degree programs that engineers in other fields of study can pursue to earn higher salaries and expect decent growth.
5. Master of Science in Finance
Students who have a four-year degree in finance may have twice as many opportunities with a master’s degree. While a bachelor’s degree limits their pay, a master’s degree unlocks a variety of high-paying careers that are expected to grow during the next decade. Many graduates go on to be financial analysts and earn an average of $85,000 annually. However, there are more attractive earning opportunities.
According to the BLS, financial managers earn an average salary of almost $128,000 annually. While only a bachelor’s degree is required to enter the field in some jobs, most require or prefer a candidate with a master’s degree. Since financial managers are responsible for monitoring and improving the overall financial health of an organization, an advanced degree and relevant experience are valuable. In 2018, there were more than 650,000 jobs on record for financial managers, and the BLS predicted that job growth between 2018 and 2028 should be about 16%.
Another lucrative job option for MSF degree holders is an actuary position. Actuaries analyze costs and risks of uncertainties. At an estimate of 22% over the next decade, projected growth in this field in 2018 was even larger. Students who are sure that they want to become actuaries may choose to pursue a specialized degree in actuarial science instead of in finance. The annual median salary for actuaries in 2018 was over $101,000.
One other wise career path for MSF graduates is in financial advising. Financial advisers analyze client accounts and provide valuable direction. In 2018, job growth in this field was predicted to be about 15% for a decade-long period. The annual average salary was about $90,000. Although a degree in finance is ideal, this is also a career option for MBA graduates who have a specialty in finance. To become a financial adviser, a graduate must also take the Certified Financial Planner Exam.
6. Master of Science in Computer Science
With the entire business world taking a more virtual approach to operations these days, the demand for people with computer skills will increase. A master’s degree in this field gives graduates some opportunities to earn six-figure salaries in fast-growing career paths. One of the top examples is software development. Recent data showed that degree holders who had the right skills earned an average salary of about $103,000 yearly. By 2026, growth was predicted to reach 26% in the field of software development. As computers and the needs of people continue to evolve, there will be an added need for developers to update existing programs and design new applications.
Another good career choice for graduates of a master’s degree program is systems management. Information systems managers earned a median salary of nearly $128,000 per year in 2018. According to the BLS, systems managers are in high demand. The field was predicted to grow 11% between 2018 and 2028. Although projected growth is not as rapid as it is for software development, this field has a wide variety of opportunities. Some jobs are based remotely, which means that this career path may be good for someone who wants to work from home. Most master’s programs are completed online and focus on deepening a student’s understanding of software, programming and IT applications.
7. Master of Science in Dentistry
Dentistry was listed on the U.S. News 2019 list of best occupations in the United States. Although MSD is one degree option, there are other master’s degree paths for dentists. For example, there is a degree for dental surgery for those who prefer surgical applications. Any master’s degree in dentistry is a good choice for generating income in the future. Some dentists go on to earn a doctorate degree as well, and some dentists take additional classes to specialize in cosmetic applications.
The average annual salary of a dentist in 2018 was more than $155,000. In 2018, there were 155,000 dentist jobs on record. The BLS predicted that job growth would be 7% between 2018 and 2028. With a master’s degree in dentistry, a professional is able to examine patients, provide treatment, devise plans and handle more complex procedures that assistants are not qualified to provide. They may fit patients for crowns, install fillings, pull teeth and more. Surgeons are qualified to remove impacted teeth, extract wisdom teeth and perform some jaw surgeries in complex cases. Since dentistry is a hands-on field, degrees are completed partially in a classroom and partially in a clinical setting. The entrance requirements for a master’s degree in this field may be higher and more challenging than they are in non-medical fields. Also, there may be additional admission requirements.
8. Master of Science in Petroleum Engineering
For students who are looking for a specific degree and an applied field to enter, this option may be ideal. It is designed for graduates of four-year engineering programs. Since the petroleum industry is growing quickly and is expected to evolve over time, this degree is a smart choice for career longevity. Recent salary data showed that petroleum engineers earned annual average salaries of about $132,000. Petroleum engineers have complex jobs that may put them in high-risk atmospheres. Environmental, chemical and industrial engineers are prime candidates for this degree program and for a petroleum engineering career.
In 2018, the expected growth for petroleum engineer jobs was predicted to be 15%. Petroleum engineers may not always be in difficult environments. In some positions, they develop best practices and special extraction methods in office settings. Since petroleum engineers conduct a lot of research, this degree path is ideal for someone who maintains patience, has good concentration and thrives in challenging environments. While the degree program is rigorous, it can be completed mostly online. Although some engineering students who do not have an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering may qualify for admission, they may have to complete additional coursework to make up for some deficiencies in this applied field. Each university has its own rules for admission, transfer credits and acceptable undergraduate studies.
9. Master of Science in Health Care Management
As it is with nurses and doctors who provide care to patients, there will always be a need for health care professionals to manage personnel and medical care facility operations. When it comes to business operations, some MBA graduates who specialize in health care administration may find good-paying jobs in hospitals or other medical facilities as administrators. However, a master’s degree in health care management is a good choice for a more applied education. While the MBA program focuses on how to run a general business, health care management focuses on more specific aspects of running both small and large medical facilities, medical programs and patient care delivery systems. Although health care managers are not as involved in the clinical side of the facility’s operations, they gain a better understanding of the challenges, limits and other aspects of the clinical operations.
According to 2018 data from the BLS, medical and health service managers held more than 405,000 jobs. The median salary was just under $100,000 annually, which was equal to almost $48 per hour. Between 2018 and 2028, the BLS predicted that job growth for medical and health service managers would be 18%. This projected rate was considerably higher than the average growth rate for other types of jobs. The majority of medical managers who were involved in the survey worked in hospitals, group medical practices and nursing homes. For those who want to work in the health care sector partially at home, this is one potential choice. Some administrators run online programs for tele-health services and other online medical programs. Those roles may involve partial or full online duties. However, the top-paying jobs are in large hospitals and high-end health facilities.
10. Master of Science in Genetic Counseling
Today, it is hard to go online or watch television without seeing an ad for a genetic testing company. Genetic tests show people unique risks that they face and other important information about their health and future. Genetic counselors are needed to read genetic data and make these assessments properly, and there are not enough of them since this is a fairly new field. To enter a genetic counseling master’s degree program, a student should have a four-year degree in biology or a related medical concentration. Some students may need to take additional classes to make up for any educational deficits.
The National Society of Genetic Counselors reported that most graduates entered the fields of prenatal care, pediatrics or oncology. However, students may choose to specialize in genetic counseling in any concentration or serve as general counselors. They may work for large medical practices, hospitals, non-profit organizations or online genetic testing companies. In addition to obtaining a master’s degree, genetic counselors must take and pass certification tests. There are a handful of schools that offer genetic counseling programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.
In 2017, the median pay was upward of $77,000 for genetic counselors. In comparison with most medical fields, genetic counseling is one of the areas that is expected to have the most significant growth. Recently, experts predicted that it would grow by at least 29% over a decade-long period. Students who want the assurance of a good income and finding a job quickly may like this degree option. Boston University’s School of Medicine reported that 95% of its genetic counseling graduates found employment within only a few months of finishing the program.
There are several other applied degrees that come with impressive growth projections and favorable salaries. Students whose top two priorities are career stability and good salary should discuss their options with a career counselor ahead of time. A career counselor can suggest programs of study for students who have a specific bachelor’s degree. For students who have a degree in one field but want to enter another, a career counselor can suggest classes to take to make up for any deficits. Most individuals who have a bachelor’s degree that is related to their desired graduate program can enter a master’s program. It is important to apply and plan as far in advance as possible. It can take a month or longer to collect transcripts, complete admission steps, fill out financial aid information and meet any other program-specific requirements. For example, some students who enter medical or high-security study programs may need to pass background checks or submit letters of reference from reputable people. Also, there may be testing requirements with some graduate schools.