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Doctoral Programs That Pay for Themselves

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

Following your passion is honorable, but education is also an investment and investments are measured by their returns. Nobody wants to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on a doctoral program only to discover that the earning potential of the career path that they set themselves on won’t come close to covering the cost of tuition. Luckily for you, you’re only an online search away from choosing a lucrative career that you’ll also love.

There’s a lot of money on the table for prospective PhD recipients and finding it is as simple as reversing the process. Begin by searching for the most lucrative career paths and tracing them all the way back to the doctoral programs needed to access them.

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What Is a Doctoral Program?

A doctoral degree, or a PhD, represents the apex of education in any particular field. It is the highest designation a student can attain. It’s also the most difficult to earn and often the most expensive.

Doctoral degrees can take a long time to earn too. On average, a doctoral degree can take between five to six years to complete. However, some degrees can take much longer. For instance, some of the high-earning PhDs mentioned below can take up to seven years to complete. That’s in addition to any time already spent earning the prerequisite undergraduate or master’s credentials.1

It’s a lot of time spent in school, which can cost a lot of money. But choosing the right doctoral program could cause your earning potential to skyrocket. That’s why searching online for the right one is such a crucial step.

Highest Paying Doctoral Degrees

Being passionate about a field of study can help a student push through even the toughest of days, but so can cash. Marathon study sessions and Saturday nights spent in the library feel worth it when you know that your hard work will be rewarded handsomely.

The list of high earning doctoral degrees is quite long, so if what is included below isn’t your cup of tea, don’t give up your search. The more time you invest in finding the right fit, the happier you’ll be — and the more money you could potentially make.

PhD in Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering seems niche until you understand how many industries depend on their expertise. In actuality, it’s one of the most in-demand doctorate degrees in the world. Chemical engineering is an essential component of the production, manufacturing, and conceptualization of virtually every mass-produced consumer and commercial product you’ve ever interacted with. Moreover, there are lots of teaching and consulting opportunities available to Chemical Engineering PhDs.

The field is only expected to grow. As it stands now, graduates of Chemical Engineering doctorate programs can expect to earn $122,740 annually by the time their career reaches its midpoint.2

PhD in Computer Science

Few who enroll in a computer science doctorate program do so at the beginning of their career. Most prospective computer science PhDs begin their doctoral pursuit following a substantial time spent working in their desired field or attaining a master’s designation first. A Computer Science PhD is seen and used by technology pros as a way to advance their specializations, career, and net worth.

Computer science PhDs are getting more valuable by the day, with jobs expected to grow by a whopping 15 percent between now and 2031.3 Graduates could earn entry level salaries as much as $113,828 a year right out of college, with their earning potential topping out at $144,243 a year.4

PhD in Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering is all about advancing medical techniques and designing emerging medical technologies. Studying, designing, and improving biomedical technology is their business — and business is good. The field is expected to grow 10 percent between now and 2031, which makes sense when you consider our aging population and healthcare’s growing reliance on biomedical technologies.5

But what does that mean for their pay stubs? A whole lot. Holders of a Biomedical Engineering PhD stand to earn an average of $91,797 per year right out of college. Expect that starting salary to increase as you gain more experience as the median overall salary for biomedical engineers is $102,624 per year.6

PhD in Electrical Engineering

Earning a doctorate in electrical engineering opens up graduates to a wealth of opportunities. Heck, even without a PhD, electrical engineers are paid well. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to be gained out of summiting the education peak. On the contrary, Electrical Engineering PhD grads are even more versatile and can see themselves landing prominent leadership positions in lucrative sectors including aviation, technology, and consumer goods.

These are some of the most sought-after PhDs in the country, which means a lot of opportunity and higher earning potential. In fact, a PhD in electrical engineering is one of the most lucrative PhDs a person can hold, boasting a median salary of $119,580 per year.7

PhD in Pharmacology

If medicinal research piques your interest, consider pursuing a PhD in pharmacology. Not to be confused with the doctorate degree required to become a pharmacist, a Pharmacology PhD is the gateway to a career spent researching the science behind medicinal products and teaching.

One can’t begin to work on their Doctorate in Pharmacology without earning a master’s degree in a related field first. But even with the cost of tuition, Pharmacology PhD recipients make out more than alright. Clinical Pharmacologist salaries start at $102,072 per year and can climb as high as $128,727 per year.8

Job Location Matters

It’s important to touch on how big of an impact location can have on a graduate’s earning potential. Strategically choosing where to work could add tens of thousands of dollars to your take home pay. Conversely, forgetting to factor in a city’s relative cost of living can catch you off guard.

If you’re open to relocating, then the entire country is there for you to explore. If you’re targeting a specific dream city, then you’d do well to search online for their prevailing industries and tailor your doctoral decision accordingly.

Either way, it’s critical to understand the impact that location can have before committing yourself to the length path towards a PhD.9


There’s very little risk of losing your educational investment should you choose to pursue one of the careers mentioned above. PhD grads in chemical engineering, computer science, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, and pharmacology are very much in demand. A demand that only grows as the days go by.

Still, our list of lucrative doctoral programs is far from comprehensive. Doctoral degrees cover a lot of ground, and those that hold them have the potential to earn more than enough to cover their tuition costs. If you didn’t find interest in the fields featured here, keep searching for high-paying PhD career paths until you do.

Christopher Brown