Should You Get a Master’s Degree? How to Decide—And How to Get Started
An advanced degree is an investment in your future, and a chance to improve your earning potential, connections, and help you move up in your career. Master’s degrees are for people who want to lead, and who want to make a difference in their chosen field. A master’s program is truly for those who want to take things to the next level.
Before you run off to graduate school, you need to know what it is that attracts people to continuing their education past the bachelor’s level. Knowing what a typical master’s degree program entails can help you decide if it’s right for you.
Even if you have a job and like it, earning a master’s degree may help you advance or change careers. A master’s degree can also work to your advantage–toward a promotion or to help land an entirely new job–if you work in library services, social work, or education and are looking to make a career change.
Deciding whether or not to get a master’s degree is something that many professionals struggle with. It’s a big commitment that can cost you time, money, and your freedom.
You may have come across this article because you are sincerely interested in expanding your knowledge base. If that’s the case, you’ll likely get plenty out of any master’s degree program you enroll in. Keep reading if you are worrying about degree inflation (if employers demand a master’s for jobs that previously needed only a bachelor’s) and wondering what the pros and cons of getting a master’s are. This article explains what you can expect when you enroll in grad school.
The following points will help you decide if you should pursue a master’s degree:
- What is a master’s degree?
- The different types of master’s degrees
- Is an MBA better than other master’s degrees?
- How to identify the best master’s degree programs
- How long does it take to earn a master’s degree?
- When should I get my master’s degree?
- How to get a master’s degree while you work
- The pros and cons of getting a master’s degree
- Should you get a master’s degree?
What is a master’s degree?
The master’s degree signifies that the holder has a high level of theoretical and practical knowledge about a particular area of professional practice or field of study. A master’s degree is typically earned after a bachelor’s degree. Master’s are offered in many different fields, but most have common traits such as allowing students to focus on a specialty subject, and providing eligibility for more advanced degrees.
A master’s degree can be used in a variety of related areas, including to increase credentials for a wide range of jobs or to increase the scholarly knowledge base and specialized technological skills of an individual working in a specific field or profession. Before enrolling in a master’s program, students must first begin with a bachelor’s degree. This course will outline key aspects of master’s programs and the requirements to earn such a degree.
The names of master’s degrees can be complicated. In general, a master’s degree in the humanities is called a Master of Arts degree. Master of Science degrees are usually conferred in science, engineering, math, and medicine, but not always. You can enroll in a Master of Arts in Chemistry program at Boston University, or a Master of Science in Chemistry program at Cornell University, or a Master of Chemistry program abroad.
The designations “of Arts” and “of Science” can tell you who runs the program, which departments oversee it, and whether or not you’ll need to complete a thesis… or not tell you much at all; it varies from school to school. Some degree names simply indicate the field of study, as in these degrees:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Engineering (ME, MEng)
- Master of Education (MEd)
- Master of Laws (LLM)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Public Policy (MPP)
- Master of Social Work (MSW)
A master’s degree is the lowest level of advanced degree. In some fields, it is a terminal degree, meaning that no Phd or professional doctorate follows. In those cases, the PhD marks an academic “career change” to a new field or an academic discipline outside academia altogether.
The different types of master’s degrees
All master’s degrees are very different. Some programs are designed for students who are seeking professional degrees that will help them advance into specific roles in a field. Others are intended for students who want to make the transition from academic to research or leadership roles. And some are designed for students who want a flexible degree that can be applied in just about any situation.
For example, teachers can earn a Master of Education or a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in their selected subject. The former is better for teachers who might want to move into administrative or leadership roles in the future, while the latter is best for educators who want to stay in the classroom all their careers.
There may be multiple concentration areas or specialization tracks within a broad master’s degree, which further complicates matters. Students in Master of Public Health programs, for instance, may choose from among concentrations like:
- Health services administration
- Health education
- Community health sciences
- Global health
- Public health policy
- Health promotion
- Environmental health
- Maternal and child health
- Public health management
- Social and behavioral sciences
- Sustainable development and health
Some programs require students to spend the majority of their time on concentration coursework. In others, it makes up only a small part of the curriculum.
Choosing among the various master’s degree programs can be daunting given the amount of choice and how the names of degrees are not standardized. The Masters of Science in Financial Services at one school may be nearly identical to the MBA in financial planning at another-or completely different.
The right type of graduate degree to achieve your goals is not always apparent. Partly it’s because master’s degrees have different names in different disciplines, so you’re not really sure if the degree will suit your needs. Here are some basic types of master’s degrees that will help you figure out which program is perfect for you.
Is an MBA better than other master’s degrees?
Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs are among the most popular graduate degrees; according to Poets and Quants, over 200,000 MBAs are granted every year. Most field-specific master’s degree programs offer MBAs, possibly because people believe MBA graduates earn more than graduates with other types of master’s degrees. In some cases, that is correct (you will most likely earn more with an MBA in technology than with a Master of Science in Computer Science), but in others, it is not (professionals with a Master of Science in Information Technology or Master of Science in Nursing with an anesthesia concentration may make more).
In general, an MBA is often more useful than other master’s degrees because it offers students the flexibility to change career paths. You can study business or not, and you can study management or not — depending on your focus. So if you’ve got a degree in political science or marketing, for example, you can leave that field behind and become a CFO or operations manager if you decide that’s the right move.
An MBA is often the first Master’s degree people consider after earning their bachelor’s degree. This makes sense because an MBA can lead to higher salaries, better career possibilities, and a chance to put your coursework to practice. However, a subject-specific MBA isn’t always the best option. Some students have found that when they graduate with a specialized master’s degree in something like accounting or marketing, they are actually able to get jobs with higher salaries than those who graduated with an MBA.
How to identify the best master’s degree programs
The best graduate programs won’t necessarily be the ones at the most prestigious universities. That’s because you can be sure of getting an amazing education if you have what it takes to get into Stanford, Harvard, or MIT. These schools also don’t have the same name-dropping cred as some schools that have great graduate-level programs. Getting into a top 10 school on your own probably won’t hurt you, but it’s not necessary either if you pick the right school for your interests and goals.
An important factor to look for is accreditation. Programs can be accredited on a regional or professional level, on a programmatic one, or all three. Obtaining accreditation can determine whether you are eligible for tuition reimbursement from your employer, for certain kinds of student loans or financial aid, and whether your degree will help you get into other master’s degree programs or related PhD programs. Accreditation signifies that a program meets specific academic standards set by experts in the field.
- The cost of the program
- Your interests
- How much a degree will increase your earning potential
- Your career goals
- Whether your employer will shoulder some or all of the cost
- Whether a master’s degree is necessary or even useful in your field.
It isn’t necessary to do complicated mental math to determine if a program is right for you. Identify the best graduate program for you by considering these questions about graduate degrees:
- Do the top professionals in your field tend to be graduates of the most prestigious schools? If so, going to a less prestigious school may not be worth the time and money.
- Will your employer pay for your degree? In that case, you may be able to apply to the top-ranked programs without worrying about paying annual tuition.
- Can you take a sabbatical and study full time? If the answer is no, look for online master’s degree programs and executive programs.
How long does it take to earn a master’s degree?
When you are looking into earning your master’s degree, another common question that will come up is: How long does it take to earn a master’s degree? While there is no one answer to this question because every program is different and every student is different, most master’s degree programs take two years for full-time students to complete (and if you’re an accelerated student, you can finish in less time). That said, there are plenty of accelerated one-year and 18-month programs available as well. While some students finish more quickly because they need only complete fewer credit hours (30 versus 45 to 60), others are required to commit to a rigorous schedule of classes and coursework.
For example, George Washington University offers a one-year Master of Public Health program that requires students (who are not permitted to work during the program) to complete 60 to 80 hours of coursework per week. Part-time programs are also available that can be completed in as little as three years, though some students take five or more. There are also programs that combine a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
When you’re considering your options of how to go about getting a master’s degree in a certain subject, it is important for you to understand the many factors that will affect your time commitment as you work toward obtaining your degree. Obviously, it is essential that you understand the time commitment involved in pursuing a master’s degree at a particular school, but it is even more important to be honest with yourself about what kind of commitment you can handle. You have to evaluate how much extra time outside of your normal lifestyle you are able to invest.
The length of time it will take you to earn a master’s degree depends on your access to free time, your dedication, and the program you choose. Some programs offer full-time, accelerated options that can let you complete a master’s degree in as little as 2 years, while other programs are more flexible and promote part-time study over four or five years. But no matter how long it takes you to finish, you’ll still have the same degree.
When should I get my master’s?
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, approximately 30% of undergraduates earn a master’s degree within five years. In some fields, particularly in academia and professional areas, many students opt to enroll in a master’s program immediately after earning their undergraduate degrees.
Going straight from a bachelor’s degree into a master’s program is an option when you really want to pursue advanced education, but your career goals are less focused in general. You may not feel as if you’re ready to try the job hunt for a profession where you’ll be required to have a master’s degree. This could leave you in limbo and frustrated, because although you want to get on with your career, you don’t know what options you should pursue. A master’s degree program will give you additional training and development, in an area that interests you, and prepare you for opportunities down the road.
In contrast, many master’s degree programs require students to have some work experience-or even significant work experience-in order to even apply. For example, most MBA students work for three to five years before enrolling in a program.
How to get a master’s degree while you work
How to get a master’s degree while you work can be a challenge. The good news is that many people have overcome this challenge. A number of part-time, hybrid, online, self-directed, and executive master’s degree programs make it possible to keep working while earning your graduate degree.
Because so many people apply to master’s degree programs with lives outside of school, most schools offer flexible degree plans, which allow students to earn credits asynchronously instead of attending classes on a traditional schedule. So how can you set yourself up for success by earning your master’s degree while you work? You’ll want to go into the program informed and prepared and know what kinds of working professionals belong in each degree program.
Each university requires a different time commitment, financial commitment, and academic commitment. Take into account how many hours, how much money, and how much energy you can reasonably devote to your studies at this time. Some programs are more manageable than others.
The pros and cons of getting a master’s degree
Getting a master’s degree does not guarantee financial stability or the corner office. There are some pros and cons to obtaining a master’s degree. Before deciding on a program, consider them all.
The pros of getting a master’s degree
- You will learn a lot. For some students, a master’s degree is simply a result of pure intellectual curiosity, and there is nothing wrong with that. In the event your motivation for pursuing an advanced degree is based on career ambitions, master’s programs in your field will provide you with valuable new job skills.
- A master’s degree can open doors. Your degree can make you more marketable and provide the qualifications you need to step into leadership positions. Additionally, you can change careers by earning a master’s degree.
- You’ll probably make more money with one (especially in business, healthcare, education, and STEM fields). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, advanced degree holders across industries earned an average of $1,559 a week, while those with bachelor’s degrees earned $1,281.
- Some programs have amazing networks that graduates can tap into.If you obtain your master’s degree from a university with a strong alumni network, you may be set for life in terms of career opportunities.
The cons of getting a master’s degree
- Master’s degrees are expensive. If your employer pays for your education or you can pay out of pocket, this won’t be a problem, but most of us aren’t as fortunate. Scholarships for master’s students are rare, and student loans can take years to pay off.
- It can take years to earn a degree. In one to two years, students who are able to study full-time can complete master’s degree programs. That might not seem like much, but consider that you will not be gaining work experience during that period. Even if you study part-time, it could take you half a decade to earn a master’s degree.
- You might not get paid more or get promoted. The success of your career will be determined not only by the degree you have, but also by how much experience you have, how good you are at what you do, the size of your professional network, and how hard you work. Additionally, you’ll need to consider the economy, your industry, and other factors. You might earn your degree right before a recession or job growth in your field stalls.
Should you get a master’s degree?
A master’s degree is one way to set yourself apart from other job candidates but it is not always the best option. This depends on your field, whether an advanced degree will help you advance in your profession or allow you to switch roles, and whether the money you’ll make after graduating from a master’s program makes it worthwhile.
There are a lot of reasons to get a master’s degree in today’s job market. Depending on your industry, an advanced degree can be the ticket to a lucrative salary and career advancement. If you’re deciding whether or not to get an advanced degree, here are 6 things you should know.
The decision to get a master’s degree can be a complicated one. It usually takes years and tens of thousands of dollars to get one, so you want to be sure it’ll pay off in the long run. The program you choose matters, as does the market you’re entering. In fact, not all master’s degrees are created equal. Here’s some information to help you figure out whether grad school is worth it for your career.
There are several compelling reasons for getting a master’s degree. It opens up many doors to students, increasing their chances of getting top jobs in the fields they want to work in. Here are some things to consider before deciding on graduate school.
Is degree inflation a problem in your industry? This should be considered in your decision. Once upon a time, with only a bachelor’s degree, you could become an occupational therapist, librarian, educational administrator, social worker, or urban planner. A master’s degree is increasingly becoming the entry requirement for those positions. If trends in your industry indicate that you will increasingly compete for jobs with newcomers with advanced degrees, you may need to obtain one just to stay relevant.
Unless your employer pays for your master’s degree or you can afford to pay out of pocket, ask yourself whether a master’s degree will boost your earning potential enough to repay any loans you take out. You shouldn’t assume you’ll earn more money just because you’ve earned a master’s degree. If you want to be sure, check out the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com.
The bottom line is that you should never enter a degree program blindfolded. There’s nothing wrong with enrolling in a master’s degree program because you are super passionate about a subject and want to learn everything there is to know about it. If that’s what motivates you to pursue a graduate degree, be sure you know what you’re getting into. If you are considering a master’s degree because you believe it will improve your career prospects, make sure it will before you begin filling out applications. There may be less expensive and easier ways for you to advance in your field.