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
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. You can find information on the salary of doctors and other professions online. 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.
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. Professional bodies like the Institute of Medical and Business Careers can help you understand what is required of you.
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.
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
- Housing options (especially if you are out-of-state)
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
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.
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.
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.