PhDs that Pay: Top-Earning Doctoral Degrees

Maximizing your education goes a long way toward landing a lucrative career. Learn which doctorates yield the biggest financial benefits and discover top PhD programs available online and in-person.

Written by

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Oct 01, 2021

A PhD is a big investment. Not only are you investing your time and brainpower, you could also be making a sizeable financial investment. Although a portion of graduates will manage to complete their studies with no student debt, others won’t get away so lucky. According to the Atlantic, some PhD students are as much as $90,000 in the hole by the time they finish their degree. With that kind of debt, it’s no wonder that students want to be sure that they’ll bring home a sizeable paycheck upon graduation. 

While earning a doctoral degree in any subject can be viewed as impressive, some PhDs mean more than others when it comes to earning potential. By pursuing a high-paying PhD program, graduates can feel confident that their degree will be financially worth it. Find out how much you can stand to earn in your program and discover which PhDs are most likely to pay off. 

Information Sciences & Studies

Starting Salary: $116,100

If you’re interested in pursuing a PhD in information sciences and studies, you’ll be looking a commitment of 4-5 years of intensive study. These programs focus on advanced studies of qualitative and quantitative methods in information science, statistics, and theoretical foundations. 

In addition to coursework, learners also complete a final dissertation demonstrating original research and findings. Some programs also set residency and/or externship requirements. Graduates go on to work as information sciences faculty, researchers, and senior managers in both public and private settings.

Learners well-suited to these programs typically have experience and/or education in information sciences or a related topic. If you’re looking for an online option, you’ll find two online PhD in information sciences and studies programs, including the one at the University of Buffalo in New York. Aside from a one-week-per-year residency at the Buffalo campus, you can complete all other requirements via distance learning.

Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, & Nursing Research

Starting Salary: $115,785

With a nursing doctoral degree, you can choose from several different paths, including nursing education, administration, and research. All of these options offer a research-focused education that prepares you for academic positions at world-class facilities. 

Some of the topics you’ll focus on include philosophical underpinnings of nursing science, leadership in health policy, qualitative research methods, and advanced nursing curriculum design and program evaluation. Students must also write a full-length dissertation. Most programs take approximately four years to complete.

Applicants to PhD in nursing programs typically have experience in the field as an RN, nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or similar role. You’ll find several fully online nursing doctoral programs to consider, including one offered by the University of Northern Colorado’s Extended Campus. All coursework is online, but students visit the Loveland campus at the start of each academic year.

Pharmacy, Pharmaceuticals Sciences, & Administration

Starting Salary: $112,366

Whether working as a pharmacist, conducting research in the field, or educating the next generation of pharmacy professionals, pursuing a doctoral degree in this field leads to a meaningful and well-paying job. You’ll find these degrees as both PharmD and PhD programs, or, in the case of the University of Southern California, a combined offering. In general, the PharmD is for those who plan to work in the field of pharmacy, and the PhD is for those who plan to work in research and academics.

Once in the program, you’ll cover research methods and pharmacoepidemiology, pharmacoeconomics and outcomes, pharmacy law and drug information, and pharmacist-provided care. The PharmD pathway typically requires a research fellowship, and the PhD requires a dissertation.

Several programs offer specializations in areas such as clinical and experimental therapeutics, pharmaceutical sciences, and molecular pharmacology and toxicology. You may not need a pharmacy degree to start the program, but you will need to meet all prerequisites for admission.

Computer Science

Starting Salary: $102,200

Completing a PhD in computer science signals to future employers your seriousness about working in the highest echelons of the discipline. Typically requiring 4-6 years to complete, these degrees lead to professional and academic roles. Your future job title might be computer science professor, database administrator, or computer systems administrator.

Classes cover topics such as human-computer interaction, data management systems, principles of computer graphics, and the ethics of machine learning. The program also includes a qualifying exam, preliminary exam, dissertation, and dissertation defense. 

To succeed in these high-level programs, you’ll need experience in computer science, either through a previous degree or real-world work experience. Other admission requirements include an accredited master’s degree, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, official transcripts, and a personal statement. Students have many options when looking for online computer science PhD programs, including this one offered by Mississippi State University

Computer & Information Sciences

Starting Salary: $107,900

Unlike computer science programs that prioritize software development and computer networking, computer and information sciences programs place more emphasis on the role informatics plays in computing.  Doctorate programs look at how skills such as data analysis and management, data mining, and qualitative research can produce better data. 

Completing a PhD in computer and information sciences takes approximately five years and offers concentrations in areas such as information science or information quality. Core classes include studies in information science theory and practice, information quality policy and strategy, advanced database and information architecture, and principles of information quality. The program wraps up with a dissertation.

To be successful in this program, you’ll need previous knowledge and/or experience in the field. Many schools require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related subject plus professional experience. Some also require GRE scores. Given the technical nature of the discipline, many schools offer online computer and information sciences doctorates–including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Business/Commerce

Starting Salary: $91,050

This degree comes with choices. Prospective students select either a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or a PhD in business and commerce. The DBA is best for those who plan to keep working in professional settings, while the PhD is better for those interested in academics.

Programs typically take 3-5 years to complete and cover concepts around advanced mixed methods research and design, development of management theory practice, change management and organizational development, and organizational behavior, culture, and effectiveness. Both types of degrees typically require a dissertation. 

Applicants don’t necessarily need a background in business, but they will need a master’s degree that meets minimum GPA requirements. Some programs may also require GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of professional goals. Many schools offer online business and commerce doctorate programs, including this 100% online program at Franklin University.

Health and Medical Administration Services

Starting Salary: $90,600

Working on the administrative side of healthcare and medicine provides challenging, important work for individuals who want to ensure patients receive the best care possible. Completing a doctorate in health and medical administration gives you the qualifications for administrative, teaching, and research positions.

Much of the coursework focuses on building the knowledge and skills to make critical, informed decisions on healthcare administration. Once you’re enrolled, your classes will cover quality improvement and performance excellence, healthcare economics and financial management, strategic change management for healthcare organizations, negotiation, mediation, and managing conflict. 

As with other doctoral programs, these degrees culminate with a dissertation demonstrating your knowledge. Aside from standard admission requirements (minimum degree and GPA, official transcripts, essay, and personal statement), many programs require a resume demonstrating relevant experience. You’ll find lots of online health and medical administration programs to choose from, including this one at health sciences specialty school A.T. Still University

Dentistry

Starting Salary: $89,286

Students select from either a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) when pursuing their doctoral-level dentistry degree. Anyone who wants to practice as a dentist must have one of these two diplomas to receive licensure. Some programs also provide a combined DDS/PhD for students interested in academics and research.

As part of your studies, you’ll participate in an extensive residency to gain hands-on clinical skills and pass national boards. The PhD typically requires a dissertation. Some of the topics your studies will cover include oral histology and embryology, molecular biology and oral health applications, advanced topics in oral biology and medicine, and secretory processes in exocrine glands.

Given the technical nature of these programs, dentistry doctorates aren’t available fully online. However some programs allow you to complete a portion of your coursework via distance learning. The Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California offers a four-year DDS program with a strong focus on collaboration. 

Optometry

Starting Salary: $86,100

Completing a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree takes approximately four years and covers both clinical and practical elements of the discipline. Aside from classwork, students also participate in externships designed to provide the real-world experience needed to work confidently with patients.

An OD program typically covers a systems approach to biomedical sciences, geometric and visual optics, anterior segment examination techniques, and introduction to epidemiology and optometric research. Rather than completing a dissertation, you’ll participate in several supervised clinicals. 

Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject, such as biology, biomedical sciences, epidemiology, or a similar topic. Many schools also require passing scores from the Optometry Admission Test.  If you plan to apply to multiple optometry doctorates, you may be able to use OptomCAS, a centralized application that allows you to apply to several programs with one application. Similar to dentistry programs, OD programs require extensive hands-on work and patient care, so these degrees aren’t available online. The OD program at Indiana University gets students focused on clinical cases from day one and examining patients after 20 months of study. 

Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research

Starting Salary: $85,800

Students who pursue a doctorate in educational assessment, evaluation, and research have a passion for making high-level improvements to both K-12 and postsecondary education via policy, curriculum development, and assessment practices. This PhD also prepares you to teach the next generation of education professionals.

Classes delve into topics such as data-driven instruction and assessment, evaluating curriculum to promote positive social change, qualitative reasoning and analysis, and program evaluation for continuous improvement. The degree typically concludes with a dissertation seminar to help you prepare and submit an original piece of researched writing. 

The majority of these programs require previous professional experience in education. Admission requirements vary from program to program, so review each one carefully. Walden University offers a fully online PhD in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and evaluation, allowing you flexibility in when and where you complete your classes.

Public Administration

Starting Salary: $84,400

If you want to make a difference in government agencies, nonprofits, and nongovernmental organizations, a public administration program may be for you. Doctoral level programs are offered as a Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) or a PhD. The DPA is a good choice if you intend to continue working in the field, while a PhD is a good choice if you plan to focus on research or academics. 

These programs typically offer core classes in policy formulation and processes, economic perspectives in administration and policy, public organization theory and management, and applied research methods and techniques. At the end of your studies, you’ll submit a dissertation and go before a panel to defend your research and findings.

Unlike many of the other doctorates on this list, students with no previous background in public administration can qualify for admission. However you will need a master’s degree and GRE scores. Several colleges and universities provide these programs online, including Valdosta State University.

Human Resources Management Services

Starting Salary: $83,467

Pursuing a doctorate in human resources management provides graduates with the knowledge and talents needed to take positions in research, education, and high levels of administration. 

Although every program is different, some of the classes you can expect to take include strategic issues in human resource management, managing human resource development programs, international human resource development and cultural differences, and human resource development program and product evaluation. Students must also research and write a dissertation of publishable quality to qualify for graduation.

These programs typically take four years to complete, with many requiring GRE scores for admission. Most programs look for candidates with experience in human resources, which you’ll showcase on your resume and/or professional statement of work history. You’ll find many online human resources management programs to choose from, including this one offered by the University of Arkansas.

Management Information Systems and Services

Starting Salary: $82,700

Undertaking a PhD in management information systems qualifies graduates for high-level roles in areas from research and academics to administration and leadership. These programs take approximately five years to complete and culminate with a research dissertation. 

Some of the classes you can expect to take include statistical foundations of machine learning, topics in data and web mining, models for quantitative analysis, and topics in research in management information systems. Some schools also allow students to complete a PhD minor in management information systems. 

Admission requirements vary by program, but many include GMAT or GRE scores, minimum GPA, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a completed application, and a resume demonstrating relevant work experience. The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona provides a prime example of an online program.

Educational Administration and Supervision

Starting Salary: $78,194

Whether pursuing an EdD or a PhD in educational administration (also sometimes known as educational leadership and management), these degrees can lead to jobs in policy development and research, academics, or administration. 

Expect to spend 3-6 years completing this degree, depending on which one you choose. The PhD pathway typically takes longer. Some EdD programs offer concentrations in areas such as innovation, education policy, global education, and learning technologies. Classes you’ll find as part of core requirements include creative strategies for educational leaders, educational research design, advanced qualitative methods and data analysis, and educational leadership for equity and social justice.

Most programs require experience in the educational arena, either at the K-12 or postsecondary level. Some may require applicants to hold a teaching license. You’ll find many 100% online versions of these programs, including the one at Drexel University in Philadelphia.