A master's degree takes at least two years of full-time study to complete, in addition to the four years of undergraduate study required to enter a graduate program. The effort is worth it to earn an advanced degree, as graduate degrees yield median annual salaries of $67,600, compared to $55,432 for undergraduate degrees. The most lucrative master's degree pays even more.
The most lucrative master's degree is computer science, which paid an average starting salary of $73,700 per year as of 2012, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The lowest-earning quartile made less than $58,200, while pay for the highest-earning quartile exceeded $84,000. Other lucrative graduate degrees include business administration at a mean salary of $69,200, mechanical engineering at a mean salary of $66,800, and electrical and communications engineering at a mean salary of $66,100.
The top-paying position for those with a master's in computer science belongs to computer and information system managers, with starting salaries of $90,700 per year, and top performers averaging $129,130 annually. These managers, also called information technology managers, handle the information resources of their organizations. They analyze data processing needs, determine budgets for computer systems, buy and install hardware and software, and create security procedures for network access. They typically oversee the activities of developers, network administrators, and support staff.
Computer science graduates earned the highest salaries in the manufacturing industry, averaging $78,500 per year. This industry transforms materials into new products using mechanical, physical, or chemical methods. The information industry, which includes software development firms and web development companies, also offers a high salary at a mean $76,800. Ranking third is the finance and insurance industry, averaging salaries of $76,100. This industry manages money transactions and includes banks, credit unions, and investment firms.
A master’s program in computer science includes the same classroom courses and internships you find in undergraduate programs, but differs in several ways. Graduate programs usually require a good score on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) as a prerequisite for admission. Another difference is the option for a thesis, which represents new research in the student's field. Students not only have to propose a topic, research it, and write about their findings, but they may also have to defend its claims orally in front of a faculty board.