The Least & Most Useful Graduate Degrees For Making A Lot Of Dough

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 25: Erin Barley-Maloney of the New York Riveters of the National Womens Hockey League works on her homework from the Parsons School of Design the morning of her game on October 25, 2015 in Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Wait just a minute before you sign the orientation papers: while we know that education is an invaluable part of life, a new study has determined the most and least useful graduate degrees, and it's something worth noting before you hit the books once again. In this context, the term "useful" refers to how lucrative and/or sustainable a career in that given field would be. In theory, education for education's sake is the most crucial thing of all, but realistically, we must measure and weigh the realities of where another degree will take us (or leave us stranded). 

Fortune recently commissioned PayScale to determine which grad degrees (MAs and PhDs) were the least and most valuable, and they did so based on four factors: 

1. Long-term potential for job growth.
2. Median pay at mid-career or 10 years experience.
3. Job satisfaction.
4. Stress level. 

They tried to evaluate the fields fairly and holistically, weighing quantitative details like income versus job satisfaction (which is important, given that a lot of money isn't usually worth a miserable life). 

The research was fairly unsurprising, if we're being honest: STEM degrees were the most useful, with grads finding high-paying, low-stress jobs fairly easily. Degrees in fields such as biostatistics, computer science and economics trumped the top of the list, while careers in the fields of arts, divinity and education were at the bottom. While a master’s in biostatistics comes with a median salary of $105,900, a master’s in early childhood education is $48,700. 

While the issue of whether or not the arts are valued as much as they should be is always up for speculation, we must also recognize that though the degrees/fields at the bottom of the list make the least money, they are often the things people feel most profoundly called toward. Vocations such as teaching, working with children, working in ministry, and so on, are usually associated with a sense of intrinsic reward. The proof is in the pudding, too: 83 percent of those with master’s degrees in early childhood education were highly satisfied with their jobs, as were 87 percent of those with a master’s in reading and literacy, and a full 95 percent of those with a degree in pastoral ministry.

The reason why this is an important conversation to have is simple: it's not about discouraging people from their dreams; it's about being more realistic regarding loans, salaries and job trajectories so you can better facilitate your dreams while maintaining a decent quality of life. Check out the top of the list below: 

Most useful:

M.A., Biostatistics
M.A., Statistics
Ph.D., Computer Science
Ph.D., Economics
M.A., Applied Mathematics

Least useful:

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
M.A., Early Childhood Education
Master of Divinity (MDiv) tied with M.A., Elementary Education
M.A., Reading and Literacy
M.A., Theology

Image: Giphy (1); 

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