5 Fastest Growing Careers That Require a Graduate Degree

If you are wondering what you should ‘get a masters in’ by going back to school, you may want to consider one of the 5 fastest growing careers that require a graduate degree. All five choices represent occupations with the most projected growth between 2016-26 as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), where the typical entry-level education is a master’s degree.i

Earning a master’s degree is a big commitment. First, you likely want to make sure it’s worth the investment – of time, money and energy. In addition to considering your interest, it could be important to look towards your future career.

Why not match your strengths with some solid data about job growth and salary potential? You could explore topics you love while preparing to pursue a potentially dynamic career path in the future.

What Are the 5 Fastest Growing Careers That Require a Graduate Degree?

The fastest growing careers that require a graduate degree are:

  1. Physician Assistant - PA
  2. Nurse Practitioner - NP
  3. Statistician
  4. Mathematician
  5. Genetic Counselor. ii

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Employment Outlook for the Fastest Growing Careers With a Graduate Degree (2016-2026)

The number one factor in determining the top 5 fastest growing careers requiring a graduate degree is the employment outlook from 2016-2026. This is a calculation to project the percent change in available positions. i

Why is this helpful? Well you may want to consider if open positions may be out there once you graduate from your master’s program. This data could also indicate an increasing demand for these services.

Below is a rundown of each of the top 5 occupation's projected growth. As a comparison, the national average growth rate for all occupations in the same time period was 7%.iii

  1. Physician Assistants: In 2016, there were 106,200 PAs. This is projected to increase to 145,900 by 2026 and represents a 37.4 percent growth, or 39,700 new jobs. i
  2. Nurse Practitioners: In 2016, there were 155,500 NPs. This is projected to increase to 211,500 by 2026 and represents a 36 percent growth, or 56,000 new jobs. i
  3. Statisticians: In 2016, there were 37,200 statisticians. This is projected to increase to 49,600 by 2016 and represents a 34 percent growth, or 12,400 new jobs. i
  4. Mathematicians: In 2016, there were 3,100 mathematicians. This is projected to increase to 4,000 by 2016 and represents a 29.4 percent growth, or 900 new jobs. i
  5. Genetic Counselors: In 2016, there were 3,100 genetic counselors. This is projected to increase to 3,900 by 2016 and represents a 28.3 percent growth, or 900 new jobs i

Which of These Careers Have the Highest Salary Potential?

Then there’s the salary potential. Will you be able to pay off your student loans? Live the lifestyle you dream of? Studies by the BLS show that “potential wages are just one of the factors to consider before embarking on a graduate education.”iv

And of course there are no guarantees of employment or salary. But it’s always useful to get an idea of where potential salaries may stand.

For the 5 fastest growing careers that require a graduate degree, the median annual salaries reported in May 2016 were as follows. i

  1. Physician Assistants: $101,480 i
  2. Nurse Practitioners: $100,910 i
  3. Statisticians: $80,500 i
  4. Mathematicians: $105,810 i
  5. Genetic Counselors: $74,120 i

As a comparison, the 2016 median wage for all occupations in the US was $37,040.v

What Master’s Degree Should I Earn?

Deciding to earn a master’s degree, never the less which one, is a complex decision. In addition to job outlook and salary potential, you also likely want to enjoy what you do. Fortunately, each of these 5 fast growing careers are attached to potentially dynamic courses of study that could fuel your mind and inspire your future work.

So how do you decide? Consider your interests and strengths. Then discover what each career path may offer and how you might actively pursue your goals through a master’s degree program.

Find a match? Follow any of the links to review related masters programs and start on your way.

Career Spotlight #1: Physician Assistant (PA)

The fastest growing career requiring a graduate degree is that of a Physician Assistant. Physician Assistants (also known as PAs), examine, diagnose and treat patients. However, they are not licensed medical doctors.

Instead, PAs practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons and other healthcare workers. They are not licensed to perform surgery, but could assist doctors in surgical procedures and work under supervision.vi

What Are the Duties of a Physician Assistant?iv

The specifics of physician assistants’ duties and how much supervision they need are defined to an extent by each state and employer. However, PAs work in all areas of medicine – primary care, family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry.

A physician assistant might close an incision for a surgeon, educate parents on how to care for an asthmatic child, prescribe medicine, and beyond. Below are several other duties that are reported by PAs.

  • Take and review patient’s medical histories
  • Examine patients
  • Order diagnostic tests
  • Set broken bones
  • Immunize patients

Employment Outlook for PAs iii

Per the BLS, employment of Physician Assistants is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026. One reason for this trend is the fact that baby boomers are aging and with this, more health care services will be needed. Also, there is a rise in the number of chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes) which drives up demand for providers.

PAs could be trained more quickly than physicians. Beyond that, team-based health-care provision models continue to evolve and become more prevalent, making demand for PAs likely to expand.

Physician Assistant Salary (2016) v

The median annual salary for physician assistants in May 2016 was $101,480, and most worked full time. Furthermore, the median annual salary for PAs in the top industries in which they were employed in 2016 was as follows.

  • Employment services: $112,270
  • Outpatient centers: $108,650
  • Hospitals (state, local, private): $104,290
  • Offices of physicians: $100,040
  • Educational services (state, local, private): $97,470

How to Become a Physician Assistant vii

To pursue a career as a Physician Assistant, students need to earn a masters degree from an accredited Physician Assistant program. This could take at least 2 years of full-time postgraduate study. Program lengths vary by school.

Also, all states require physicians to be licensed. To achieve this, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). A physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”

Becoming a Physician Assistant at a Glance*

  1. Take 2 to 4 years of undergraduate science-focused coursework (program lengths vary by school)
  2. Develop patient care experience
  3. Earn a Masters Physician Assistant degree
  4. Achieve PA Licensure

Getting There: Masters in Physician Assistant Programs

Masters in Physician Assistant programs often meld coursework and lab work in health, with a clinical medical education. In their first year, students typically take a series of prescribed courses, such as the examples listed below.

  • Clinical Medicine
  • Pathophysiology of Disease
  • Pharmacology
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology
  • Physical Diagnosis
  • Medical Ethics

Physician Assistant programs then may devote the second year to a ‘clinical block’ or, rotations. Rotations could be offered in areas such as emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, prenatal care/gynecology, general surgery, pediatrics and behavioral health.

Rotations allow students to observe real medical scenarios and put theory into practice. Sometimes, a clinical rotation could also lead to permanent employment, if the supervisor physician seeks an assistant. viii

PA Program Application Requirements

Applicants to PA masters programs typically need to complete a web-based form on CASPA – the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants. This allows them to apply to multiple programs at the same time.

Admission requirements are broad, and students usually need an undergraduate science-focused degree with a stipulated minimum GPA and a number of patient-care experience hours. Experience could take the form of work as registered nurses, EMTs or paramedics, volunteering or other efforts.

Also, applicants to most PA programs must usually fulfill some prerequisites in terms of coursework and labs. These might include topics such as general biology, general chemistry, human anatomy, microbiology psychology and statistics.

Other than this, applicants may need to satisfy technical standards (e.g. basic motor skills) and may need to submit test scores (e.g. GRE, MCAT, TOEFL). Since there is some variance, interested students should refer to individual schools.

That stated, there are what are called ‘Advanced Physician Post Professional Programs’ which may have different admission requirements. These are typically planned-out for Practicing Physician Assistants who may have graduated from an accredited PA program prior to 1984. Or, who have earned a bachelors degree in Physician Assistant studies. Contact schools to learn more.

Career Spotlight #2: Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse Practitioners hold the number 2 spot for fastest growing careers with a graduate degree. A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse who has formal education in patient care beyond a Registered Nurse (RN).

NPs are trained in the diagnosis, treatment and management of chronic and common illness.

Are Nurse Practitioners Doctors? viii

While they study people and how to heal them, NPs are not physicians. However, many NPs work independently, prescribe medications, and order laboratory tests. They consult with physicians and other health professionals when needed.

The exact scope of Nurse Practitioner duties is defined somewhat by the state and the type of population they care for. That said, below are several duties that might be performed by NPs.

  • Primary Care
  • Specialty Care (E.g. adult and geriatric health, pediatric health, or psychiatric and mental health)
  • Health Promotion
  • Conduct Research
  • Create Patient Care Plans

Employment Outlook for NPs ix

Employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to an increase in demand for healthcare services and emphasis on preventive care.

Also, because of the variety of services they could provide, NPs are more and more utilized in team-based models of care.

Nurse Practitioner Salary (2016)

Based on data from May 2016, Nurse Practitioners earned a median annual salary of $100,910.x More specifically, the median annual salary for NPs in the top industries in which they were employed in 2016 was as follows.xi

  • Offices of Physicians: $103,030
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $109,030
  • Outpatient Care Centers: $107,160
  • Colleges, Universities, Professional Schools: $96,750
  • Offices of Other Health Professionals: $102,160

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner xii

Nurse Practitioners need to earn at least a master’s degree from an accredited program to practice. Some NPs, especially those interested in research and leadership, choose to go on and earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as well.

Beyond the graduate-level education, NPs must successfully pass national certification exams in a patient population focus, and earn state APRN licensure. In addition, APRN positions may require certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS) certification, and/or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS).

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner at a Glance*

  1. Gain undergraduate nursing experience
  2. Earn a registered nurse license
  3. Complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program - It might take around three years to complete this course of study. Program lengths vary by school.
  4. Consider a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP) - DNP programs often include advanced courses in leadership, population health, and typically culminate in a final capstone project. They represent an additional step in your NP education and could help set you apart.
  5. Earn required APRN licensure and certificationsxii

Getting There: Masters in Nurse Practitioner Programs

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Nurse Practitioner programs meld classroom education and clinical experience. In class, students might take part in seminars and roundtable discussions. Classes often explore theories and concepts of nursing science and their applications, along with the management of health care.

Research is used to provide a basis for the improvement of health-care techniques. Courses in anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology are common, as well as coursework specific to the chosen nurse practitioner role. For example, a nurse who wants to specialize in pediatrics may take courses in child development.

General NP coursework could also include the following.

  • Biostatistics
  • Health Economics
  • Health Care Ethics
  • Health Promotion
  • Nutrition
  • Advanced Health Assessment

Areas of emphasis in nurse practitioner programs include acute care, adult health, child care, community health, emergency care, geriatric care, neonatal health, occupational health, and primary care.xiii Research individual NP programs to see if your preferred specialty is covered.

NP Program Application Requirements

Admission to an NP program could depend on one’s prior education and the specific type of program.

Many choose a BSN to MSN program, which may require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and a current RN license. Aside from transcripts and minimum GPA, some schools may want to see a current resume, letters of reference, personal statement and test scores such as GRE and TOEFL.

Additional NP programs may be available for RNS without a BSN or those with backgrounds in fields outside of healthcare. These are often called accelerated programs or direct entry programs. Contact schools to learn about potential options.

Career Spotlight #3 Statisticians

The role of statistician is the 3rd fastest growing career that requires a graduate degree. Statisticians develop or apply mathematical or statistical theory and modeling to solve practical problems in industries such as business, engineering and healthcare.

Some statisticians choose to further refine their skills to pursue a niche career. They might explore fields like bio-statistics, agricultural statistics, business statistics, or economic statistics. xiv

What Exactly Do Statisticians Do? xvi

To accomplish their goals, a statistician could design ways to collect, organize, interpret and present numerical data so that it is usable information. For instance, a mathematical statistician might work on surveys or opinion polls.

Essentially, they seek to make large quantities of data understandable. Learn more about Statistics and Data Analytics Programs.

Employment Outlook for Statisticians xv

The BLS forecasts a 33 percent growth in overall employment for statisticians from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than average. Growth is expected as statistical analysis is used more widely to make informed decisions in areas such as healthcare, policy, business and scientific research. Also, the availability of Internet data is on the rise.

Statistician Salary (2016) xvi

The median annual salary for statisticians in May 2016 was $80,500. The median salaries for statisticians in the top industries they were employed in are as follows.

  • Federal Government: $100,750
  • Research and Development: $87,160
  • Insurance Carriers: $77,420
  • Healthcare: $76,190
  • Colleges and Universities: $71,070

How to Become a Statisticianxvii

Statisticians typically need a masters degree for entry level positions. Most statisticians have degrees in mathematics, economics, computer science, or another quantitative field.

Students who want to become a statistician are generally advised to take as many math courses as possible in high school. Computer programming courses are also suggested.

Since statisticians may pursue a career in many fields (E.g. education, marketing, psychology, sports) it may also help to develop an understanding of a specific area you hope to enter.

Becoming a Statistician at a Glance*

  1. Take high school math and computer courses
  2. Earn a Bachelors in Mathematics degree
  3. Earn a Masters in Statistics degree
  4. Consider a PhD in Statistics program if you want to teach at a postsecondary institution or conduct research

Getting There: Masters in Statistics Programs

Masters in Statistics programs could lead to a Master of Applied Statistics, Master of Science in Data Science, Masters in Business Analytics or a related degree. Each program has its own requirements, and full-time students might need from one to two years to complete their studies. Program lengths vary.

The curriculum is generally planned-out to help students hone their analytical abilities and prepare turn raw data into actionable information. Some of the courses students might take are listed below. xix

  • Linear algebra
  • Calculus
  • Experimental Design
  • Survey Methodology
  • Probability
  • Probability

Statistics Masters Program Application Requirements

Applicants to Masters in Statistics programs may need a bachelor’s degree and past experience in linear algebra, calculus and statistics. Some schools may also want to see Math Entrance Exam or GRE scores.

Career Spotlight #4: Mathematicians

Mathematician is the 4th fastest growing career needing a graduate degree. Mathematicians may conduct research in fundamental mathematics or, work to apply mathematical techniques to science, management and other fields. They often assemble sets of assumptions and then, explore the consequences of each set.xviii

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Mathematician? xviii

First and foremost, mathematicians are skilled in areas such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications. As complex problem solvers and critical thinkers, mathematicians use and develop computational methods and theories.

Many are also well versed in computers, engineering, technology and physics.

Employment Outlook for Mathematicians xv

Employment of mathematicians is projected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, reports the BLS. This fast growth is attributed to the rise in digitally stored data which requires a mathematician’s analytical abilities.

Mathematicians Salary (2016) xvi

The median annual salary in May 2016 for mathematicians was $105,810. Median salaries for mathematicians by the top industries they were employed in are as follows.

  • Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting: $121,180
  • Research and Development: $117,360
  • Federal Government: $109,630
  • Finance & Insurance: $100,010
  • Colleges & Universities: $54,840

How to Become a Mathematician xvii

Mathematicians typically need at least a masters degree in Mathematics and Statistics. In private industry or to pursue a career as a math professor, however, a doctoral degree may be required.

Many colleges and universities advise or require mathematics students to take courses in a related field, such as computer science, engineering, physics, or statistics. Because mathematicians often work with data analysis software, computer programming courses may also be beneficial.

A background in the field one hopes to pursue a career in could also be wise. For instance, those who want to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry might need a background in health sciences.

Becoming A Mathematician At a Glance *

  1. Earn a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics and take some computer courses
  2. Earn a Masters in Mathematics degree
  3. Explore an area of interest (Government, Business, Healthcare)
  4. Consider going on to earn a PhD in Theoretical or Applied Mathematics

Getting There: Masters in Mathematics Programs

Masters in Mathematics programs encompass a wide range of options that include Master of Science (MS) in Mathematics programs, MS in Applied and Computational Mathematics programs, Masters in Business Analytics programs, and more.

Some are flexible and may allow students to select a focus in one of several areas of mathematics, such as applied mathematics, statistics, algebra or analysis.

Full-time students may be able to earn their Masters in Mathematics degree in about two years. Curriculums vary, but could include courses such as the topics below.

  • Topology
  • Number Theory
  • Mathematical Statistics
  • Knot Theory

In addition to coursework, programs may ask students to complete a master’s thesis. Contact individual programs to learn more about available classes and requirements.

Application Requirements for a Masters in Math Program

For many Masters in Mathematics programs, an undergraduate degree is required, preferably in mathematics, mathematics education, or an area with a significant mathematics requirement. Applicants should refer to each program for further details.

Career Spotlight #5: Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors are last but not least on our fastest growing careers list. Genetic counselors identify specific genetic disorders or risks through the study of medical genetics and counseling.

Genetic counselors may provide general care, or choose a niche in which to pursue employment. These more focused areas could include prenatal and preconception care, pediatric care, cancer, cardiovascular issues, neurology and more. xix

What Role Does a Genetic Counselor Play?

Genetic counselors assess how inherited diseases might affect an individual or their family. To do this, they look at family history to evaluate risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects.

They could then relay information and support to other healthcare providers, or to their patients so that the individual or family might make an informed choice about healthcare.

Employment Outlook for Genetic Counselors xx

Considered a ‘small occupation’ by the BLS, employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than average. Growth is due to technological innovation in lab tests and developments in genomics, both of which give counselors more opportunities to conduct analysis.

Genetic Counselor Salary (2016)xxi

Based on BLS data for May 2016, the median salary for genetic counselors was $74,120. The median salaries for genetic counselors in the top industries in which they were employed are listed below.

  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories: $86,050
  • Physicians’ Offices: $74,540
  • Hospitals (State, local and private): $72,290
  • Colleges and Universities: $63,860

How to Become a Genetic Counselor xxii

Genetic Counselors must typically earn a masters degree in genetic counseling and achieve board certification. Graduates might pursue certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Also, as of 2016, 22 states required certified counselors to be licensed.

Becoming a Genetic Counselor At a Glance*

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  2. Gain volunteer or work experience
  3. Complete a Masters in Genetic Counseling program
  4. Earn licensure or certification if required to work in your state.

Getting There: Masters in Genetic Counseling Programs

Masters in Genetic Counseling Programs are typically two-year courses of study which could lead to a Master of Science (MS) in Genetic Counseling degree.

The curriculum typically melds classroom learning with internships or clinical rotations. Clinical rotations could help students develop practical abilities to complement knowledge in the following topics.xxii

  • Public Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Psychology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biotechnology
  • Human Genetics, Gene Therapy

Master in Genetic Counseling Application Requirements

Applicants to a Masters in Genetic Counseling program may need to have a bachelors degree and have taken several prerequisite courses. These might general chemistry, biology with lab, genetics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, psychology and statistics.

Aside from GRE scores, personal statement, transcripts, and letters, it is recommended by some schools that applicants have volunteer or work experience. This experience might relate to counseling, developmental disabilities or genetics. or involve shadowing a Genetic Counselor.

Find Masters Programs for Fast Growing Careers

So there you have it. The top 5 fastest growing careers that require a graduate degree. Motivated to give one of them a shot? We’ve made it easy to get started.

Take advantage of our directory to compare masters programs in your chosen category. Then, connect with those graduate schools with the on-page forms provided. The rest is up to you!

*Fulfilling these steps is not a guarantee of employment

Sources: [i] bls.gov/emp/ep_table_103.htm | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-6 | [iv] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm | [v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-5 | [vi] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-2 | [vii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-4 | [viii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-2 | [ix] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-6 | [x] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-5 | [xi] bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm | [xii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-4 | [xiii] aacnnursing.org/Nursing-Education-Programs/Masters-Education | [xiv] onetonline.org/link/summary/15-2041.00 | [xv] bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians-and-statisticians.htm#tab-6 | [xvi] bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians-and-statisticians.htm#tab-5 | [xvii] bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians-and-statisticians.htm#tab-4 | [xviii] onetonline.org/link/summary/15-2021.00 | [xix] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm#tab-2 | [xx] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm#tab-6 | [xxi] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm#tab-5 | [xxii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/genetic-counselors.htm#tab-4

This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer or guarantee of employment and that may help prepare students to meet the licensing or certification requirements of the field they choose to study. Students should check with the appropriate licensing or certifying body to make sure the program they apply to will help meet any licensing or certification requirements. Students should also consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific program curriculum.