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Are Master’s Degrees Worth It?

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Although it’s been established that having an undergraduate can boost your career and earning potential, what about master’s degrees? For those that are ambivalent about whether or not they should attend grad school, this article could help you make an informed decision. Find out the pros and cons of getting a master’s degree and whether or not you’re likely to get a good return on your investment.


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Getting an education is becoming increasingly expensive, but that isn’t deterring people from doing it. Presently, more than one-third of Americans over 25 have a college degree or higher. According to Forbes, in 1989 a four-year degree was $26,902, but now it’s jumped to $104,480. This means many students are leaving college with robust amounts of debt, unsure if they’ll be able to recoup the money they’ve spent once they enter the labor market. In 2019, student loan debt met an all-time high of $1.41 trillion which shows just how much of a pressing issue it is. 

Despite the costs, many argue that education is one of the only ways to level the playing field between social classes and improve earning potential. While education certainly isn’t the only way to attain this end goal, it can be a stepping stone. A college degree can increase your earning potential by making you an average of $1 million in additional earnings in your lifetime. You’d also be half as likely to be unemployed as those who only have a high school diploma.

Although it’s been established that having an undergraduate can boost your career and earning potential, what about master’s degrees? For those that are ambivalent about whether or not they should attend grad school, this article could help you make an informed decision. Find out the pros and cons of getting a master’s degree and whether or not you’re likely to get a good return on your investment. 

Pros

Seeing as it’s always nice to start with the positives, we’ll explore how master’s degrees can be beneficial. Below, you’ll find a couple of convincing reasons why grad school may be worth the expense. 

Better Earning Potential 

Aside from gaining specialized knowledge, one benefit of getting a degree is that it can help improve your earning potential. This can be buttressed by the Social Security Administration, which found that men with bachelor’s degrees earned $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than a high school graduate. Women also benefited from having degrees as they earned $630,000 more than your average high school grad. 

It is important to note that how much more you earn is dependant on the degree or majors you choose. For example, Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that people who majored in biology and life sciences with advanced degrees earned 63% more than those with just a bachelor’s degree. Those who majored in health and medical preparatory programs at the graduate-level had even greater potential, earning 137% more than those with a bachelor’s degree. 

High-Level Career Opportunities

Depending on the career path you decide to take, some require graduate degrees. It would be beneficial to get a master’s degree in such scenarios as it makes your career aspirations more attainable. For instance, if you wanted to become a professor of education, you may want to consider an Ed.D program to prepare you for working in academia. The right education could prepare you for the unique challenges you’ll face working in education, and hopefully be financially rewarding too.

Other professions that require a master’s degree are a physician assistant, a genetic counselor, or a nurse practitioner. 

Broaden Your Horizons 

Career development doesn’t always follow a linear path. At times, it takes different twists and turns depending on your interests and circumstances. At some point, you may want to further your career or even break into a different industry entirely. Having a master’s degree or higher can make such transitions easier. If, for example, you wanted to go from a career in medicine to one in public health, an advanced degree could open up new opportunities for you. A real-life example would be going from being a nurse to becoming a nutritionist or an emergency medical technician.

Good for Social Networks 

A final pro of getting a master’s degree is what it can do for your social network. It’s a way of developing strong and weak ties that could help boost your career at various points. Your social network can be built on campus by participating in events or joining student organizations. Social media and school alumni networking sites could also help for building your network. The people that you engage with and befriend during your time in graduate school could end up giving you job recommendations or career opportunities in the future. 

A business-focused MBA degree, for example, provides the perfect example of a graduate program that opens up numerous networking opportunities, while also teaching management skills crucial to obtaining an executive C-suite position.

Cons

It’s been established that getting a master’s degree has its benefits, but what are the disadvantages? Here are a few that could help you decide whether getting one is the best thing for you. 

The Labor Market is Changing 

A con for getting a master’s degree is the ever-changing needs of the labor market thanks to technology. Nowadays, employers are looking for tech-literate individuals as well as those with soft skills that are able to adapt to the fast-paced and ever-changing market. Some of the most in-demand skills right now that employers in certain industries are beginning to favor over degrees are coding, computer graphics, and social media marketing. IBM is a perfect example of a company that fits this description as 15% of its U.S. employees don’t have a college degree. President of talent, Joanna Daley says “ …instead of looking exclusively at candidates who went to college, IBM now looks at candidates who have hands-on experience via a coding boot camp or an industry-related vocational class.”

To show just how much of an impact technology is making, businesses are not only seeking those with IT skills, but they’re also using technology like smart automation in the race for talent to source the right people.

Not all Opportunities Require Degrees

Spending thousands on graduate school may not be necessary if you opt for a vocational career and attend trade school instead. You can get the average trade school degree for $33,000 while a bachelor’s degree will set you back by $127,000.

You may also find lower competition in trade industries which makes securing a job easier. There is a shortage of truck drivers in the truck driving industry that could be filled, for instance. The bottom line is that there are plenty of jobs that will earn you 5 figures without a degree like becoming a nuclear power reactor operator, commercial pilot, or power plant operator. 

Conclusion 

It is safe to conclude that getting a master’s degree is worth it depending on the field you go into. It can make more of an impact financially in some sectors more than others. That said, master’s degree or not, it’s about having the skills and knowledge that give you the competitive edge you need to survive in the labor market. 

Image Source: Unsplash 


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By BrookeFaulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and wilderness enthusiast. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around the mountains on her ATV.