A doctoral degree (PhD) is the highest degree you can earn in a particular field, but the education won’t come easy. On average, doctoral candidates dedicate seven to ten years of their life earning a doctorate after completing undergraduate work. However, the earning potential varies greatly depending on the discipline.
Some of the most lucrative PhDs offer six-figure early career salaries, while mid-career salaries (based on 10+ years of work experience in the field) exceed $130,000 per year.
To find out which doctoral degrees have the best earning potential, we looked at PayScale’s College Salary Report for 2016-2017, which included a list of the highest paying doctoral majors based on alumni salary. We listed the top 10 best doctoral degrees in increasing order based on mid-career salaries. The degree in our #1 spot offers the highest salary potential based on ten or more years of experience working in the field.
Below are the 10 best doctoral degrees by salary.
#10 – PhD in Statistics
Early Career Salary: $105,000
Mid-Career Salary: $131,000
Statisticians help solve problems in businesses, healthcare industries, and organizations by collecting and analyzing data through statistical methods. Careers as statisticians requires a master’s degree and beyond. Earning a doctoral degree in statistics sets you above the competition and offers a high earning potential. Also, the job outlook for statisticians is extremely favorable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the projected growth rate is expected to increase by 34%, which is well above the national average. Industries employing statisticians include the federal government, financial institutions, and scientific research and development services. A PhD is required for most research positions.
#9 – PhD in Biomedical Engineering
Early Career Salary: $88,100
Mid-Career Salary: $133,000
Biomedical engineering has become a popular field of interdisciplinary research. This field is constantly evolving and requires experts well versed in life sciences, computational methods, and theory. Earning a PhD in biomedical engineering opens the door to research opportunities in a wide range of fields. Most biomedical engineers work in hospitals, manufacturing, research facilities, and universities. A doctoral degree is required for most research opportunities, especially at university settings. The job outlook is favorable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate will increase by as much as 23% over the next seven years. Both early and mid-career salaries are also on the rise.
#8 – PhD in Physics
Early Career Salary: $93,700
Mid-Career Salary: $135,000
Physicists usually require a PhD for careers in academia and research. This high-paying doctoral degree leads to jobs as research advisors, lead physicists, or physics professors. After receiving a PhD, many degree candidates begin their careers in academia as postdoctoral researchers. Employment of physicists is projected to increase 7% between now and the year 2024, about as fast as the national average for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports approximately 1,500 new jobs added to the 20,000 existing jobs over the next several years. This specialized doctoral degree offers one of the highest mid-career salaries on our list.
#7 – PhD in Engineering
Early Career Salary: $93,600
Mid-Career Salary: $137,000
A PhD in engineering is the highest degree offered in the field. While a doctoral degree is not required in many areas of engineering, research opportunities are only awarded to doctoral candidates and graduates. The degree offers several areas for independent research, such as chemical engineering, computer engineering, materials science, and mechanics. Some schools offer a general degree track instead of focusing on a particular specialty. Jobs for PhD candidates include director of engineering roles, engineering technicians, and project managers. On average, the expected growth rate for engineering jobs over the next seven years is 5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
#6 – PhD in Physical Chemistry
Early Career Salary: $73,600
Mid-Career Salary: $138,000
According to the American Chemical Society, physical chemistry is the study of how matter behaves on both a molecular and atomic level. It is also the study of how chemical reactions occur. Most physical chemists work in laboratories and research facilities. These research opportunities require the highest degree possible in the field. Earning a PhD in physical chemistry provides ideal training for high-tech and materials science careers that pay extremely well. While the job growth is below average for physical chemists, the median annual wage puts this doctoral degree in the middle of our list of high-paying PhDs.
#5 – PhD in Pharmacology
Early Career Salary: $75,400
Mid-Career Salary: $141,000
A PhD in pharmacology lays the groundwork for a career as a researcher or pharmacist in various health organizations. PhD programs offer rigorous training in the study of drugs and chemicals on living organisms. These programs build on biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, neuroscience, and physiology disciplines, preparing degree candidates as experts in their research. While the mid-career salary is high, entry-level pay can be average depending on work location. For instance, grocery store pharmacists may earn a lower salary than an entry-level research pharmacist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for pharmacists is expected to be 3%, which is slower than the 7% average growth rate.
#4 – PhD Electrical Engineering
Early Career Salary: $103,000
Mid-Career Salary: $144,000
Advances in electrical engineering are seen in everyday life. One hundred years ago, the radio offered entertainment and fifty years later, the television replaced it. These innovations and advancements require electrical engineering. Earning a PhD in electrical engineering opens the door to research and invention career paths in fields that offer steady growth such as aviation, computing, manufacturing, and transportation. Career advancement often requires further education and training. Most team leaders holding supervisory positions have advanced degrees like a PhD in electrical engineering.
#3 – PhD in Computer Science
Early Career Salary: $118,000
Mid-Career Salary: $145,000
A PhD in computer science allows students to become experts within a technical subfield of computer science. Applicants to this type of doctoral degree program should have obtained a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science or show evidence of preparation in related subjects. Most computer research scientist roles require a PhD. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job outlook for computer scientists is expected to increase by 11% through the year 2024 (4% faster than the national average). Both academic and non-academic careers are accessible to PhD graduates of computer science. Non-academic jobs include computer hardware engineers, information research scientists, or other specialists on multidisciplinary projects like data mining, programming, or robotics.
#2 – PhD in Organic Chemistry
Early Career Salary: $83,400
Mid-Career Salary: $146,000
The mid-career salary for a PhD in organic chemistry is tied with chemical engineering, although the early career salary is lower. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment change is steady, but the job outlook through 2024 is only 3% (slower than the 7% average). Most organic chemistry doctoral candidates pursue jobs in research and find themselves leading research teams, while some find teaching jobs in colleges and universities. Advanced research jobs require PhDs in organic chemistry from accredited institutions with programs approved by the American Chemical Society.
#1 – PhD in Chemical Engineering
Early Career Salary: $96,100
Mid-Career Salary: $146,000
Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that combines physical sciences like chemistry and physics, life sciences like biochemistry and microbiology, and mathematics to solve problems in the use of chemicals, drugs, food, or fuel. Chemical engineering PhD programs are designed to equip engineering professionals with expert knowledge of the field’s core fundamentals and current research practices and findings. In recent years, chemical engineering has been recognized as the best doctoral degree by salary–offering steady job growth and high early career and mid-career salaries. Chemical engineers often work in biotechnology and business services as researchers.
The best doctoral degree on our list for salary potential is a PhD in chemical engineering.