Is a master’s degree worth it? Will you get a return on your investment?

As a professional looking to advance your career, you may have asked yourself, “Is a master’s degree worth it?” How badly you need a graduate degree to advance your career depends on several factors.

A graduate degree is expensive and requires a significant chunk of time. Most programs take two years of full-time coursework. “Tuition for some two-year, full-time graduate programs can cost more than $100,000,” reports Emma Kerr in a March 2020 article for US News and World Report. For anyone other than the uber-wealthy, that means a giant load of student debt, and when you figure in the opportunity cost of lost wages if you can’t work at the same time, a master’s degree is even more costly.

Is a master's degree worth it? A graduate degree is expensive and requires significant time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek one if your profession doesn’t deliver a high salary. It just means you should weigh the decision carefully.

In the best-case scenarios, those costs can be considered investments in yourself that will pay off down the road. After all, the median annual income for those with a bachelor’s degree, working full time, is $65,372, while their peers with a master’s degree are earning $80,223, says Kerr.

But averages are composed of highs and lows. Included in median calculations are some careers that deliver a much better return on that considerable investment than others. Doing some research into where your chosen field falls on the spectrum will be essential to making a wise decision. That doesn’t mean you should not seek a graduate degree if your profession doesn’t deliver a high salary in return. It just means you should weigh carefully your own goals and values in making the decision.

Careers that affirmatively answer the question of “Is a master’s degree worth it?”

A 2019 article by Emma Newcombe at Balance Careers gives examples of careers in which a graduate degree brings high returns. We’ve picked out several from her list that relate to the industries we work with here at Bradsby Group. They’re given here with their median annual salary and projected trajectory of job growth between now and 2026:

  • Finance: $125,208, 15 percent. A graduate degree in finance is preparation for upper-level positions in which an employee manages the financial health of an organization, involving investments, risk management, and mergers and acquisitions.
  • Computer science: $115,730, 18 percent. Persons with these graduate degrees become computer and security analysts, managers, and researchers.
  • Biomedical engineering: $117,243, 7 percent. This graduate degree prepares people to work developing new devices and systems for healthcare.
  • Information systems: $110,678, 15 percent. Information management and analysts are increasingly in demand as we innovate in the use of technology.
  • Civil engineering: $94,396, 20 percent. Civil engineers design and oversee construction of highways, bridges, and utility supply systems.

Graduate degree, or graduate certificate?

For some, a graduate certificate will make more sense than a degree program, advises Forbes contributor Ginger Dean. A certificate can often be completed with half the coursework of a degree, and it costs less. However, financial aid is less available to cover tuition for a certificate, so asking an employer about an educational benefit is important.

Consider a certificate, says Dean, if you want to learn specific new skills to move ahead in your chosen field, if you are switching careers and want to get up to speed, or if it will help you meet the requirements for state licensing. A graduate certificate can boost salary by 13-25 percent above that of a bachelor’s degree alone. Certificate programs are often set up to fit into schedules of those already employed. Plus, credits usually transfer, so it can be a first step toward an eventual master’s degree.

Where do you want your career to take you next?

Some of the opportunities at our recruiting partners require graduate degrees; others do not. We invite you to check their listings on our site and submit your resume. Let’s move you forward!

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