Is a Master’s Degree Necessary to Earn a Six-Figure Salary?

masters degree for big salary

For some careers, a master’s degree may be necessary to earn a six-figure salary. This is not always the case, however. It’s possible, though uncommon, to earn a six-figure salary with no degree at all. The following is an analysis of the high-paying jobs someone can land with just a bachelor’s degree as well as other factors that impact this question.

Value of a Master’s Degree

On average a master’s degree increases a student’s lifetime earning potential. Employers are usually willing to pay master’s degree holders more to compensate them for reaching a higher level of education. Some careers require a master’s degree, although quite a few of these do not guarantee a six-figure salary, such as counselors and museum curators. There are also certain occupations, such as physicians and lawyers, who do not technically earn a master’s degree but still need to complete several years of schooling and training beyond their bachelor’s degree to be qualified for their positions.

Advantages to Avoiding a Master’s Degree

It is usually not a good idea to get a master’s degree unless pursuing a job in a field that requires one. Doing so adds time and expense to an education that is not necessary. It can even be a significant problem if a student is already in college debt and will go deeper into debt to earn an advanced degree. Unless a master’s degree is needed for certain, try and get by without one. This is especially true in a role where a master’s degree is not necessary to earn a six-figure salary. It’s always possible to go back to school later and earn a master’s degree if one becomes required for career advancement.

Six-Figure Salary Careers Without a Master’s Degree

Several careers don’t require a master’s degree yet boast a six-figure salary on average. These are a few, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 

  • Entrepreneurs who build a successful business
  • commercial pilots
  • software developers
  • marketing managers
  • some engineering positions

Some jobs that get paid on commission, such as real estate agents and sales professionals, may earn six-figure salaries through commissions if they are especially successful in their work.

Experience May Be Needed

In very few of these careers, however, is someone likely to earn a six-figure salary just starting. Most require a few years of experience before advancing to a position of higher authority and bringing home that kind of money. This is especially true for managerial positions, such as in marketing or IT. Talent may be a factor for certain jobs to earn this much, such as business owners and jobs that earn significant portions of their salary on commission. Some jobs that do not typically earn over $100,000 may still be willing to pay employees that much if they bring enough experience and past success to the role, or if the employer is prestigious and large enough. A formal degree is not the only factor that goes into how much an employee ultimately earns.

Related Resource: Top 10 Highest Paying Master’s Degrees

A master’s degree is required for many positions but is not always needed to earn a lot of money. Students have other options if they want to earn a high salary without spending extra years in school. Know that a master’s degree is not always necessary to earn a six-figure salary.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris