Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

masters-degreeAdvanced degrees aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

They won’t guarantee you your dream job. They won’t ensure happiness in life, either. But they will cost you a lot of money if you’re not careful.

At age 26, I’ve already completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. That’s not me bragging by any means. Actually, I’m not using my two engineering degrees at all right now (although the job I hold would require at least a 4-year degree of some sort).

I always feel weird explaining this situation to people, but the simplest way to put it: I didn’t completely understand what my interests and desires were before going for these degrees, especially for my master’s. This was a mistake and is one that I think others make by blindly moving on to acquire advanced degrees.

I don’t regret my choices. Luckily, I was able to get both degrees with less than $8,000 in loan debt, which I recently paid off. But I wish I would’ve considered the reasons for getting these degrees and what sort of future it would lead me to.

Don’t get me wrong: Advanced degrees are a great thing if you earn them and use them effectively.

But they can be detrimental if you go about it wrong. Here’s my attempt to steer you towards or away from an advanced degree, depending on where you fall.

It’s Not For You If…

You simply don’t like their current job. Going back to school to escape your current job is just a bad idea. The grass always looks greener on the side. You may be lucky in finding another job you like more by adding another degree, but don’t assume that’s going to be the case.

You simply can’t find a job. If you can’t find a job, getting a Master’s degree isn’t an automatic solution. There are still people with advanced degrees out there that don’t have jobs. Adding more debt to the mix makes it less pleasant, too.

You’re already deep in debt. If you’ve already racked up a lot of debt, I would urge you to consider paying off at least some of it before returning to school. Having six figures of debt is a daunting amount to pay off, and it will put the pressure on to take the highest-paying (but maybe less ideal) job after you finish your advanced degree.

You are just seeking a credential. If you’re simply looking to add an MBA to your resume because you think it will look good, that’s poor planning. Don’t just rack up credentials. Learn things because you think you’ll get real value out of them.

You think you can’t do something without a certain degree. If you think that you can’t start a business without a MBA, that’s just wrong. A lot of rich and famous entrepreneurs don’t even have bachelor’s degrees, nevermind something further. For more on this, definitely check out Michael Ellsberg’s The Education of Millionaires.

It May Be For You If…

You’re 99% sure what direction you want to go for a career. You’ve got to have a focus that you know you’re interested in. If you’re hoping to find it in graduate school, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re not that certain, be sure to have a job in your desired field before going to graduate school. Once you have your job look at programs from Gwynedd Mercy U and other institutions to get a good grasp of what kind of program would fit you best.

You absolutely need an advanced degree to do your dream job. Obviously, doctors and lawyers fall into this category. There’s no way around it for them. If you don’t need the advanced degree, you should at least have experience working in the field that you wish to enter before going to graduate school on the belief that it’s what you’re meant to do.

You can get employers to pay. Some employers offer to pay for advanced degrees and certificates. This can often be a great deal, but just be aware of stipulations if you choose to leave your job.

 

Even when graduate school seems, attractive, don’t forget there other ways to learn. Since leaving college, I’ve found other ways to educate myself that aren’t nearly as expensive. Free online courses and tutorials (I do pay for online courses, too), books, blogs, and from other people. These can all be just as or more valuable than paying a few thousand dollars for a single college course.

Before you decide that to go for a Master’s degree, just be honest with yourself. Be as objective and realistic as possible about whether or not this degree is really going to get you where you want to go. Realize that simply earning more money won’t solve all of your problems nor necessarily make you like your job any more pleasing.

p. s. – Sorry (again) to my parents and grandparents, who I know have a heart attack every time I write something like this!

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photo by: Sean MacEntee

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Comments

  1. moneycone says:

    If the intention is just to broaden your horizon, the internet is a great place to do so and it is free. But if you have to pay for it, treat your education as you would entering into a business – are the returns worth it?

  2. financiallyc says:

    Good arguments here Jeffrey. I can relate easil to this as I have completed the both a bachelors and masters. I’ve always argued that education fr the sake of education is comletely worthwhile; it adds to the base of human knowledge and if you decide it’s not for you then you’ve learned that too along the way. My masters was in family finncil planning and I did this to build on my prefessiona; exerience and to engage my mind. As a stay at home Dad I needed something to really exercize my brain and add to my self worth. Am I uing it today, yes and no, definitely not professionally. Was it worth it, in my experence it was worth it. I also graduatd pretty much debt free.

    • @financiallyc Wow, that’s a lot like my situation, Hunter! I see your point on engaging the mind, but I feel there are other less-expensive ways to do it compared to what some students are paying.

    •  @financiallyc You need to exercise your brain a little more and improve your spelling.

      • financiallyc says:

         @Maa89
         Why do you care about my spelling? Biting comments like yours tell so much about you, your state of mind, how happy you are. I feel very sorry for you.

  3. prairieecothrif says:

    I agree. Going back to school is not the answer for fixing a job you don’t like. There are other jobs you can do that don’t require additional schooling. Plus depending on what kind of Masters degree you do, many are very specific and won’t apply to numerous positions. I agree that you need to be clear about what you want to do. If not you may just waste time and money.

  4. Great advice, Leah! Thanks!

  5. WellHeeledBlog says:

    I am planning on going back to get a graduate degree this Fall. A factor I think that is not mentioned when talking about whether or not to go back to school is the “consumption factor.” By this, I mean, I recognize that school is partly investment and partly consumption (i.e. the fun I will have, the new friends I will make, the experience of being a student and exploring a new career path, etc.). The key is that I will take this into account as I am making my decision (and making the spending decisions along with it). After all, if life were all about financial returns, none of us would ever have children, or go on a safari, or buy a lake cabin. And for a lot of people, those activities bring them a lot of joy.

    • @WellHeeledBlog Good luck with you graduate school. I totally see what you’re saying, and I know we shouldn’t base everything we do on financial returns. I think as long as you consider the financial implications of college, it’s okay. But a lot of people don’t make that consideration, and then they’re left with thousands in debt after that they might wish they didn’t have.

  6. Iam1percentblog says:

    I agree..MBA’s aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be especially since ever university is churning them out. I did my MBA because I was single, my company paid for it, and I had nothing better to do. I’m not sure if I’ve capitalized on it yet, but it didn’t hurt me to get it.

    • @Iam1percentblog I read your post earlier on your MBA and I found it interesting. It seems like skipping the top-tier schools is a good strategy for a lot of people, too. And yeah, if it’s free I would take up that offer, too!

  7. I got my BS in Human Service and my MS in Nonprofit Management at the time I was 25 years old and working at a nonprofit in management and wanted to just gain some professional insight and grow in nonprofit management. But now I wish that I did my MSW- Social Work I could use the lic for more job opportunities. Pay is not all that great but I do make 55K which is good for nonprofit and in Texas it’s doable. Regrets….

  8. I think i made a bad decision on choosing the University of Phoenix for my online MBA.  I got my Bachelor’s from a traditional private university, but decided to go online when it was pretty clear i was going to the Middle East on an extended deployment.
     
    Depending on how much consideration i get from prospective employers, i may just use the remainder of my GI Bill to get into a profitable trade.  Certain blue collar jobs are better paying than desk jobs.  Also, it may not hurt to diversify my skill set.

  9. I recently graduated with a B.S. in Accounting and I am considering pursuing my MBA. My goal is to obtain my CPA. The educational requirements for the CPA have increased which means I need to take 30 additional credits. I have read numerous articles about people wasting their time and money by investing in a graduate degree. So much negativity surrounding the MBA  has caused me to consider just getting a graduate certificate.

  10. I got my BS in electrical engineering about 4 years ago and have been strongly considering getting my master’s in computer science. It’s almost natural for EEs to go this route, I was just too pooped to continue schooling to get my master’s when I had the chance, so I’d like to do that now. The costs are through the roof, and I’ve thought so much about the pitfalls of such a decision, but considering the demand for electricals AND computer scientists, I feel that I can only benefit from it.

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