Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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

By Xiao LuWorld 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 life-time earnings of both degrees in respective occupations.

Read more blog posts that might interest you: 
What are 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 1-2 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.

What are 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 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 4-8 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 requires, 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. While 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 a 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 currently a Marketing Associate with the WES Student Advisor team. With a passion in both marketing and research, she is managing WES Student Advisor social media accounts in an analytical and strategic way. Xiao was once an international student from China herself and holds a Master in Marketing Intelligence from Fordham University. She now enjoys her travel and life in the U.S.


  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...

  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.


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