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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 10 Oct '19

What Are the Top-Paying Masters Degree Subjects?

There all sorts of reasons to consider postgraduate study, but improving your earnings is definitely one of them. We've looked before at whether people with a Masters earn more than people with a Bachelors (it seems that they do). I'm going to take a slightly different approach with this blog and look more closely at the postgraduate subjects with the highest starting salaries.

In order to do this properly though, we need to be really clear about what this list is based on. There's information on that at the end of the blog. Please read it. In fact, read it first.

With that said, which Masters degrees have the best earnings potential, according to the available data? Let's go through them, step by step:

10th – Architecture, Building & Planning

Median salary (one year after graduation): £30,100

It's no surprise to see that Masters degrees in Architecture, Building & Planning make our list (remember that this is a top ten for all subject areas). These are usually very professional courses with obvious career potential (in fact, they're also the second best subject for employability in general).

Courses here include Master of Architecture (MArch) degrees which will get you your RIBA Part 2 accreditation (necessary to qualify as an architect in the UK) as well as many other specialised Masters in town and country planning, conservation and construction management. You could say that there's a lot of earnings potential built into these courses. But I wouldn't. Because that would be an awful pun.

9th – Physics & Astronomy

Median salary (one year after graduation): £31,300

It feels right that Masters degrees in Physics and Astronomy are some of the highest paying. After all, this stuff literally is rocket science (OK, you try writing a blog like this without including any puns).

On a more serious note, there are a whole host of career opportunities for Physical Science postgraduates, including everything from theoretical and experimental research to applications such as quantum computing, satellite communications and, yes, rockets.

8th - Computing

Median salary (one year after graduation): £31,900

To say that Computer Science degrees are going to be in demand feels kind of obvious. I mean, they were in demand throughout the development of home computer technology, internet technology, e-commerce, videogaming. . . They'll presumably continue to be in demand during the further development of AI, machine learning and whatever comes next (machines learning how to play videogames on home computers hooked up to the internet as part of a new e-commerce business?).

This is also an area where the potential for specialisation at postgrad level is pretty clear, as proven by the fact that we list more than a thousand Masters degrees in Computer Science.

Joint 7th – Economics and Mathematical Sciences

Median salary (one year after graduation): £32,000

The only joint-placement in the list seems pretty fitting. It's presumably quite hard to do Economics without at least some recourse to Mathematics. You'd also assume that graduates from both of these subjects would be equally good at crunching the numbers and ensuring they're being paid appropriately.

Unsurprisingly, there's some overlap between Masters degrees in Economics and Masters degrees in Mathematics. Whatever you go for, it sounds like you've made a pretty good prediction (and you'd presumably know).

5th – Engineering

Median salary (one year after graduation): £33,500

Engineering produces graduates who are versatile thinkers, able to apply more theoretical scientific and technical knowledge to real-world problems. You probably already know that if you're considering a Masters degree in Engineering, but it's good to know that these skills and qualifications are professionally rewarded. Again, this is also another area where postgraduate specialisation has obvious value – and it shows.

4th – Business & Management

Median salary (one year after graduation): £34,400

The data underpinning this list includes self-employed workers, so it's no surprise to see that the subject most associated with entrepreneurship is also one of the most successful for postgraduate earnings.

Masters degrees in Business & Management also include prestigious MBA qualifications (in fact, the median earnings for just MBA graduates after one year are £58,000!).

3rd – Education & Teaching

Median salary (one year after graduation): £34,500

This one might be a little more surprising – and pleasantly so. Postgraduate qualifications in Education and Teacher Training aren't stereotypically associated with high earnings, but maybe the people who believe those stereotypes need a little more, ahem, education.

The fact is that people with teacher training qualifications such as PGCEs are obviously very employable. There's also a lot more to Masters-level study in Education than teacher training. This subject area encompasses teaching practice, theory and policy at various levels, from nursery care to, well, postgraduate study and continuing professional development.

2nd – Pharmacology, Pharmacy & Toxicology

Median salary (one year after graduation): £35,100

Careers related to medicine are typically well paid and these subjects have a broad professional focus, placing them second in our top ten (and it's no surprise what they're second to).

Masters degrees in Pharmacy (dispensing drugs and medications) and Pharmacology (the development and analysis of potential drugs and medications) lead to obvious careers in industrial science as well as work in retail pharmacies or in healthcare provision. Toxicology Masters offer a more specialised route into related careers.

1st – Medicine

Median salary (one year after graduation): £37,400

And the winner is: Medicine & Dentistry, by quite some margin. I doubt this surprises anyone – or upsets them. Unless you really, really don't like dentists.

In any case, the hard work that goes into studying medical subjects to postgraduate level seems to be well rewarded and it looks like a Masters degree in Medicine & Dentistry could leave you with a health salar. . . Nope, I'm not going to do it.

What is this information based on?

I'm glad you asked! Because the answer is important.

This blog uses the UK Government's Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data (LEO, for short) showing earnings in the 2016-17 tax year for people who graduated with a Masters level qualification (including MBAs, PGCEs, etc, but not PhDs or other doctorates) one year before. This is historical data. It shows you what people have earned with a Masters in your subject, not what you will earn with a Masters in your subject.

It also doesn't show the difference between individual courses in your subject, the impact of a graduate's background, social circumstances and personality or whether some people choose a job with a slightly lower salary because that's, you know, the thing they actually want to do with their degree.

Finally, these figures are based on UK students, graduating from UK universities and going on to work in the UK. The numbers would likely be different for people graduating and / or working in other countries.

Basically, it's real data, based on real earnings for real people, but it's not perfect and you should only use it as a rough guide.

See our guides to postgraduate employability and employer perspectives for more information.

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