The highest possible degree you can get in any field is a doctorate or a PhD. Obtaining a doctoral degree can help to greatly further your career, but unfortunately, PhDs aren’t always that easy to earn. The average time a doctoral candidate spends to receive their PhD is anywhere from seven to ten years, and during this time, it also becomes a balancing act.
However, if you manage to earn your PhD, you stand to increase your salary by a significant amount. Chances are, you might also find more opportunities in the future.
The best doctorate degrees are always the ones that you’re passionate about. But, if you find yourself asking, “what should I get my PhD in?,” this list of the highest paying PhDs might just help you out if you’re looking to have a lucrative career.
If you’re trying to figure out the best-paid PhD, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 fields with the highest earning potential.
Here are some quick facts:
The PhD with the highest mid-career salary is in Chemical Engineering, with an average salary of $146,000. This field also has a pretty good early career, with the average salary sitting at $96,100.
When it comes to the highest early career earnings, a PhD in Computer Science is your best bet since the average salary is $118,000. This field also has one of the highest $145,000.
It’s worth noting that your earning potential in any given field can also depend on your location. For example, a doctorate in computer science might earn you more money in San Francisco or other similar tech hubs.
Top 10 Highest Paying PhD Degrees
The salary figures depicted in this article were taken from PayScale, based on data of those with PhDs.
Salary in Early Career: $105,000
Salary in Mid Career: $131,000
Statisticians collect and analyze data via various statistical methods. They help various businesses, organizations, and even the healthcare industry collect and interpret data so they can solve problems, strategize, and plan ahead.
If you want a career as a statistician, you’ll need to have an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree at a minimum. Having a PhD in Statistics can help increase your earning potential by giving you an advantage over your peers.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) has the job outlook for mathematicians and statisticians growing by a projected 33% rate throughout 2020-2030. According to their website, this is a much faster growth rate than the average growth other fields are experiencing. It appears that statistics qualifies for the most in-demand PhD degree — on this list, at least.
9) Biomedical Engineering
Salary in Early Career: $88,100
Salary in Mid Career: $133,000
In simple terms, biomedical engineering is the fusion of engineering, medicine, and biology. In particular, in this field, problem-solving techniques and principles used by engineering are applied to the fields of biology and medicine for healthcare. It’s an interdisciplinary field that is growing in popularity over time.
Biomedical engineering is continually evolving thanks to the constant pursuit of knowledge. Because of this, the field continues to grow and can always use people who know theory and are well versed in the life sciences.
Getting a PhD in this field can open up opportunities to you in a variety of areas. You can work in research, at universities, in manufacturing, and even in hospitals. A doctorate is required if you want to work in research or at universities.
The BLS states that jobs in the biomedical engineering field are projected to grow at a 6% rate over the following seven years.
Salary in Early Career: $93,700
Salary in Mid Career: $133,000
If you’re interested in becoming a physicist, you’ll definitely need a PhD. Most careers for physicists, particularly in research and academia, require you to have a doctoral degree in the field. You can become a research advisor, a physics professor, a (lead) physicist, or a researcher.
According to the BLS, the job outlook for physicists is looking good. The projections are positive, sitting at a 7% increase until 2024, and this rate is on par with the average national growth rate for most occupations.
Salary in Early Career: $93,600
Salary in Mid Career: $137,000
The world always needs engineers. However, a doctoral degree is not always necessary if you want to work as an engineer — unless, of course, you want to work in research. Research opportunities in the engineering field are only given to PhD candidates or graduates.
You can choose to go for a general track or a specialty such as materials science, mechanical engineering, computer engineering, and chemical engineering. If you have a PhD in engineering, you can take positions like project manager, engineering director, and specialty positions like aerospace engineer or chemical engineer.
6) Physical Chemistry
Salary in Early Career: $73,600
Salary in Mid Career: $138,000
Although the early career salary for PhD graduates of physical chemistry is one of the lowest on this list, it ramps up and is one of the highest-earning on this list in the mid-career.
But what exactly is physical chemistry?
Physical chemistry is a branch of chemistry that applies the theories and techniques of physics to chemical systems (or the study thereof). It’s the study of the behavior of matter on the atomic and molecular levels. Alongside this, physical chemistry is also the study of chemical reactions.
As a physical chemist, you’ll most likely work in labs and research facilities. These research opportunities are awarded only to those with PhDs, and a PhD can also open the door for even more lucrative careers in high-tech or materials science.
The job growth and outlook for physical chemists are below average. However, the average annual wage makes it one of the most profitable ones.
Salary in Early Career: $75,400
Salary in Mid Career: $141,000
Pharmacology is the study of drugs and drug actions, or how drugs work within the body. It’s a branch of biology, medicine, and the pharmaceutical sciences. Having a PhD in pharmacology can help you find careers in research.
PhD programs in this field often build upon other areas, such as biochemistry, molecular bio, cell bio, physiology, and neuroscience. Depending on the track you choose, you can become a researcher in a particular field.
Pharmacology can also lead you into a career as a pharmacist.
The average early career wages for pharmacists is low because it can depend on location or position. For example, pharmacists who work at grocery stores or drug stores often earn less than their entry-level researcher counterparts.
If you have a PhD in electrical engineering, you stand to earn quite a good amount of money. Electrical engineering has one of the highest average early-career salaries and one of the highest mid-career to boot.
Electrical Engineering is the application and study of mathematics and physics combined with electromagnetism, electronics, and electricity. This discipline deals with the research and design of systems, equipment, and devices that use electricity. The results of electrical engineering are seen in day-to-day life. The advances humanity has made in the field have resulted in modern-day staples like the radio and the television.
A doctorate in engineering can help you go into research. If you are more of an idea generator, you can pursue a career in invention and product development. This discipline had plenty of opportunities in various fields such as transportation, computing, manufacturing, and aviation.
3) Computer Science
Salary in Early Career: $118,000
Salary in Mid Career: $145,000
Computer Science is one of the highest-paying fields, both in early and mid-career salary averages. A doctorate in this field allows graduates to become experts in certain computer science subfields. If you want to get a PhD in this field, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree or a master’s in computer science.
If you choose to research in this field, you’ll need a doctorate to qualify for research opportunities. You can also find non-academic careers as an information research scientist, a hardware engineer, programming, and even robotics.
The job outlook for this field is expected to grow by 22% until 2030, making it one of the best and most in-demand PhDs on this list.
2) Organic Chemistry
Salary in Early Career: $83,400
Salary in Mid Career: $146,000
Organic chemistry shares a spot with #1 for the highest-paying PhD, at least for mid-career salaries. However, early wages are lower, which earns this field its #2 spot on this list.
If you want to pursue a career in organic chemistry, earning a PhD in this field can get you a research position, and you may even find yourself leading a research team. However, to qualify for advanced research positions, you’ll need a PhD in the field from an accredited institution whose programs are approved by the ACS or the American Chemical Society.
You may also find jobs in academia as a professor.
1) Chemical Engineering
Salary in Early Career: $96,100
Salary in Mid Career: $146,000
Sitting at number one on this list is chemical engineering. This branch of engineering combines various fields into one, and you’ll see physics, chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, and math. This interdisciplinary field helps solve problems related to fuel, food, chemicals, or drugs.
If you earn a PhD in chemical engineering, you may find yourself prepared with expert-level knowledge of the current research findings, practices, and the core fundamentals of the field. After you graduate, you may find opportunities in research and academia and find jobs in areas like biotechnology.
Paying for Your PhD
One obstacle that many doctoral candidates run into is the cost of earning a PhD. If you find yourself wondering how you can afford to pay for your PhD, there are a few common ways you can ease the financial load.
Student loans – Many PhD candidates take out student loans to help them afford the tuition and living expenses while working on their doctorate full (or even part) time. You can choose to take out a loan for the full tuition plus living costs, or you can take a smaller loan to cover only a part of the expenses.
Scholarships, grants, and fellowships – Savvy PhD candidates seek out scholarships, grants, and fellowship opportunities to help them pay off their tuition and living expenses more easily.
Seek financial support from your employer – Some employers help support their employees’ education by offering partial or full scholarships as they seek higher education. This option may not always be possible, of course, as it depends on the field you are pursuing and whether it has any relation to your current place of employment.
Teach where you are studying – One of the most common ways doctoral students earn extra financial support for their studies is through teaching — particularly at the school in which they are studying. Teaching can help students cut down on tuition costs as many educational institutions may offer lower rates for their studies. Some colleges and universities will even offer teaching assistant positions that offer flexibility and enough compensation to cover part of the tuition costs.