Getting the Most Bang for Your Graduate School Bucks
Graduate school is all about lots of work, little sleep, and often tight budgets. But after years of ramen and roommates, you’ll graduate with an advanced degree and likely some student loan debt as well. Fortunately, new data from SoFi reveals that your extra work really can lead to increased earning power —and the ability to pay down your debt faster.
Here are the top five degrees that promise to pay you back with salaries that make up for all those late nights and arduous study group meetings:
1. Medical Degree
Finishing medical school is a herculean feat, but the hard work pays off. Five years after graduation, M.D.s and D.O.s earn an average annual salary of $230,000—70% more than when they first started their careers, according to SoFi data.
Average loan debt in the first five to 10 years: $232,000
Earning even bigger bucks, though, mostly depends on your specialty. Here are the annual salaries of the top three highest-paying physician jobs, according to Medscape’s 2015 Physician Compensation Report:
- -Orthopedists: $421,000
- -Cardiologists: $376,000
- -Gastroenterologists: $370,000
Regardless of specialty, there are other ways docs can boost their income in the first five to 10 years, including reviewing insurance claims, offering telemedicine (delivery of healthcare remotely), implementing concierge services (enhanced care whereby patients pay a retainer to receive longer visits and faster care), and becoming an expert witness.
Location can affect your paycheck, so exploring cities where physician income is above average, but the cost of living is not, can work to your benefit. For example, doctors in Alabama earn an average of $296,000 per year—nearly 5% above the national average—but the cost of living there is 10% less than the rest of the country as a whole.
2. Dental Degree
If you’re after a nice paycheck, then earning a D.D.S. or D.M.D. can give you something to smile about. Dentists earn an average of $200,000 per year in the first five to 10 years of their careers, according to SoFi data. Plus, their salaries grow by more than 33% in that first decade of work.
Average loan debt in the first five to 10 years: : $236,000
Like doctors, dentists’ salaries vary widely, depending on specialty. These specialties require more training, but PayScale reports reveal the potential for total annual pay that justifies the extra time:
In addition to raising fees or finding ways to attract more patients, there are less resource-intensive ways to bring in more income. For example, you can add services, such as teeth whitening, or sell products, including electric toothbrushes.
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Lucrative locales If you like mountains, fishing, and potatoes, you might be happy working in Idaho, the state that offers the highest median wage for dentists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Oregon, Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina round out the top five states where dentists earn the most.
3. Law Degree
There’s been a lot of law school bashing in the past few years, as new lawyers struggle to land positions — and question the value of their expensive degrees. But for those who find jobs, the industry can be incredibly rewarding. Lawyers with five years under their belts can earn an average annual salary of $126,000, according to SoFi data.
Average loan debt in the first five to 10 years: $122,000
When it comes to income, not all law practices are created equal. Here are the median mid-career salaries (not including profit sharing) of the top-paying legal specialties, according to PayScale:
The best way to make more money as a lawyer is to earn partner status. This typically takes seven to 10 years and involves long hours, but if you succeed, you’ll have the paycheck to show for it. Law firm partners earn a median salary of $176,000, according to PayScale. Figure in bonuses and profit sharing, and you can easily double that amount—and often earn exponentially more.
The best spots for attorneys have veered from the traditional metro magnets of Los Angeles and New York. The National Jurist recently ranked cities based on median salary, cost of living, and other factors, such as demand for legal jobs and social scene. The top spots for young lawyers are Dallas, Boston, Seattle, Denver, and Washington, D.C.
4. Pharmacy Degree
Whether you’re a pharmacist working in retail, a hospital, or for a pharmaceutical company, you have a lot of job opportunities and the potential for a nice salary. Pharmacists five years into their careers earn an annual average of $125,000, according to SoFi data.
Average loan debt in the first five to 10 years: $112,000
How much you earn as a pharmacist depends largely on the industry in which you work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists in the following fields earn the highest average annual salaries:
- -Scientific research and drug development: $137,000
- -Physician’s offices: $133,000
- -Outpatient care centers: $127,000
From working at a local poison control center to providing consulting and medication therapy management services, pharmacists are finding creative ways to increase their income during their off hours.
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Unsurprisingly, pharmacists are in high demand in cities with rapidly growing elderly populations. In 2015, Drug Topics magazine named Huntington, West Virginia; Stockton and Modesto, California; and Sebastian, Florida, as the top paying towns for pharmacists.
The most versatile of the top-earning degrees, an MBA can help you land an upper management position, start your own company, or transition to a whole new industry. In general, early-to-mid career MBA holders earn an average of $121,000 a year, and typically experience double-digit salary growth in the first decade of their career, according to SoFi data.
Average loan debt in the first five to 10 years: $69,000
Your concentration within your degree is the best indicator of what you can earn once you graduate. PayScale’s latest College Salary Report indicates that mid-career (10+ years) pay is highest for these MBA majors:
- -Strategy: $148,000
- -General and strategic management: $144,000
- -Finance and real estate: $143,000
If you’ve got an MBA, you’ve got a lot of options for making bank. You can transfer into a high-growth industry, such as tech or management consulting with a large firm, such as Accenture,Bain & Company or EY (just to name a few); add a technical certification, such as a C.F.A., to make yourself even more valuable; or look for an opportunity to join a promising startup, which might offer equity shares as part of your employment.
While an MBA can get you hired in many places, states with big employers provide especially great opportunities. Of the top 10 MBA employers, three are headquartered in California, and three are in New York.
Your graduate degree gives you a distinct earning advantage. Visit our Career Coaching page for resources and guidance to help you excel even more. In addition, discover whether refinancing your graduate school debt can help you keep more of your well-deserved salary.