Which postgraduate degrees are the most valuable?

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Photo by Drew Hays

After spending a few years working in any industry, a curious thought will pass through the minds of most young adults. They will wonder about their professional development, their current job, and how satisfied they are with the work they are doing. Some of them, inevitably, decide that they are unsatisfied and switch careers. Some stick their course. Others think about going back to school.

Postgraduate courses and master’s programs are a popular path for individuals facing this crossroad in adulthood. They can be a great help for those transitioning between different career paths. For some professions, a master’s degree will go a long way in ensuring promotions and opening more opportunities for professional advancement.

However, not all postgraduate and master’s programs are the same. Often, they are expensive life decisions that require years’ worth of dedication. Not to mention that not everyone can apply for these programs. Many top universities in the Philippines require a bachelor’s degree, written recommendations from previous professors or experts in the specific field of study, and an official transcript of records with a high enough grade point average (GPA) to be chosen for admission.

Before you make the investment, you should consider the benefits of your chosen program as some degrees are much more valuable than others.

Online compensation Web site PayScale tried to find out the most and least valuable master’s degrees for jobs in the long term. As a professional compensation database, PayScale created a sophisticated ranking that takes into account seven factors in determining value: early career pay (median pay for workers with zero to five years’ experience), mid-career pay (pay among workers with 10 or more years’ experience), pay growth, job satisfaction, job stress, job meaning and job-market projections from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. PayScale weighs those factors equally to create an overall rating for each degree.

Drawing information from 145,536 salary profiles, PayScale created two lists that capture the 45 best and worst degrees in 2017. While this data reflects that of the US workplace, it is still important to take note of which degrees are the most valuable internationally, especially if you are looking for an opportunity to work abroad.

Number one on this list is biomedical engineering or bioengineering, which the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as a field which “combine engineering principles with medical and biological sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in health care.”

PayScale data shows that, among those with biomedical engineering master’s degrees, compensation could rise from $70,200 at the early-career stage to $129,300 by mid-career, a pay growth of 84%.

Computer science, which is described as a field that “invents and designs new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology” and “studies and solves complex problems in computing for business, medicine, science and other fields”, ranks second in PayScale’s list. Computer scientists that start their careers at $86,500 a year may see a jump to $125,900 in a few years, a growth of 45%.

A master’s degree in physics comes in third. Physicists, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact.” At the early-career stage, physicists may earn up to $68,200 a year and may expect to see an 83% pay growth to $124,800 a year when they get ten or more years of experience under their belt.

Ranked four and five on Payscale’s list of most valuable master’s degrees are corporate finance and general strategic management. Corporate financial analysts provide “guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions,” and “assess the performance of stocks, bonds and other types of investments.” Meanwhile, general strategic management degree holders are best suited to “formulating policies, managing daily operations, and planning the use of materials and human resources.”

Corporate finance degree holders may see early careers start at $78,500 a year, with an 82% jump in pay to $142,900 down the line. For those with a master’s degree in general strategic management, an early career of $84,800 a year can see an 82% pay growth to $154,400 mid-career.

Master’s degrees in mathematics, management information systems, statistics, financial management and applied mathematics also received top spots on PayScale’s list.

The least valuable master’s degrees tend to be in those fields where on-the-job experience counts more than academic accomplishment, and degree holders may see their pay grow at a much slower rate compared to those with degrees on the best degrees list. According to PayScale, a postgraduate in graphic design can only net a 33% increase in pay, from $51,800 early-career to $68,800 mid-career.

Other master’s degrees that fall in the bottom ranks include interior design, early childhood education, writing, pastoral ministry and art history, with pay growth rates going as low as 18% to 45%. Mid-career salaries of such degree holders range from $46,600 a year to $70,000 a year. Bjorn Biel M. Beltran