Pursuing a master’s degree is an important landmark in fields that require a high level of expertise. But before deciding whether or not you should earn one, it is important to know what a master’s degree is and what the benefits of earning one are.
What Is a Master’s Degree?
Master’s programs are valuable for those seeking to increase their expertise and qualifications in their field. Academic degrees like the Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) tend to include research-focused, writing-intensive courses designed to prepare graduates for expert involvement in their field. They are often a stepping point to a doctoral degree and culminate in a capstone project or thesis. Professional degrees like the Master of Business Administration (MBA) are designed to equip graduates with the skills and expertise required to excel in a specific field. Certain positions, such as lawyers and doctors, require a professional degree, whether it's a master's or doctoral degree.
The Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree
There are several potential benefits to earning a master’s degree from a reputable university. Overall, earning a master’s degree can lend itself to earning a higher salary, opening up career opportunities and increasing job stability.
According to a 2013 study of employees in a wide range of occupations conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income was higher among those with a master’s degree compared to those in the same professions with a bachelor’s degree1. And in 2017, professionals with master's degrees made up to $300 more per week than holders of bachelor's degrees, and nearly twice as much as high school graduates2. This shows that in general, holders of master's degrees earn a notably higher yearly salary than those without.
Another important aspect to consider is whether or not the salary bonuses are worth the cost of your degree program. Master's programs can vary greatly in cost, and degrees in the US rarely receive full funding for students, so you will have to find the money to pay for your program. Do some calculations and think about how fast an anticipated bump in salary would help pay off your degree and if an investment of potentially tens of thousands of dollars would be worth it in the end. And don't forget to look at scholarship and fellowship opportunities. Many grad programs will have these listed on their website on specific financial aid pages.
The career opportunities that open up for you with a master’s degree will depend on your field and the degree in question. The coursework you engage in and the time you spend earning a master’s degree is usually factored into your qualifications. Other factors like the soft skills and networking abilities you build during your program will also positively affect your opportunities. If you have an idea in mind of a specific career goal, do some research to figure out if a master's degree is necessary. You may find out that your dream job doesn't explicitly require a master's, or you may learn that your odds of landing the perfect position are slim without a graduate degree. But no matter what conclusions you arrive at, there's no harm to researching as much as you can.
Advanced degree holders tend to have higher qualifications and are fewer in number. According to the Census Bureau, only about 13.1 percent of adults in the United States had an advanced degree in 20183. This correlates with higher employment rates compared to undergraduate degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, they also have higher employment rates4.
Other Things to Consider
The benefits of earning a master’s degree come with a trade-off. Earning your degree will require long-term commitment and can amount to heavy financial demands. It is important to determine whether your professional or academic goals require a master’s degree. Some positions may already be in your reach as a bachelor’s degree holder.
Program Length and Modality
The duration of the program can also be a deciding factor. The average master's degree is around two years full-time, which means spending quite a bit of time away from the workforce. This can negatively impact the lives of people who have to support themselves and their family. Other options that may be more convenient include online or evening classes, though it is important to note that taking classes part-time will extend the duration of your program.
What's Your Passion?
Be sure that you are passionate about your program before committing to the research, writing and other demands it will require. It can be difficult to power through a program that requires such an investment of resources if you're not completely passionate about the subject area. Having a clear understanding of your motivations and interests can keep you from having to switch to a different program or drop out altogether later down the line. No matter where you think your passions lie, always do your research. If you can't imagine immersing yourself in the subject for months or years on end, it may not be the right program for you.
Another way to decide if you should get a master's degree is to consult with others. Current grad students can provide valuable information about the content being taught and other realities of earning a master's degree. It could also be beneficial to meet with a career coach and go over your goals and options in detail while receiving professional advice. But in the end, only you can make the decision about whether or not you should further your education.
If you are ready to put your passions into practice, consider enrolling in a master’s degree program at Grand Canyon University. Our programs help develop the skills and knowledge required to thrive in your field through a number of on-campus and online course options. Visit our website or click the request information button on this page to learn more.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.