The Graduate Schools With the Richest Alums

No law school beats Harvard. No degree beats Petroleum Engineering. And if money is truly your only object, consider grad school in California.

One word for you: petroleum (Jason Reed/Reuters)

With a median salary of $201,000, alums of Harvard Law School earn more than any other graduate school after ten years in the workforce, according to a new survey from PayScale.

The survey, which also studied 600 business schools and master's and doctorate programs, found that the most valuable U.S. graduate degree is in petroleum engineering. In fact, an education in petroleum engineering is so valuable that even a bachelor's degree in the subject is more valuable on average than any graduate degree, including law school and business school, according to PayScale editorial director Lydia Frank.

Ranking graduate schools by income can be a sordid business, since it's seductive to conflate the income of alumni with the quality of their education. For example, Stanford and UC Berkeley, two universities separated by a 50-minute drive, have the honor of graduating the first and fourth richest business-school alums, according to PayScale. Both universities are exceptional, but their top-four finishes could equally be a function of their geography—their proximity to the Valley, the quality of its business connections, and the wage premium required to buy even a cardboard-box-sized apartment in San Francisco.

The second caveat to clear out of the way before we present the graphs is that PayScale is a marvelous survey company, but respondents have a tendency to "lie up" in all sorts of income-based questionnaires.

First, here is the top slice of PayScale's master list of graduate programs, which compares the median salaries of 600 law school, business school, master's, and Ph.D. programs. What you quickly gather is (a) elite law schools have the highest median salary; and (b) an astonishing number of them are in California.

The Most Valuable Graduate Programs

When PayScale shared its full dataset with The Atlantic, we lined up every degree—from computer science PhDs to strategic management MBAs—to determine the most lucrative way for twenty-somethings to go back to university for a second time. Rather remarkably, we found that a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering is worth more than a graduate degree in law, business, computer science ... or anything else.

The Most Valuable Graduate Degrees (plus an outlier)

There is more to life than money, one feels the need to say here, and PayScale does an admirable job measuring satisfaction and "meaning" derived from majors and graduate degrees. But for those who see grad school mainly as a money fount, it's useful to know where they can expect to make the most—namely, anything with the word petroleum.