It used to be that a bachelor’s degree opened up a lot of doors for you. During high school, parents, teachers and guidance counselors all pushed us to go to college and get a degree — if not a four-year school, a two-year community college would do — and who knows, perhaps you’d continue on to get that four-year degree. That magical piece of paper that was supposed to open all the doors to a successful career and life.
But there was no talk about which degrees would lead to the better-paying jobs, or which degrees were fairly useless without going into a master’s degree program.
It seems that a bachelor’s degree is the ‘new normal’ for post-high school graduates. But does that mean you have to step up your game and go after a master’s degree? Credit hours for post-baccalaureate studies are more expensive, and the programs are fairly limited. The big master’s programs are in the areas of education, healthcare and business, as an advanced degree correlates to higher salaries because of the increase in skills. But what about master’s degrees in other areas?
When to Go for an Advanced Degree
— When it will increase your salary, such as if you’re an educator or employed by a company that will bump up your earnings when you bump up your education. Will your employer contribute to the cost of said master’s degree? Even better. Be sure to calculate how long it will take you to pay off the tuition, though. If your master’s program costs $30,000 and you’ll only see a $2,000 raise from it, it will take you 15 years to break even. And that’s not counting the interest you’re paying on school loans. Try for scholarships, grants or stipends (such as for being a teacher’s assistant) to cut down costs.
— If you want to change careers. You’ll need the education, and the master-level degree will be a nice addition to your resume.
When NOT to Further Your Schooling
— Unless you know for sure you want to become a doctor or a lawyer, if you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree, it’s highly recommended to get some real-world experience before deciding to jump right into a master’s program. Why? Because of the difficulty in getting a job after nearly 6 years of schooling. Sure, you’ll have the education, but experience counts for a lot in the job search. You’ll still be stuck in an entry-level position, if you can even get that, because many potential employers will see you as overqualified. Think about waiting a few years before moving on.
— If you can’t afford the debt. Don’t go into hock on the off-chance that you think you can get a better position with a higher salary. If you absolutely are sure that you want to go for a master’s degree, avoid this pitfall by doing your research first and choosing a program in an area that is projected to see growth in the near future. And, of course, be sure that it’s a field that you enjoy. Don’t go into a specific master’s program solely because you see dollar signs.
The “Best” Master’s Degrees
According to Forbes.com, the best master’s degrees in terms of salary and projected increase in available positions over the next decade:
1. Computer Science
2. Physician Assistant Studies
3. Civil Engineering
These aren’t your everyday advanced degrees. For me, I won’t get anything out of going for a master’s degree (except a big, fat debt). Don’t get me wrong — I love learning. I’ve always loved school, and I was an excellent student. But it’s just not financially wise for me to do so, since it really won’t further my career at this point.
Are you thinking about getting a master’s degree? Or are you against the idea? Why?