Is a Master’s Degree Worth It? [2021 Guide]

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Is a master’s degree worth it? A master’s degree brings with it the prospect of earning promotions, increasing your salary, heightening your job security, networking with ambitious people, and contributing meaningful research to your field.

Is a Master's Degree Worth It

While it requires high-level study and often a significant time commitment, a master’s degree is highly beneficial to those looking to advance their career, knowledge base, or specialization.

Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

Business Professional working in the office

Yes, a master’s degree is likely worth it. With a median annual salary of $68,000 (compared to $56,000 for those holding only a bachelor’s degree) and 17% job growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a master’s degree can help you advance in your current career or launch a new one.

Most fields which offer bachelor’s degrees also offer master’s degrees, with the opportunity to expand your knowledge and skill base further, and advance in your field. Master’s degrees open the door to higher-paying positions within many industries, but there are many more benefits than the financial ones.

A master’s degree can open the door to a more intellectually stimulating and personally gratifying career. Higher job satisfaction can lead to lowered stress, and a better quality of life.

Earning a master’s degree is also a great way to network and meet high achievers in your field. This can mean better career opportunities down the road or the simple joy of conversation with like-minded people.

Some jobs require master’s degrees as a minimum educational level. Even many business-sector job postings today require an MBA just for consideration. If you’re interested in such a career, then a master’s degree is extremely worthwhile.

The work you do for your master’s degree may contribute to research in your field. Even if that doesn’t come with a direct monetary benefit, contributing to your field in that way is an accomplishment in itself.

The potential benefits of a master’s degree go well beyond salary. These are some of the many considerations to keep in mind when figuring out whether or not to pursue a master’s degree.

How to Decide Whether a Master’s Degree is Right for You

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While earning a master’s degree has many benefits, this does not mean that it is the right choice for everyone.

It’s important to weigh your personal goals and circumstances as you consider whether or not to enroll in one of the many traditional or online master’s programs.

1. The job you want requires a master’s degree.

If you want to be a certified registered nurse anesthetist, an occupational therapist, or one of dozens of other jobs, you will generally need at least a master’s degree.

Only you can decide whether or not your desire to work in your dream field is worth the time and money it takes to get a master’s degree. The choice here will be between pursuing the job or settling for another position that fits your current educational level.

2. You want to increase your odds of being promoted.

Team of business professionals in a meeting

Your job may require specialized knowledge for advancement. Some promotions require a master’s degree just for baseline consideration, and being great at your job may not be enough to earn you a promotion.

If you are eager to advance in your field but do not have the specialized knowledge required for promotion, a master’s degree is worth considering.

3. You’re hungry to learn more.

Some of us love to learn for the sake of learning. If that’s you, getting your master’s degree may be just what you need to engage your mind.

Master’s degrees generally take the academic “training wheels” off. They may give you the opportunity to do independent research and to intellectually challenge yourself.

4. You want to start a new career.

HR Manager congratulating a new employee

Maybe you’re burnt out at your current job or just looking for a new challenge. Maybe you’re a little wiser now than when you got your undergraduate degree.

In any case, earning a master’s degree can give you the expertise and credentials to help you launch a new career.

5. You are interested in a career in science.

Most jobs in scientific fields require at least a master’s degree.

Undergrad degrees in science are great and something to be proud of, but in many cases further studies are needed to gain employment in the field.

6. You want to get a PhD.

Lawyer working in his office

Many PhD degree programs require you to have a master’s degree for admission. Even the ones that don’t require it will look favorably upon you for having one.

A master’s degree suggests that you’re capable of doing PhD-level research. If any of these describes you, a master’s degree may indeed be right for you.

Top 5 Things You Can Do with a Master’s Degree

Company employee got promoted at work

Master’s degrees can offer advancement and growth in any number of fields and careers. With a master’s degree, you can earn a job promotion, start a new career, start a PhD program, earn more money, and indulge your love of learning. Or do all of these things!

1. Earn a Job Promotion

Job performance alone isn’t always enough to get promoted. Employers sometimes want you to gain specialized knowledge before taking on a higher position.

This can be especially common with promotions into first-level managerial positions. If you’ve not already supervised people at any level, your boss might want you to have some educational foundation in management before offering you the position.

2. Start a New Career

Business professional got accepted at a job

Earning a master’s degree is a great launching-off point for embarking on a new career in a different field.

While some master’s degrees will require you to have an undergraduate degree in the same subject, many do not. You may have to take some prerequisites to make up for what your current undergraduate degree didn’t include.

With your new master’s degree, you may be able to transition into the new career you’ve been dreaming about.

3. Start a PhD Program

PhD Program student studying online

If you’ve got your eyes set on this high academic credential, you may want to start by earning your master’s degree.

Some PhD programs build master’s degrees into their progression, but generally they’ll want you to already have one. The master’s degree is usually the first step into full-time academic research.

4. Earn More Money

Masters Degree student studying on her laptop

By getting a master’s degree, you may increase your worth to your employer. You may also show them that you are a more competitive candidate for other employers. No one wants to lose good talent.

As a result of this, earning a master’s degree will often result in a higher salary. On average, people with master’s degrees earn $12,000 more in median annual salary than people with bachelor’s degrees alone.

5. Indulge Your Love of Learning

Maybe you’re one of those people who enjoys learning for its own sake. If so, pursuing your master’s degree may be worthwhile in and of itself.

If the hard work and diligent study required of a master’s degree, and the learning that comes from it, appeal to you, then a master’s is certainly worth considering.

Master’s Degree Alternatives

Manager researching online

How long it takes to complete a master’s degree is anywhere between one to four years, depending on the program. The time and commitment it requires is a big factor to weigh in.

If you have your heart set on a new job or a promotion but can’t afford the expense or time commitment of a master’s degree, there are a few alternatives you might consider.

  1. Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). MOOCs are pre-recorded courses with no fixed deadlines. More and more of them are offering verifiable certificates of completion. They are becoming increasingly popular, especially in technical subjects like information technology and programming.
  2. Professional Certificates. You can find these in some universities and in some professional organizations. Professional certificates are streamlined to give you only the most practical information to advance your job.
  3. Individual Courses. Taking individual courses rather than a full degree program may be appealing to people primarily motivated by a love of learning.

If you’re looking for a promotion, it might be useful to ask your supervisor exactly what he or she wants you to learn. If it’s very specific, an individual course might suffice. Your employer might even reimburse your tuition cost.

No realistic alternatives exist for people looking to start careers in fields that require master’s degrees, but there are alternatives for reaching other objectives.

Master’s Degree Careers & Salaries

Master's Degree Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with master’s degrees earn median annual salaries of $68,000. That’s $12,000 more than the median annual salary of people with bachelor’s degrees alone.

Here are just a few of the careers that those with master’s degrees might pursue, along with their median salaries:

Careers Median Salaries
Engineering Manager $144,830
Lawyer $122,960
Physician’s Assistant $112,260
Software Developer $107,510
Mathematician or Statistician $92,030
Physical Therapist $89,440
Occupational Therapist $84,950
Postsecondary Teacher $79,540
Historian $63,680
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor $46,240

There are, of course, endless other jobs that someone with a master’s degree might pursue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics site is a great resource for tracking down information about these careers.

Is It Easier to Get a Job With a Master’s Degree?

New applicant is greeted by HR Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in master’s levels occupations are projected to grow faster than those in any other education level in the coming years. With a 17% growth rate, they are projected to outpace doctoral and professional-level jobs by 13%. They are also projected to outpace the average of all occupations by 10%.

In other words, it is statistically easier to get a job with a master’s degree. The jobs are also likely to pay better. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median wage of $68,000 for master’s level jobs. The median annual wage for all occupations combined is $37,690.

Getting Your Master’s Degree Online

Master's Degree students working online in a cafe

If you’re looking to make more money, start a new career, or reinvigorate your love of learning, then pursuing a master’s degree may be a great next step for you.

While a master’s degree can be a significant time commitment, pursuing it online can help you earn the credentials you need without quitting your job, relocating, or having to spend too much time away from your family.

We sometimes forget how remarkable our modern opportunities are. With the growth of online education, education is more attainable than ever. If you’ve been waiting to pursue a master’s because of time or other constraints, perhaps now is the time to start looking into online master’s programs.

Jeff Suwak
Jeff Suwak
Jeff covers online higher education programs and trends. He has a BA in English, as well as multiple certifications from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and the University of California. Jeff's background is in technical communication, science writing, and music journalism.