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10 Highest Paying PhD Degrees

An image of a girl studying that accompanies our article on highest paying phd degreesWhat are the highest paying Ph.D. degrees? Some of the answers might surprise you. For this ranking we only considered the highest paying Ph.D./ Doctoral level programs. This means you won’t find lawyers or doctors on this list, because M.D. and law degrees are different from Ph.D.s; while you can earn a Ph.D. in law, it’s not required in order to work in any position at the highest-paying levels of the field. There are, however, areas of the medical field that don’t require M.D. degrees and instead require other kinds of doctoral degrees; these areas were included. For this ranking, we looked at the median earnings of the top 10% of wage earners in each field associated with the Ph.D. in question. While the ranking includes information about job growth rate and the number of jobs projected to be added over the next ten years, the top 10% salary is the only determining factor when deciding the position of each Ph.D. in the ranking. We hope this ranking of the top ten highest paying Ph.D. degrees will help you determine whether or not earning a Ph.D. in one of these fields is the right step for your career.

Detailing the Highest Paying Doctorate Degrees

#1. Ph.D. in Computer Science

You will often find computer science Ph.D. holders working in cutting-edge computer science research in artificial intelligence, data science, quantum computing, cryptography, programming languages, and robotics. Most people are aware of programmers and roughly what their job entails. Computer science researchers create the languages that programmers use to develop applications. At the core, computer science researchers tend to be devoted to understanding how to solve very specific, complex problems that involving technology and how we use it to automate tasks. You can find high-level computer science researchers running their own companies, working for the government in a variety of contexts, working for private corporations, and teaching and conducting research at just about every major university in the United States. In many cases, they do more than one of those things at the same time.

  • Top 10% Salary: $189,780
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 16%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 5,200

#2. Ph.D. in Economics

Economics is one of the most ambitious fields of study. It attempts to combine the elements of behavioral science, statistics and probability, game theory, and ethics to understand human behavior, make predictions about market trends, and make recommendations about economic policy in order to solve economic problems. It’s not an easy job. Most of economics involves analyzing historical economics and using that information to create theories which explain the observed behavior, devising experiments to determine whether or not such behavior is reproducible, factoring in issues of cultural differences, and overall, attempting to determine what actions the government can take or not take to improve the economic well-being of society and the individual. Most economists focus on one specific area of economics and collaborate with people who focus on other areas, because the subject is too big for one person to study broadly.

  • Top 10% Salary: $185,020
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 8%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 1,700

#3. Ph.D. in Nursing

Nursing as a field has continued to grow and expand greatly over the past century or so since modern nursing practices were first established. The two highest-paid types of nurses are nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. Nurse practitioners serve as primary care providers and are very similar in the way they function to doctors. They assess patients, develop treatments, prescribe medications, and order labs, all while working independently. Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia for surgical procedures, and provide patient care at all stages of the surgical process, essentially functioning the same as an anesthesiologist. Other nursing Ph.D. holders work in academia and other areas of the medical field as nurse educators.

  • Top 10% Salary: $184,180
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 26%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 62,000

#4. Ph.D. in Pharmacology (Doctor of Pharmacy)

It’s not easy to become a pharmacist. Once you earn your Ph.D., you have to pass the state licensure and law exams. It’s also not a commonly available degree. Out of over 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States, there were only 128 fully accredited Pharm.D. programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. It’s incredibly important to ensure you attend an accredited Pharm.D. program. The Ph.D. typically takes 4 years to finish. However, there are some highly-focused programs that allow high school graduates to earn their bachelor’s and graduate degree/degrees in about six years of intensive full-time study. The most common employers of pharmacists are pharmacies and hospitals, and grocery/retail stores with pharmacies attached or pharmaceuticals departments.

  • Top 10% Salary: $162,900
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 0%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: -100

#5. Chemistry Ph.D.

At its core, chemistry is the study of the substances that make up the world around us. Chemists study, particularly, the interactions of those substances. There are different areas of specialization within chemistry, usually focusing on a specific kind of material or specific applications of materials. These include analytical chemists, forensic chemists, inorganic chemists, medicinal chemists, organic chemists, physical chemists, and theoretical chemists. The work chemists do has an incredible impact on our society, as it is their experimental research that leads to the development of everything from plastics to medicines to pollution control technologies.

  • Top 10% Salary: $157,780
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 4%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 3,500

#6. Ph.D. in Physics

Most high-level physics jobs are in research, whether in an academic, corporate, or government setting. In many cases, physics research impacts all three of those sectors on some level. In most cases, the practical implications of physics research aren’t clear until years, sometimes decades, or even centuries later. In the case of theoretical physics, it can take decades just to develop the technology required to perform the experiments to test a hypothesis. One of the best examples of the nature of the study of physics is gravity. Sir Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity centuries ago. And still to this day, little is known about this force. We know it exists, and a little bit about the effects it has on earth and in our solar system. But we know very little about what gravity is, and how and why it works the way it does. There are certainly more concrete areas of physics to focus on than theoretical physics, however. Medical physicists, for instance, tend to work in healthcare, using physics to develop new medical technologies. These technologies vary from radiation therapies to imaging technologies.

  • Top 10% Salary: $148,110
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate:
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth:

#7. Engineering Ph.D.

Engineering is certainly one of the highest-paying fields in the world, currently. However in order to prevent this ranking from featuring six or seven engineering degrees, we found data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that combined the relevant numbers for all engineering fields. The five highest-paying engineering specialties are petroleum engineers, computer hardware engineers, aerospace engineers, nuclear engineers, and electronics engineers. People holding an engineering Ph.D. will often be found working at the top levels of the field in research, consulting, and in executive R&D positions.

  • Top 10% Salary: $147,000
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 8%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 139,300

#8. Mathematics/Statistics Ph.D.

Mathematicians and statisticians work in an incredibly broad range of fields. Of course, many work in academia, developing new mathematical theories, conducting research, and building upon the work of mathematicians past. But you will also find them in finance, on Wall Street, working on high end computer and artificial intelligence research, cryptography, economics, behavioral sciences, and in the data analysis actuarial sciences and risk assessment.

  • Top 10% Salary: $146,770
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 30%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 14,400

#9. Ph.D. in Immunology

Immunologists are a highly specialized and focused subset of microbiologists. The salary and job growth rate data we used from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is for microbiologists as a whole, as there is no separate category for immunologists specifically. Immunologists focus on the area of microbiology having to do with human immune systems and their interactions with various microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Immunologists work primarily in research, often in the development of vaccines. Some immunologists also hold medical degrees, but it is only necessary to have both in very specific situations.

  • Top 10% Salary: $134,000
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 5%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 1,100

#10. Ph.D. in Psychology

Psychology is a broad field encompassing areas like clinical psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, rehabilitation psychology, and school psychology. Psychologists, even those who work in academia, tend to specialize and have practiced, and now teach and conduct research in one of these areas of psychology. The vast majority of psychologists are clinical psychologists, making up 162,000 out of 181,700 psychologists. Clinical psychologists are responsible for the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders. Clinical psychologists are only permitted to prescribe medication in Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico. In all other states, they tend to work closely with medical professionals to determine appropriate treatment for patients.

  • Top 10% Salary: $132,070
  • 2018-2028 Projected Job Growth Rate: 14%
  • 2018-2028 Job Number Projected Growth: 26,100

FAQ on Highest Paying Doctorates

When is a good time to earn my Ph.D.?

The best answer to this question is when it makes the most sense for you. In many cases, rushing straight through undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs is not the best course of action. It’s often better to earn your master’s or Ph.D. once you have some experience in your field. This is because in many cases, doctoral education is highly individualized. Your learning at this point is mostly driven by where your interests lie, and your research will be determined by questions you want to answer or problems you want to solve. And in many cases, it takes time spent working in a profession for you to determine where your interests lie and what those questions or problems are. For instance, almost every job in engineering can be done by somebody with a master’s degree. Deciding to earn a Ph.D. in engineering should be driven by a specific need or interest.

There are, of course, exceptions, including some of the fields featured in this ranking. Theoretical physicists, economists, and mathematicians, for instance, do highly theoretical work, and the academic setting tends to be the main place they can work to support themselves while conducting their research. Psychologists will often find they want or need a Ph.D. in order to open their own practice.

Does the school I attend for my Ph.D. matter?

It depends. When applying for highly competitive research positions in areas like computer science, physics, economics, or other sciences, a Ph.D. from Stanford or MIT might get you a lot farther than a Ph.D. from a less prestigious school. However, other factors also matter. The quality of your published work, your professional accomplishments, and your aptitude all factor in as well.

For professions like engineering, nursing, and psychology, the quality of the program is still important but the prestige of your university is less of an issue.

How do I pay for my Ph.D.?

There are, generally speaking, three main ways to pay for your Ph.D. program. The first is that the corporation or organization you work for might pay for it. Most companies have tuition assistance programs designed to help employees with the cost of professional development, including earning advanced degrees, especially if the organization you’re working with is conducting research.

The second is to teach at the university where you are earning your degree. Ph.D. students are often also professors. In many cases, this allows them to earn money by teaching while also earning their Ph.D. for either greatly reduced tuition or for free. This is how most people who plan to teach and conduct research in academia pay for their Ph.D. programs.

The third is to pay for it through a combination of institutional and federal financial aid, loans, and out of your own pocket.

Can I do my Ph.D. online?

It depends on the field in which you’re earning your degree. Online Ph.D. programs are pretty rare. They are almost nonexistent in the sciences because earning your Ph.D. in a scientific discipline often requires access to laboratories and specialized equipment in order to conduct your research and practice procedures. Ph.D. programs are more difficult to adapt to the online format because of how highly individualized they tend to be, requiring close collaboration with your advisor. This is one of the reasons they are so rarely offered online. However, online Ph.D. programs are becoming more and more common as colleges and universities find ways to harness technology to solve some of these problems. So if an online Ph.D. is something that interests you, definitely investigate your options thoroughly and you might find one that suits your needs.


Bureau of Labor Statistics Page

Related to Highest Paying PhD:

CVO Staff

This concludes our ranking of the ten highest paying PhD degrees.

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