Is a Master’s Degree Worth It? 7 Questions to Clarify Your Career Ambitions
Sometimes it seems like no one can give you real advice on education. Everyone seems to have opinions about higher education—what is worthwhile, what isn’t, how the workforce is changing and more. With so many often contradictory experiences and pieces of advice out there, it can be challenging to sort things out.
But you’ve wondered about getting a Master’s degree and love the thought of boosting your career and gaining new opportunities. Is there any way to find out if a Master’s degree can get you there? Is a Master’s degree worth it?
While no one can offer you a simple yes or no, part of answering your question comes down to a little research and knowing the right questions to ask. For example, which industries seem to have more demand for candidates with Master’s degrees? What do professionals in different fields have to say about the value of the degree? Asking the right questions can help make your decision a bit easier.
Is a Master’s degree worth it? 7 key questions to consider
If you are curious about the value of a Master’s degree, read on! We gathered these puzzle pieces into one place to help you assemble your answer.
1. What is the potential salary difference?
One of the biggest factors in the value of a Master’s degree is the potential it has to boost your salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national salary averages for Bachelor’s degree holders compared to Master’s degree holders indicate that professionals with a Master’s degree make more—about $12,000 more in 2013—but the equation isn’t that simple.*
Your earnings might get a boost from a Master’s degree, or they might not change at all, depending on which career you are working in. According to the BLS, certain industries were much more likely to pay higher salaries for Master’s degree holders, and specific jobs in these industries might pay a much greater amount.
In a BLS report on salary averages based on education, the following industries ranked the highest in difference for Bachelor’s vs. Master’s degree holders:*
- Healthcare and social service
- STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)
On top of these huge industries, the BLS reports that specific professions like designers, librarians, administrative support workers and editors also offered a higher wage for Master’s degree holders on average. In some cases, these industries even call for a Master’s degree as a base-level requirement.
While there’s no guarantee here, if the career you have or the career you want fits on this list, there’s a better chance that you will earn more or be eligible for higher paying positions with a Master’s degree.
2. What’s the difference in opportunity?
If a Master’s degree is the minimum education requirement for the career you want, then earning one is a no-brainer. But with other careers, Master’s degrees have a varying range of impact in terms of opening doors.
For plenty of careers, a Master’s degree offers more of a “wow” factor, helping your application stand out from the pile. Timothy Wiedman, retired professor of Management and Human Resources at Doane University, found that his Master’s degree in Business accelerated his career path.
“That Master's degree quickly led to several job offers,” Wiedman says. “And although the job I accepted didn't require a Master's, having that degree helped put me on the so-called ‘fast track.’ Within five years, I’d received three promotions and had nearly tripled my initial starting salary.”
If the industry you are headed into generally rewards higher education with better opportunities, then a Master’s degree will be more valuable to you.
3. How big is the company you’d like to work for?
Large, prosperous companies often get more applicants for each position, which makes it more competitive, says Jim Wang of Wallethacks. “The knowledge is invaluable,” Wang says. “But the certificate can really open doors, especially in big industries where a lot of candidates are filtered based on resumes.”
Wang wanted to work in the defense industry and knew that in the giant pool of applicants he’d be competing against, having an advanced degree can become an automatic filtering factor. “That extra edge can help tremendously.”
4. How do you feel about your college GPA?
One often-overlooked benefit of a Master’s degree is that it takes focus away from your undergraduate degree. “I was surprised how little employers cared about my undergraduate degree and grades once they saw a Master’s degree,” Wang says. “I didn't have the greatest undergraduate GPA, but my graduate GPA was great—that’s all they cared about.”
This can be especially good news if you tend to score better in classes you love. If you scored low in general education classes that didn’t hold your attention, you probably won’t have the same situation in graduate school where the coursework is more specialized.
5. Are salaries based on education in your field?
Some careers offer automatic salary boosts for a Master’s degree. While you are likely to earn more with a Master’s degree in many different sectors, knowing you can count on that automatic pay raise can help you see when your degree will pay for itself down the road.
“I got a Master’s degree, in part, because there was an automatic pay bump for a public-school teacher to have one,” says Adam Cole, author and musician. Cole had four kids at the time and was concerned about adding school to the mix. But he says it was a great experience that paid off financially. “I also had some opportunities to meet and work with people that I found stimulating and valuable.”
If you’re currently working in a role that offers the Master’s degree you’d like to pursue, it’s a good idea to work with your manager and see if there are any potential financial incentives for workers with Master’s degrees. Even if there’s no automatic pay increase, showing you’re dedicated to professional growth won’t hurt—and they may even have programs or incentives that can help pay for your education.
6. Are you interested in advancing to management positions?
In many fields, a Master’s degree is part of the path to management. Success coach Karyn Ezell worked in human resources for about five years before deciding to pursue more education.
“I felt drawn to the coaching and mentoring side of the business, and I really wanted to pursue that interest. A Master’s degree was a way to differentiate myself from other HR professionals, and to increase my knowledge and skills of how to help others succeed in their careers,” Ezell says.
A Master’s degree can give you a much broader sense of how people, businesses and organizations work, Ezell explains. “It allows a human resources professional to effectively participate at a strategic level in an organization, rather than in just a transactional role.” Almost immediately after completing her Master’s program, Ezell was recruited for a manager-level position, which then quickly led to recruitment for an executive-level position.
“My Master’s degree set me apart from other applicants with more years of experience than I had,” Ezell says. “A Master’s degree is critical for those who aspire to lead in their field. Even when an individual is applying for an entry-level position for the first time, an advanced degree (or a degree in progress) signals potential beyond that first position.”
7. Are you looking to shift your career focus?
Some professionals seek a Master’s degree to get more education in an area that wasn’t their Bachelor’s degree focus. “I decided to get a Master’s degree in Business to augment my technical background, since I am in business sales and engineering,” says Dr. Sonja Jones, senior sales engineer at Bay Dynamics.
“I feel it has paid off immensely,” Jones says. “It is rare to find a person who is versed deeply in technology and also deeply in business—the two together are greatly needed in all types of businesses.” Jones believes more opportunities have been available to her because of her Master’s degree and her dual areas of expertise. “I have been able to pivot in many directions.”
Is a Master’s degree worth it? Adding it up
So, is a Master’s degree worth it? It depends on many factors—but the specific career you want is probably the biggest clue. Look at how you answered the above questions and consider how they intersect with your career ambitions. When you gather those details together, you are in a much better place to decide whether a Master’s degree will be worth it to you.
And of course, there are many other reasons to consider pursuing more education in your field. Many of our experts mentioned the incredible skills and insights they developed in their graduate programs, as well as networks with like-minded people and important life lessons. Those intangible benefits can be much harder to measure, but you can gather an idea about what your experience could be like when you look deeper into a specific Master’s program.
If a Master’s degree sounds like it might be right for you, familiarize yourself with the Master’s degree programs at Rasmussen College to find your industry and learn about your options.
*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Career Outlook, Should I Get a Master’s Degree? [information accessed November 6, 2018] https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm