Best master’s degrees in the US for high income, low debt

According to the data, it pays to have a postgraduate degree in engineering.

By U2B Staff 

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Is your master’s degree worth the financial investment? That might be a question plaguing many, especially during an economic downturn where more people are returning to university to get a graduate degree to stay competitive in the workforce.

The Wall Street Journal, however, has assembled data that allows individuals to look up students’ earnings after graduation, compared to their debt load, for most universities in the US. The tool can be used to compare undergraduate degrees, master’s, doctorate and professional degrees.


It’s worth noting that WSJ’s data shows the median debt for graduates in roughly 2015 and 2016, compared to median income two years later. “Data isn’t available for programmes with few graduates. Figures are only for graduates who borrowed federal loans,” it said.

We take a look at some of the master’s degrees with the best ROI using WSJ’s tool that compares the debt-to-income ratio of programmes around the country. The following fields of study have a debt-income ratio of less than one.

A debt-to-income ratio above one means a typical student would graduate with more debt than income two years after graduation. A ratio below one means the typical graduate has income greater than debt, notes the report.

Engineering, general

Do you want to solve engineering challenges and develop solutions for the future? A master’s in engineering could help you do that and more. Graduates of Old Dominion University, for instance, have a median debt of 20,500 US dollars, median earnings of US$78,719, and a debt-income ratio of 0.26.

Civil engineering

A master’s degree in civil engineering will help you to develop the knowledge and expertise needed for a career across a broad spectrum of civil engineering.

Among the school’s that stood out for their low debt-to-income ratio include Utah State University, where civil engineering graduates have a median debt of US9,000, median earnings of US$62,012, and a debt-income ratio of 0.15.

Civil engineering graduates at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez have a median debt of US$9,000, median earnings of US$43,798, and a debt-income ratio of 0.21.

Biomedical engineering

A master’s in biomedical engineering can help you apply your knowledge and skills in engineering, biology, and medicine to the healthcare and medical device industries. Some universities may offer several streams under this degree.

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor graduates have a median debt of US$20,500, a median salary of US$75,114, and a debt-income ratio of 0.27. Arizona State University-Tempe graduates have a median debt of US$20,500, median earnings of US$67,420, and a debt-income ratio of 0.3. 


Computer science

A master’s degree in computer science could be helpful if you’re looking to sharpen your skills and open the door to more career opportunities. WSJ’s data also shows that the degree could be well worth the financial investment.

The biggest winners are graduates of Cornell University — they have a median debt of US$20,500, median earnings of US$127,397, and a debt-income ratio of 0.16.

University of Southern California computer science graduates have a median debt of US$30,750, median earnings of US$116,083, and a debt-income ratio of 0.27.

Computer and information sciences, general

A master’s in computer and information sciences can help you learn the latest developments in the field and prepare you for a career in the computing industry. 

Graduates of the University of Washington-Seattle Campus, for instance, have a median debt of US$33,313, median earnings of US$122,038, and a debt-income ratio of 0.27.

Mechanical engineering

Another engineering speciality makes the list. A master’s in mechanical engineering will expose you to advanced topics in mechanical engineering.

All 15 universities listed in WSJ’s data that offer the programme have a debt-income ratio below one.

Master’s degrees with strong ROIs

The following are also strong fields worth pursuing a master’s degree. Most of these fields have a debt-income ratio below one:

  • Finance and financial management services
  • Health and medical administrative services
  • Marketing
  • Registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research and clinical nursing

While WSJ’s data serves as a useful reference for aspiring postgraduate students, it’s worth noting that there are limitations to the data, which only lists figures for graduates who borrowed federal loans. 

It’s also worth noting that some careers may give an inaccurate debt-income potential when measured shortly after students graduate. For instance, roles such as doctors, lawyers and engineers may enjoy peak earnings at later stages of their careers compared to those in other fields and industries, which could still justify the time and money spent on their degrees. 

Ultimately, there are plenty of factors that can affect a graduate’s earning potential, so it’s worth noting that success will not elude you should you choose a major not listed above.