To be a master, or not to be – that is the question. Maybe you’re fresh out of undergrad and the next natural step is exploring graduate options. Or maybe you already have a few years of work experience under your belt, but you’re debating if going back to school would help you advance. Whatever the case, doubts might be hovering as to whether taking the plunge, into thousands of dollars of debt on average, for a master’s degree is worth it. The answer is: It depends.
Should I Get My Master’s Degree?
Solidify your goals.
Degrees are an investment, which means with them you’re inevitably taking a risk. When deciding whether grad school is right for you, it’s important to first look at your motivations and career goals, your budget and the job market, and possible returns on your investment – i.e. earning potential.
Grad school may not be necessary if…
Don’t hesitate to ask yourself tough questions: Do you have a specific career in mind, or does a master’s just seem like a next step? Will it pose an overwhelming financial setback? Can you complete what you start, and in the long run, will you be better equipped to do what you love?
Michael O’Malley, Associate Director of International Programs at the University of Chicago, said that grad school requirements depend on the field.
“Grad school is unnecessary if the most successful people in your field don’t have graduate degrees,” he explained. “It’s also unnecessary if it is not very clear that the financial cost of paying tuition doesn’t result in either a higher financial reward or some sort of other of benefit that to you outweighs or balances the financial burden.”
If you want to go into management, for example, in fields like marketing or sales, you don’t necessarily need more than a bachelor’s, and it’s possible to earn more than $100K a year.
Kelly Bell, Director of Career Planning and Professional Development at Anderson University, said grad school isn’t a must for “computer programming and anything related to information technology, especially if the individual’s undergraduate degree is from a reputable four-year degree granting institution.”
Engineers also may not necessarily need a master’s, unless they’d like to teach at the university level — in which case a doctorate would also be required.
Weigh a master’s with the cost.
If, however, you have entrepreneurial aspirations, and you’ve been accepted into a first-tier grad school program, or your field is very specific, technical, and/or intensive, that extra schooling can not only help you get organized and sharpen your critical thinking skills, but it may also boost your earnings significantly — especially over the long term. The rewards would well be worth the cost up front.
Education, business and medicine are good examples.
Get someone else to pay for it if possible, whether a company, a scholarship, or the school itself, O’Malley said.
Take time to do your research and assess your situation. Can you get scholarships or grants? If you’re already working, will your company contribute to your education? Is the job market strong for the skills you want to pursue? Keep in mind that full-time grad school is a double whammy in that it has an up-front cost, and it occupies years in which you’d otherwise be working. Use online tools like this Grad School Calculator to tally specifics and get a general idea of your potential outcome.
“Ask for help,” Bell said. “Develop a thick skin as critiques in graduate school are very different from undergraduate. Do not lose sight of why you started graduate school.”
Taking all of this into consideration, you can start to assess whether, for your particular career goals, a master’s is what you really want or need. There’s no rush. With knowledge and determination, with or without a master’s degree, you can work toward the life you envision.
What about you? Why did you or didn’t you choose to get a master’s degree? Was it the right choice for your field?
Renee Cole – Content Creator
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