Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment outlook for graduate-level occupations

| August 2018

If you have or are considering getting a graduate degree, you’ll want to know whether occupational openings are expected in your field. You also might be curious about what those occupations pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) can help.

Data in this article are based on the 101 occupations that BLS designates as typically requiring a graduate degree for entry. Of those, 63 typically require a doctoral or professional degree and 38, a master’s degree. And, as is true at every level of education, wages vary in occupations that typically require these degrees.

Keep reading for an analysis of the wages and projected openings in selected “graduate-level” occupations.

Projections by entry-level education

BLS makes employment projections for more than 800 occupations. As part of this analysis, BLS also assesses the education that is typically needed for most people entering an occupation.

However, the education typically required for people at the entry level may differ from that of people who are already working in the occupation. For example, in 2015–16, about 39 percent of all occupational therapists ages 25 and older had a bachelor's degree as their highest level of educational attainment. But people looking to enter the field today usually need at least a master’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy program. As a result, BLS designates occupational therapists as typically needing a master’s degree for entry into the occupation.

Occupational therapist working with a child


Employment in master’s-level occupations is projected to grow by almost 17 percent from 2016 to 2026, the fastest of any education level. Employment in doctoral- and professional-level occupations is projected to grow by about 13 percent, faster than the 7-percent average projected for all occupations.

Openings by career field

This article features six career fields in which BLS projects the most openings for graduate-level occupations: 

For each career field, the charts that follow highlight the projected number of openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026 in the selected occupations. Many of these openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave an occupation. But some of them are expected to be from newly created jobs.

The charts also include information about 2017 median annual wages. (A median wage is the wage such that half of workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. These wage data exclude self-employed workers.) The median annual wage was $37,690 for all occupations in 2017. By comparison, the median wage was $103,820 for doctoral- and professional-level occupations—the highest of any education level—and $68,090 for master’s-level occupations.

Community and social service

The community and social service occupations shown in chart 1 involve offering direction and helping people cope with life’s challenges. Of these occupations, educational, guidance, and school counselors is projected to have the most openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026.

View Chart Data

Chart 1. Community and social service occupations, selected, that typically require a graduate degree for entry, by projected openings, 2016–26 annual average
Occupation Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Typical entry-level education

Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors

35,300 291,700 $55,410 Master's degree

Healthcare social workers (1)

22,900 176,500 54,870 Master's degree

Mental health counselors (1)

21,600 157,700 43,300 (2) Master's degree

Mental health and substance abuse social workers (1)

15,900 123,900 43,250 Master's degree

Rehabilitation counselors

14,500 119,300 34,860 Master's degree

Footnotes:

(1) In addition to a master's degree, this occupation typically requires an internship or residency for workers to attain competency.

(2) Also includes substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors.

Note: None of these occupations typically require work experience in a related occupation for entry.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

A master’s degree is typically required for someone to enter any of the occupations shown in chart 1. Many of these occupations also typically require an internship or other supervised experience in a clinical setting for workers to become competent. In addition, workers may need a license to be employed in the occupation. Median annual wages for the occupations shown in the chart were among the lowest of the graduate-level occupations, although most were still higher than the median wage for all occupations.

Legal, education, and library

Tasks for workers in the legal, education, and library occupations shown in chart 2 may include conducting research or coordinating programs to help people learn. Lawyers is projected to have more openings each year, on average, than any other graduate-level occupation.

View Chart Data

Chart 2. Legal, education, and library (1) occupations, selected, that typically require a graduate degree for entry, by projected openings, 2016–26 annual average
Occupation Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Typical entry-level education

Lawyers

40,700 792,500 $119,250 Doctoral or professional degree

Education administrators, elementary and secondary school (2)

21,200 251,300 94,390 Master's degree

Instructional coordinators (2)

16,900 163,200 63,750 Master's degree

Education administrators, postsecondary (3)

15,700 180,100 92,360 Master's degree

Librarians

14,500 138,200 58,520 Master's degree
Footnotes:

(1) Excludes postsecondary teaching, which is covered in chart 5.

(2) In addition to a master's degree, this occupation typically requires 5 years or more of work experience in a related occupation for entry.

(3) In addition to a master's degree, this occupation typically requires less than 5 years of work experience in a related occupation for entry.

Note: None of these occupations typically require on-the-job training for competency.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

Licensure is commonly required for the occupations shown in chart 2. More than half of these occupations typically require related work experience in addition to a graduate degree. For example, elementary and secondary school education administrators, also known as school principals, usually must have teaching experience. With a median annual wage of $94,390, these administrators had the second-highest wage of the occupations in the chart.

Medical, dental, and nursing

The healthcare occupations shown in chart 3 involve diagnosing illnesses, treating injuries, and providing preventive care to help people stay healthy. BLS projects about 14,400 openings each year, on average, for nurse practitioners—the most of all the occupations in the chart.

View Chart Data

Chart 3. Medical, dental, and nursing occupations, selected, that typically require a graduate degree for entry, by projected openings, 2016–26 annual average
Occupation Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Typical entry-level education

Nurse practitioners

14,400 155,500 $103,880 Master's degree

Physician assistants

10,600 106,200 104,860 Master's degree

Dentists, general

6,400 132,800 151,440 Doctoral or professional degree

Family and general practitioners(1)

5,600 134,800 198,740 Doctoral or professional degree

Nurse anesthetists

2,800 41,800 165,120 Master's degree
Footnotes:

Note: None of these occupations typically require work experience in a related occupation for entry.

(1) In addition to a doctoral or professional degree, this occupation typically requires an internship or residency for workers to attain competency.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

   

These occupations require workers to be licensed. Three of them typically require a master’s degree. Family and general practitioners, like other types of doctors, must complete a residency program in addition to earning a medical degree. All of the occupations in chart 3 had median annual wages above $100,000, making them some of the highest paying graduate-level occupations.

Other healthcare

In addition to the occupations shown in chart 3, some other types of healthcare occupations that typically require a graduate degree are shown in chart 4. Physical therapists is projected to have the most openings each year, on average, of all the occupations in chart 4.

View Chart Data

Chart 4. Other healthcare occupations, selected, that typically require a graduate degree for entry, by projected openings, 2016–26 annual average
Occupation Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Typical entry-level education

Physical therapists

17,700 239,800 $86,850 Doctoral or professional degree

Pharmacists

15,300 312,500 124,170 Doctoral or professional degree

Speech-language pathologists (1)

10,400 145,100 76,610 Master's degree

Occupational therapists

10,200 130,400 83,200 Master's degree

Veterinarians

4,500 79,600 90,420 Doctoral or professional degree
Footnotes:

(1) In addition to a master's degree, this occupation typically requires an internship or residency for workers to attain competency.

Note: None of these occupations typically require work experience in a related occupation for entry.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

Three occupations shown in the chart typically require a doctoral or professional degree, and all of the occupations shown need a license. Speech-language pathologists typically require an internship in addition to a graduate degree. Median annual wages for each of the occupations in chart 4 were more than double the median wage for all occupations.

Postsecondary teaching

Postsecondary teachers, also known as college and university professors, instruct students in a variety of academic, career, and technical subjects. Of the occupations shown in chart 5, health specialties teachers is projected to have the most annual average openings—and this occupation also had the highest median annual wage.

View Chart Data

Chart 5. Postsecondary teaching occupations, selected, that typically require a graduate degree for entry, by projected openings, 2016–26 annual average
Occupation Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Typical entry-level education

Health specialties teachers, postsecondary (1)

25,800 233,500 $97,870 Doctoral or professional degree

Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary

11,200 122,500 66,930 Master's degree

Business teachers, postsecondary

10,400 104,200 80,300 Doctoral or professional degree

English language and literature teachers, postsecondary

7,500 84,600 64,910 Doctoral or professional degree

Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary (1)

7,300 67,900 71,260 Doctoral or professional degree
Footnotes:

Note: None of these occupations typically require on-the-job training for competency.

(1) In addition to a doctoral or professional degree, this occupation typically requires less than 5 years of work experience in a related occupation for entry.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

Postsecondary teachers typically need a Ph.D. in the subject that they plan to teach, but some might qualify with a master’s degree, depending on the field. Two of the occupations in chart 5—health specialties teachers and nursing instructors and teachers—also require work experience in a related occupation, and possibly a license, in addition to a graduate degree.

STEM and social science

Workers in life, physical, and social science; technology; engineering; and math occupations may do research to find solutions to real-world problems and focus on advancing knowledge. Of the occupations shown in chart 6, medical scientists and psychologists are projected to have the most job openings, on average, through 2026.

View Chart Data

Chart 6. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and social science occupations, selected, that typically require a graduate degree for entry, by projected openings, 2016–26 annual average
Occupation Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average Employment, 2016 Median annual wage, 2017 Typical entry-level education

Medical scientists, except epidemiologists

12,100 120,000 $82,090 Doctoral or professional degree

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists (1)

12,100 147,500 75,090 Doctoral or professional degree

Statisticians

4,400 37,200 84,060 Master's degree

Urban and regional planners

3,500 36,000 71,490 Master's degree

Biochemists and biophysicists

3,200 31,500 91,190 Doctoral or professional degree
Footnotes:

(1) In addition to a doctoral or professional degree, this occupation typically requires an internship or residency for workers to attain competency.

Note: None of these occupations typically require work experience in a related occupation for entry.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

Three of these occupations typically require a Ph.D. In addition to needing a doctoral degree, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists typically must complete an internship and obtain a license. Biochemists and biophysicists had the highest median wage of the occupations in the chart, $91,190.

For more information

Learn more about the occupations in this article, as well as hundreds of others, in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). For example, the job outlook section of the OOH describes factors expected to influence growth, as well as the job prospects, for people interested in entering an occupation.

If you didn’t see a particular occupation you’re interested in mentioned in this article, it may be that the occupation is designated as typically requiring a level of education other than a graduate degree. Or it might be a graduate-level occupation that is projected to have some openings, but not as many as the other occupations selected for the charts in the article. A full list of occupational projections that includes education typically required for entry is available from the Employment Projections program.

About the Author

Elka Torpey is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. She can be reached at torpey.elka@bls.gov .

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Suggested citation:

Elka Torpey, "Employment outlook for graduate-level occupations," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2018.

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