The Value of Earning a Master’s Degree Substantial for Several Majors

August 23, 2021 | By Kevin Gray

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TAGS: compensation, first destination, nace insights, salaries, surveys,

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What value can a master’s degree have over a bachelor’s degree? For certain majors, the differential in starting salaries is substantial, according to NACE’s Summer 2021 Salary Survey.

In particular, master’s level biology majors and communication disorders sciences majors netted average starting salaries that—with differentials of 86.5% and 70.6%, respectively—were massive increases over their counterparts at the bachelor’s degree level. (See Figure 1.)

While the differentials for other majors—such as business administration, computer/information technology administration, communication and media studies, and others—were not as large, they were still considerable and, perhaps, provide sufficient incentive for bachelor’s graduates in these majors to continue on for advanced degrees.

The Summer 2021 Salary Survey report provides actual starting salaries and serves as the final salary report for the college Class of 2020. The figures reported are for base salaries only and do not include bonuses, commissions, fringe benefits, or overtime rates. Data were gathered from Class of 2020 graduates through December 31, 2020, and reported to NACE through May 15, 2021. The salary data presented here were reported to NACE through its national Class of 2020 First-Destination Survey and are based on the 249 schools that provided salary data by specific program or major. The Summer 2021 Salary Survey report is available to members in MyNACE.  

Figure 1: Differential between average starting salaries for Class of 2020 graduates earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees

Average Bachelor’s Salary$37,182
Average Master’s Salary$69,353
% Differential86.5%
Communication disorders sciences
Average Bachelor’s Salary$34,517
Average Master’s Salary$58,890
% Differential70.6%
Business administration/management
Average Bachelor’s Salary$54,392
Average Master’s Salary$82,372
% Differential51.4%
Computer/information technology administration and management
Average Bachelor’s Salary$59,032
Average Master’s Salary$86,695
% Differential46.9%
Communication and media studies
Average Bachelor’s Salary$42,345
Average Master’s Salary$62,166
% Differential46.8%
Systems engineering
Average Bachelor’s Salary$73,559
Average Master’s Salary$106,640
% Differential45.0%
Registered nursing
Average Bachelor’s Salary$58,626
Average Master’s Salary$84,673
% Differential44.4%
Average Bachelor’s Salary$37,006
Average Master’s Salary$52,786
% Differential42.6%
English language and literature/letters
Average Bachelor’s Salary$38,597
Average Master’s Salary$54,102
% Differential40.2%
Social work
Average Bachelor’s Salary$35,622
Average Master’s Salary$48,711
% Differential36.7%
Major Average Bachelor’s Salary Average Master’s Salary % Differential
Biology $37,182 $69,353 86.5%
Communication disorders sciences $34,517 $58,890 70.6%
Business administration/management $54,392 $82,372 51.4%
Computer/information technology administration and management $59,032 $86,695 46.9%
Communication and media studies $42,345 $62,166 46.8%
Systems engineering $73,559 $106,640 45.0%
Registered nursing $58,626 $84,673 44.4%
Psychology $37,006 $52,786 42.6%
English language and literature/letters $38,597 $54,102 40.2%
Social work $35,622 $48,711 36.7%
Source: Summer 2021 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers