Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Salary Difference Between Master’s and Ph.D. Degrees

By Xiao Lu
World Education Services

When undergraduates are thinking about studying abroad for an advanced degree in the U.S., they have two options: apply to a master’s degree or doctoral degree. Here we will talk about the differences between master’s and Ph.D. degree programs and also compare the lifetime earnings of both degrees in respective occupations.

Read more blog posts that might interest you: 
About Master’s Degrees
A master’s degree is the first level of graduate study designed to give you a solid education in a specialized field after you finish a bachelor’s degree. It usually requires one to two years of full-time study. Master’s degrees tend to be a more career-oriented program. Upon completion, graduates are expected to have advanced knowledge within 
a specialized field and have analytical, evaluation, and professional application skills. One disadvantage is that there are limited scholarships for international students who are master’s candidates in the U.S.

About Ph.D. Degrees
Ph.D. is an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy, which is a doctoral degree. Obtaining a Ph.D. degree means you have an exclusive specialty in your field. Ph.D. candidates are expected to engage in thought experiments, reason about problems, and solve problems in sophisticated ways

Students can apply for a Ph.D. program directly after completing a bachelor’s degree, while some schools also require a master’s degree before entering a Ph.D. program. The exact number of years varies from four to eight years, which highly depends on the field, the student’s research topic, and the student’s skills. A Ph.D. degree also requires students to pass comprehensive exams and a large scholarly project called a dissertation.

For international students, financial aid opportunities might be a big motivation to apply for a Ph.D. degree. Schools recognize that those trying to acquire their doctoral degree need more assistance due to the length of study.

Salary Differences Between Master’s and Ph.D. graduates

After looking at the different commitments the two degree programs require, you may also want to look at the average salaries for master’s and Ph.D. graduates. Below is an income chart from the United States Census Bureau about employee’s work-time earnings that refer to different occupations and education levels attained.
Average Work-Life Earnings After a Bachelor's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate Degree
% Difference in Doctorate/Master's Earnings
Biological Science
Computers and Math
Liberal Arts
Physical Science
Science and Engineering Related
Social Science
Visual Arts
Note: This chart is for 25-64 year olds who are working full-time, year round

Overall, the average life earnings of doctorate holders are higher than other degree holders within the same industries. However, the life earning gap between master’s and Ph.D. holders varies on different majors or fields of study. For example, in biological science occupations, a Ph.D. holder earns 27 percent more than that of a master’s holder. Whereas in some other fields, such as business, there is only a small difference of 8 percent. If you are looking for ways to improve your career, obtaining an MBA degree may be worthwhile financially as graduates receive similar work-life earning as Ph.D. graduates. But if you're looking to pursue a Ph.D. degree within a highly focused field, then 
check out the top 50 U.S. colleges with the most international graduate students.

So, consider pursuing a Ph.D. degree if you truly love your field, enjoy your studies, and want the benefits and prestige associated with the doctoral degree. If you are looking for a change in field, industry or a promotion, then getting your master’s might be enough.

Xiao Lu is a Marketing Associate at World Education Services.


  1. awesome post i really like this information..

  2. Florencia SwainJune 05, 2015

    Keep sharing more.

  3. I'm 14, very useful information. Planned engineer...

    1. You shouldn't justify what you want to do with your life based on the income that it holds over current market data. Engineering for domestic students is currently in a dive. Foreign students are coming to the states for schooling then turning to engineering where they are accepting lower wages than a lot of American workers with the same background because they relative and historical income varied vastly from those of the American middle class. Plus, US is losing its creativity in innovation and the market for engineers is slowly becoming saturated. Currently, new entrants are actually taking wage cuts from those that have nearly identical work exp history.

      I have a PhD in economics and I have seen the data for future prospects in engineering jobs and it doesn't look pretty for domestic US students.

    2. AnonymousJune 20, 2017

      I agree with your input and observation.But I think in terms of innovation, other countries are waking up to the modern-day challenges hence making it seem like the US is regressing,although you got some vital points when we compare the US with say China or India. But I think regulations are also a large hindrance.Not necessary international graduates taking up low income jobs...

      Obtaining a degree or Doctorate in the US do cost money...The writer may have this in mind, that is why I guess the monetary value attachment she made in choosing what program to via into.

      Anyway, what do I know? I am just an observer.

  4. If I can only find a job making $53,000...great for MA Degrees....where can I work?

  5. The top economic phd programs are higher than other degree holders within the same industries. However, the life earning gap between Master’s and Ph.D. holders varies on different majors or fields of study.

  6. Hello Sir,
    I have done my master's from india's top most college and working in Dubai as a Software engineer what should i do?
    Should i apply for Phd or MS ?
    Actuall my area of intrest is bigdata.


  7. Because not all of us are made to be literary of academic geniuses who can come up with a respectable paper in a matter of days, you can make up for it in effort, organization and putting in a lot of time to writing your thesis. See more here dissertation for MBA


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