How to know if you should get a master’s degree

Last year I started to learn more about Data Science through a few podcasts that I listen to. It opened my eyes to a career that I hadn’t really thought of. So I decided to start looking around for jobs just curious as to what I would find. I noticed almost every one required an advanced degree so I thought to myself should I get a master’s degree?

The first question I realized I needed to answer was why do I want to get a Master’s Degree? There are several reasons I came up with and it you could fit any combination of them.

Why get a master’s degree?

Fear

You might fear that you won’t make enough with your undergrad degree. You may fear that your current job isn’t what you want to do. You may fear being left behind as bachelor’s degrees become more and more common. You may fear leaving a job or family and think a degree is an easy out. Whatever your fear may be don’t let it control your decision. Just remember that if you’re not enough without it, you won’t be enough with it. Often times changing employers or careers can easily be done without pursuing a master’s degree. Sometimes the fear is well thought through as some undergrad degrees may lessen in value as industries come and go.

Growth

You may love learning. It’s what you’ve always loved. You love the feeling that education brings because you are learning and improving. Don’t forget that most growth on a subject comes not from school, but experience. I work with some people that never went to college or had a degree in a vastly different subject than IT. Their years of experience are more valuable than a degree. School can give you credentials, but school is just the foundation to gain experience.

Don’t go to school forever. I remember attending my sister’s law school commencement and one of the graduates was collecting his 11th degree. For a select few that may be necessary or what is really fulfilling, but for most of us it’s overkill. You may be seeking an opportunity to expand your mind and to get into a completely different field you know little about and a master’s degree may be a logical transition.

To stretch your mind is noble and sacred. If you are blessed with that capacity or the ability to learn difficult subject matter then do it. Your skills will bless your own life and the life of others. Imagine if the doctor that saved your life took the easy way out and became a beach bum. What if Edison decided not to pursue creating the first incandescent light bulb because he had a safe job in book keeping. You can do things no one else can. A master’s degree could be a catalyst to unlock some of that growth.

Need

Sometimes your back is up against the wall and you have few options. You might be struggling to find a job in your undergrad’s major while working a dead end job. Maybe you’ve landed a job, but are stuck in a company or industry where the outlook is bleak. Another driver might be having a job that won’t support your financial responsibilities like family obligations or sickness. Sometimes you feel the need to prove to yourself that you can do something difficult and that you are capable and worthy of more.

On the other hand, is it really a need? Are there other options such as a boot camp, certification, apprenticeship, or more patience that will get you the same result? Make sure to consider alternatives as you are reviewing your own situation.

Money

One thing I’m working on is having an abundance mindset. It’s the idea that life is not a zero sum game. We can all have more and someone else having success doesn’t mean there’s less success for you. Maybe you want to tap into the abundance mindset and make more money. A well planned master’s degree can aid you in that goal. A wise man once said “the …world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field”. There is a definite need for highly educated and skilled workers. You can get a slice of that pie by increasing your education and skills and the market will reward you.

It’s interesting that often I’ll look around and realize that I have a great job that pays me what sometimes seems like a crazy sum, but yet sometimes what feels like isn’t enough. It’s hard to not want to keep up with the Jones’s. Another important piece would be to research the salaries you can get with a master’s degree. If there’s not a large enough increase then it likely won’t make sense to go back to school. Sometimes what we’re really searching for is not more money, but contentment. If you can learn to be happy with what you have and who you are you may find an additional degree won’t be necessary.

Do I need a master’s degree?

Is it required

Often times when I look at job postings a master’s degree isn’t required. It may be in a preferred candidates section, but usually it says or bachelor’s degree with x amount of years experience. If there is an experience clause then factor in your own experience plus the length of school. If the two are roughly equal to what is required going back to school may not be your best option. There are some professions such as doctors, lawyers, and so on that are only hired if they have a master’s degree. If you fall into that boat it’s probably time to get back into school.

Ask yourself if you’re just procrastinating finding out what you really want to be doing. Sometimes it makes more sense to switch jobs or careers until you find what you really want. Jumping in to getting a master’s degree you don’t want or need will leave you in the same position unfulfilled and searching for what to do next.

Remember to consider the alternatives like a portfolio, experience, demonstrating expertise through a blog and so forth.

Opportunity Perceived vs Real

Sometimes an emerging field of study or a trend towards a skill set may make it the opportune time to consider getting a master’s degree. Are you excited about a field that will propel you to new opportunities? Do some research and make sure it is a sustainable trend and not a fad that will fade and die in a few short years. Do your due diligence before jumping into what appears to be a great opportunity. Take a course or attend a seminar about the subject and be sure you really enjoy it and will stick with it. If you’re not able to complete a small online course about the subject because of boredom or otherwise then the odds are against you sticking through a couple years of a master’s degree on the subject.

Does it make sense

Look up what the market value is for a degree and consider your return on investment. If you’re wanting a grad degree that costs $100,000 to get a job that makes $50,000 it’s likely not in your best interest to pursue that degree. Also think about the job growth for that degree. It also doesn’t make sense to go into a lot of debt to not be able to find a job in your chosen field when you graduate or in a field that is shrinking.

 

In Summary

There are a lot of factors at play when deciding if you should get a master’s degree. Fear, growth, need, and money are all drivers of why you might want to get a master’s degree so really dig in to the why before making a decision. You may not need a degree, make sure it’s required, there’s a real value in getting it, and that it makes sense for your career goals.

With so many things to think about and consider just remember that if the answer right now is that getting a master’s degree now is not right does not mean that the no is forever. If now is not the right time check in periodically.

If and when you’re ready continue to the next article to help you answer the question Is now the right time to get a master’s degree?

 


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