The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

11 Highest Paying PhD Jobs & Careers

Online education can prepare you for the highest paying PhD jobs

After high school, many people enroll in college courses, either an associate’s or a bachelor’s program. These educational paths create better job opportunities, and often result in higher salaries. But if you love academics and are passionate about (and talented in) a certain subject, you may consider a PhD. If you want to enjoy a rewarding career and a strong income, you may want to focus on programs that set you up for one of the highest paying PhD jobs.

GetEducated Sponsored Picks

View all online degrees

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a doctorate-level research degree that is, in most cases, the highest level of academic achievement is a given subject. PhD is short-form for “doctor of philosophy.” However, it is not specifically a philosophy degree. (Although you can get a PhD in philosophy.) In this case “philosophy” refers to the Greek origins, meaning love of wisdom. PhD is a type of doctorate that often involves liberal-art subjects or theoretical and research-based topics. So all PhDs are doctorates, but not all doctorates are PhDs.

A PhD usually includes a review of current academic literature, original research, a thesis, a final dissertation, and an oral defense of their position. Although they are not medical doctors, PhD graduates have every right to call themselves “doctor.”

But it’s not easy to complete the degrees and obtain high PhD salaries, and one of the first questions you should ask is “how long does it take to get a PhD?”.

How Long Does it Take to Get a PhD?

The most lucrative PhD programs are simply an extension of your education, and it can be one of the most time-consuming and exhaustive phases, often eclipsing and surpassing all of your collegiate education combined. The exact length of time it takes to complete a PhD will depend on the specific program, the type of education, and your pace of study. However, if you are wondering how to get a PhD, you can reasonably expect a doctorate program to take four to eight years. In many cases, you can expect about six years of academic study to complete your doctorate.

A bachelor’s degree, which is often the first phase of a student’s education, takes roughly four years to complete. After that, you’ll need to complete a master’s degree, which usually takes two years. When those two are complete, you’ll have a total of six years of collegiate education. Now you can prepare yourself for a doctorate, which will most likely double your time in the classroom.

After graduating high school, you can expect anywhere from ten to fourteen years of study to complete a doctorate, although this can be reduced if you select a bachelor’s-to-doctorate programs. This is how to get a PhD in a shorter time, and it allows you to skip the cost of a master’s and go straight from undergraduate courses into a PhD program. This often creates a faster path to the highest paying PhD jobs. While faster, it still helps you obtain the highest paying PhDs.

The Cost of the Highest Paying PhD Jobs

To gain entry into the most lucrative PhD jobs, you’re going to have to invest some money, as elite PhD programs are not free. There are PhD benefits and disadvantages, and one of the downsides for many programs is the large cost, although this can be reduced through grants and scholarships.

The price varies widely, but you can expect the costs to range from roughly $20,000 per year to well over $70,000 per year. The cost will be significantly higher if you are an out-of-state student or want to attend a private institution.

How Much Will You Earn?

PhD salaries by field will vary, but the highest paying PhD jobs will bring tremendous incomes, which can make the large initial investment worth the effort. There are a variety of sources that provide income information by level of education. For example, Payscale says the average PhD salary is $98,550. Holders of master’s degrees earn $75,328, while a bachelor’s will bring an average salary of $62,712. (PayScale regularly updates their information so these numbers have likely changed.) When comparing the average PhD salary to a bachelor’s, we see an annual difference of $35,838. Over just a five year period, you’re looking at an increase in $179,190. Over fifteen years, that’s a difference of over a half a million dollars! ($537,570 to be precise.)

PayScale isn’t the only source that shows a high PhD salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also supports the idea that online PhD programs can bring an excellent income. Their information shows that graduates of doctoral degrees (all doctoral degrees, not just PhDs) earn a median weekly income of $1,825. Across a 52-week year, that means an income of $94,900, which is very near the number cited by PayScale. For graduates of master’s degrees, the weekly income is $1,434, for an annual salary of $74,568. Bachelor’s degrees, according to the BLS, bring a median weekly income of $1,198, for an annual income of $62,296. This means a doctorate brings about $20,000 more annually than a masters, and over $32,000 more than a bachelor’s. So if your are wondering if the investment in a doctorate is worth it, the median and average PhD salary, according to multiple sources, shows that it certainly can be. When you are considering PhD benefits and disadvantages, salary is clearly one of the top perks!

What Can You Get a PhD In and How Can You Make the Right Choice?

What are the best PhD degrees for jobs? What can you get a PhD in and still enjoy all the PhD benefits and disadvantages?

Although choosing an academic field is a personal decision, one that should include your individual talents and passions, certain PhD programs are more popular than others. If you are asking “what can you get a PhD in?” You’ll find many exciting options; some bring the highest paying PhD jobs, while others allow your to work in an exciting field, regardless of PhD salaries.

Top PhD programs include physical therapy, education, administration, chemistry, and more. Political science, for example, allows you to work in one of the highest paying PhD jobs, which makes this one of the best options.

PhDs involving technology are also popular. Engineering, communications, and software-related programs all bring some of the most lucrative PhD positions you can find. The PhD benefits and disadvantages are many, but the massive amount of options is one of the most attractive aspects of getting your PhD.

What are the Highest Paying PhD Jobs?

PhD salaries by field will vary widely, but these are the top-paying careers for people holding advanced educations…

#1 Political Science

Median Salary: $122,220
Growth: 5%

A political scientists studies the development and implementation of government systems, analyzing political ideas to see what works best for a city, state, or nation. This is a very numbers-based job, and part of the position includes collecting and analyzing data from surveys and other sources.

As a political scientist, your career will be greatly enhanced by a PhD. Your doctorate may include political science itself, as well as public administration. While you can get by with a master’s degree, a doctorate will bring your career to greater heights and help you command larger salaries. For the top 10% of this field, the PhD salary is over $164,000, making this one of the highest paying PhDs.

Popular Pick: Doctor of Philosophy in Transformative Social Change from Saybrook University


#2 Economist

Median Salary: $105,020
Growth: 14%

Economists do more than just study money. The also study, analyze, and influence the distribution of goods, services, labor, and resources. All of these, of course, are highly connected to money, but don’t assume that it’s just dollars and cents for economists. They research issues, collect data, interpret findings, and, in some cases, report their findings to the highest levels of our government.

There are economist jobs available for those with only a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s is almost always required for the most desirable positions, especially in the private sector. Completing an online PhD program, on the other hand, will help you land one of these positions, which is one of the highest paying PhD jobs you can find.

Popular Pick: Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy / Economic Policy from Liberty University


#3 Postsecondary Education Administrator

Median Salary: $95,410
Growth: 4%

With teachers, students, parents, staff, and community leaders, education can be complex and frustrating. It’s the job of postsecondary (college) administrators to help people navigate the complexities of universities and support their important work. The specific responsibilities will vary, but most administrators will meet with potential students, review applications, determine how many students to admit, and analyze data for the best possible results.

This career will require at least a master’s degree, but the PhD salary may be even higher. The top 10% of this career earn over $194,000 annually, so if you can expect to earn a fantastic salary if you complete a PhD in the appropriate field, which can include social work, accounting, and even marketing. To work as a provost of dean at a major institution, you will likely need a PhD.

Sponsored Pick: Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from William Carey University


#4 Atmospheric Scientist

Median Salary: $95,380
Growth: 6%

The weather has an impact on us every day. We may not be worried about massive storms, but we always want to know if it’s going to rain or what the temperature will be. Thanks to the work of atmospheric scientists, we usually have an answer. These professionals, who often have science-based PhDs, study the weather in many ways. They may measure temperatures, study humidity, or generate computer models for how the weather will behave in the future.

This career is one of the best for anyone who has the right PhD. The salary is excellent, with the top 10% earning over $147,000 a year, making this one of the highest paying PhDs as well as one of the most interesting. If you work in a research-based position, you will usually need a PhD in meteorology or a related science.


#5 Biochemist

Median Salary: $94,490
Growth: 7%

Biochemistry is among the most lucrative PhD options. By studying the chemical processes of living things, biochemists contribute to our world in a variety of ways. Their work influences drugs, nutrition, healthcare, and numerous other areas. The tasks can include planing research projects, managing laboratories, reporting findings to key decision makers, and preparing technical reports and scientific literature.

For many of the positions we have discussed, a PhD is merely a way to advance your career, bringing new opportunities and higher salaries. For a biochemist, however, it is virtually required. While graduates of bachelor’s and master’s programs are able to secure some positions, the majority of biochemists have a PhD, and with high salaries, this is among the highest paying PhDs.

Popular Pick: Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Science from University of Maine


#6 Medical Scientist

Median Salary: $88,790
Growth: 6%

Research into human health will never end, and we can thank medical scientists for the vaccines, treatments, and medical processes that bring better health to our daily lives. These highly-educated scientists research ways to improve human health, creating tests, formulating theories, standardizing medications, and performing countless other tasks that constantly move healthcare forward.

These scientists, who have some of the highest paying PhDs, usually have an education in a medical or science field. (They may have MDs, but it’s not required.) With an education that includes biology, chemistry, scientific methods, and mathematics, medical scientists enjoy a career field that can bring a salary of over $159,000 for the top 10%.

Popular Pick: Doctor of Public Health / Leadership from University of Illinois at Chicago


#7 Genetic Counselor

Median Salary: $81,880
Growth: 21%

Genetics are important to our health and wellbeing, and understanding the importance of genetics can help people make decisions for healthcare. This is why genetic counselors are in high demand, and why it’s among the most lucrative PhD options. It’s the job of genetic counselors to discuss inherited medical risks so patients can make better decisions. For example, a genetic counselor may tell a patient that they should take extra caution to avoid heart problems based on that patient’s family history. Of course, it is usually more complicated than that, and genetic counselors are also involved with testing, interviews, and providing information for available treatments.

Most genetic counselors need only a master’s degree, but a PhD in a related area can help you become employed in many of the top positions. The top 10% earn over $114,000, so this is one of the highest paying PhDs you can complete. Thanks to high growth, this is one of the best PhD degrees for jobs.


#8 Psychologist

Median Salary: $80,000
Growth: 3%

Psychologists help people understand the human mind, which is helpful not only for individual wellbeing, but for many organizations. Psychologists conduct scientific studies for behavior and brain function, and they often research behavioral patterns that help us understand how and why people behave in a certain manner.

Most psychologists will need a PhD in psychology. However, a Doctor of Psychology will qualify applicants for this type of career. The main difference is that a PhD in psychology is more research-based, while a Doctor of Psychology degree is a clinical degree that is not based on a dissertation. With growth expected to only be 3%, this may not be among the best PhD degrees for jobs, but it’s still one of the most lucrative PhD options.

Sponsored Pick: PhD - Psychology from Capella University


#9 Postsecondary Teacher

Median Salary: $79,540
Growth: 9%

Working in colleges and universities across the country, postsecondary teachers craft the next generation of thinkers and innovators. Duties may include creating courses, overseeing testing, providing lectures, and offering insight on various topics.

To become a college teacher, you will likely need a doctorate-level education in your chosen field. Whether you teach philosophy, business, or history, a PhD will help you become an expert on the topic and make you one of the most respected (and best-paid) job candidates around. This career does require some experience in the chosen industry. For example, if you want to teach finances at the university level, you’ll need private- or public-sector financial experience in addition to your doctorate.

Sponsored Pick: Doctor of Education / Curriculum & Teaching from Northcentral University


#10 Epidemiologist

Median Salary: $70,990
Growth: 5%

Epidemiology is, essentially, the study of disease. More specifically, it’s the study of the factors that determine the presence or absence of disease in humans. It seeks to understand how people acquire certain diseases and disorders, and helps reduce risk factors and (hopefully) lower overall cases of illness and disease.

Epidemiologist investigate the patterns and causes of various diseases, and they will need advanced degrees for this complex work. Although most will need at least a master’s degree, it’s possible to enhance your career with a doctorate. In this case, a PhD or a medical degree in that focuses on disease will be a useful option.

Popular Pick: Doctor of Public Health / Global Health Leadership from Indiana University


#11 Anthropologist

Median Salary: $63,670
Growth: 5%

Anthropologists help us understand human history, cultures, and behavior through research and writing. They plan cultural research, customize data collection for specific regions, collect and observe information, and prepare reports that can be used for a variety of purposes. In the end, they help us learn more about the human race, a topic that is both interesting and important.

A master’s degree is often enough for this career, but with advanced education you can enjoy a PhD salary as well as the benefits of this fulfilling and fascinating career.

Popular Pick: PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies / Humanities & Culture from Union Institute University

Get Ready for One of the Highest Paying PhD Jobs!

How long does it take to get a PhD? With an online program, it can be faster and more convenient than ever, all without sacrificing the quality of your education. PhD salaries by field are always different, but this advanced education gives you the chance to earn a top income. When you are looking for the most lucrative PhD programs in the country, start your search with our easy-to-use degree finder below!

Online PhD Programs


Related Resources

How to Choose the Best Online PhD Program
Top 7 Online PhD in Organizational Leadership under $60,000