Thinking About Getting a Master’s Degree? Read This!

Getting your master’s degree can be a valuable asset, especially if you are looking to advance in your current career, change professions, or obtain a license/certification.

As of 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that adults who are 25 to 34 years old with a master’s degree make an average of $58,997 per year. Adults within the same range who have a bachelor’s degree average about $45,692, just over $13,000 less than those with a graduate degree. By the time an adult enters the 45 to 54 year old range, incomes average about $86,532 for those with graduate degrees and $69,548 for those with bachelor’s degrees. The $13,000 gap has now increased to almost $23,000 just two or three decades later!

Getting a Master’s Degree: What to Consider

getting a master's degree

Salary

Although it’s clear that adults with a master’s degree make more money on average, it should still be noted that not every profession is going to pay you the same. To give you a better picture of the average income for some careers, let’s look at some statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Mental Health Counselors: $41,500
  • Physician Assistant: $90,930
  • Epidemiologist: $65,270
  • Sociologist: $74,960
  • School Principal: $87,760
  • Rehabilitation Counselor: $33,880

These are just a handful of professions that require a master’s degree and it’s already clear that annual salaries can vary drastically. Before you consider enrolling in a graduate program, make sure you educate yourself on how much of an increase you might get in pay once you complete your degree. If you notice that the investment isn’t going to outweigh your potential income, then it might be worth reconsidering if a graduate degree is the best option for you.

Career Options

If you are feeling stuck in your current position, then you may be considering a master’s degree so that you can move up in your field. By having the additional education and knowledge, you are showing employers that you are an expert in the field and have a solid interest in the work.

A master’s degree can also be used as a stepping stone to get into a different profession. For example, someone who majored in social work may decide to get their master’s in human resources.

No matter what your ultimate career goals are, getting an advanced degree can give you the competitive edge you need to either get a promotion or a new position that you wouldn’t have had access to with just a bachelor’s degree.

Licensure/Certification

Some students have no choice but to continue on with their education because they can’t get licensed or certified without a master’s degree. For example, licensed clinical social workers, mental health counselors, and physician assistants must all complete an advanced degree if they want to get hired by a company.

One of the best things students can do is to research their career options beforehand and find out what they truly want to do. After that, understanding the requirements for the desired license or certification is an absolute must! You may find that you need to attend a school accredited by a particular governing body or take a specific course sequence to meet all of the educational requirements.

Finding the Right School

Whether you choose to get your master’s degree via distance education or at a traditional campus, you’ll want to make sure that you look for the following:

  • Appropriate accreditation
  • Class schedules that work for you
  • The length of the program
  • Location
  • Housing options (especially if you are out-of-state)
  • Cost

Applying and Admissions

If you haven’t started researching programs already or looking at salaries, then start there. You may want to consider making a checklist or spreadsheet to organize all of the information you gather.

Once you get past that point and feel as though you’re ready to apply for a program, make sure you check their admissions requirements. Things like GED scores, undergraduate GPA, work experience, personal statements, and letters of recommendation will all come into play here. Make sure you have all of the necessary information turned in prior to the deadline to ensure that your application is not deferred to the next start date!

Graduate School Financial Aid

Unfortunately, graduate school financial aid turns into a tale of student loans for many people because the Pell Grant and other funding sources are reserved for undergraduates only. Since getting a master’s degree is typically not a cheap adventure, many students find themselves going into debt in hopes of getting a better paying job down the line to pay it off.

To help you find some graduate school financial aid, you’ll want to talk to your employer to see if they cover any costs, look for scholarships, and look at schools that offer paid graduate assistantships.

For more information, check out the following:

Resources to help you keep costs down:

Master’s Degree Expectations

Time

Depending on what program you choose, you may find that getting a master’s degree takes anywhere from 12 months (for advanced programs) to two or three years full-time. Most colleges and universities do offer part-time graduate programs for those students who also work, but plan on setting aside three or four years to complete the degree if you choose this option.

Studying

If you thought that studying at the undergraduate level was hard, then strap yourself in for an even rougher ride in graduate school. Be prepared to do a lot of reading, critical thinking, researching, and writing, in addition to attending your courses.

Thesis/Final Project

One of the most well-known things about finishing a master’s degree is having to complete a thesis or final project. You will most likely be asked to choose a topic in your field and write either a proposal, study, presentation, or synthesis with support from already available research. The whole point of this requirement is to show that you can critically think about and apply what you have learned. It will be challenging and very time-consuming, but once you finish it, you’ll be able to graduate!

Making the Decision

Getting your master’s degree is no easy journey, which is probably why so many individuals choose not to pursue one. Only you can make the choice as to whether this is going to be the right option for you. Look over the things mentioned above, do some of your own research, contact a graduate admissions rep, and plan accordingly. This degree could be a potential life changer for you, so make sure you give all the details careful consideration.

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    joanna
    March 6, 2015 at 10:31 am

    These are great tips! I’m in my last year of my Masters program and am loving it, except the unfortunate amount of loans:(

  • Reply
    Julie
    March 6, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Great information! My Mom finished her masters a few years ago, and got lucky that her job had a program that helped pay for a large portion of it.

    • Reply
      Tori
      March 9, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      It’s so nice when employers offer tuition reimbursement. It definitely saves a lot of money when you can take advantage of a program like that!

  • Reply
    Caitlyn Hummel
    March 6, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Love this! All great tips 🙂 I would also check out what the schools offer for graduate assistantships since they tend to vary even from program to program at the same university!

  • Reply
    Lou @ Mommy Sanest
    March 6, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Great info! People should really examine the ROI when deciding to pursue a master’s degree. They can be so expensive and if it’s not going to pay off with a bigger salary, it might not be worth it — especially if you’re taking out loans.

    • Reply
      Tori
      March 9, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      I completely agree. It’s important to do your research on these things before enrolling.

  • Reply
    Katie
    March 6, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    This is a great post! I am currently getting my Master’s degree, and while it is not necessarily needed for my chosen career, I think since it is such a practical major, it will really help me in the long run!

    xo katie // a touch of teal

  • Reply
    ananda
    March 7, 2015 at 1:49 am

    such a thorough research! i do think our society is becoming more open and people can make great income even if they can’t afford to go to school! =)

  • Reply
    alyssa
    March 8, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply
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