When investing in a master’s degree, the commitment is deserving of serious consideration, research and financial planning. Should you go for it?
According to area experts, the decision depends upon your career goals and financial health.
“It’s a healthy job market for college graduates right now, and we’re seeing more of them get work experience right after achieving their undergraduate degrees. [So] the numbers of them going directly into a master’s degree program has decreased nationally,” says Trudy Steinfeld, associate vice president and executive director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University.
“Students want work experience before committing to further study to test out if they really want to pursue a certain field,” she says. For example, “Maybe they’ll work for a law firm or the NYC district attorney’s office before applying to law school.”
While “about the same amount” of students are currently pursuing advanced degrees at NYU, Steinfeld says their interest depends upon academic discipline.
“We have a new master’s [degree] in accounting, and have seen an increase in applications for that program,” says Steinfeld. “It’s a one-year program and you can come into it from any undergraduate degree.”
The digital humanities master’s degree is also attractive. Says Steinfield, “People are doing more within the digital space and are also passionate about humanities. Students want to take their love for that field and apply it in a different, contemporary way.”
Another field experiencing increased interest for master’s work is data science, which is “the new bacon,” says Steinfeld. “Everyone is using data — whether you’re a bank, a nonprofit or a university — everyone is completely dependent on analytics now.”
For certain professions, a master’s degree is necessary in order to command a higher salary, says Steinfeld, and public health is one of them.
“At some point, to work for certain nonprofits or the Department of Health in NYC, a master’s is an important degree to have,” says Steinfeld. “Nutrition is another such field, as are the performing or visual arts. Unless you have further study, your growth and movement will be limited.”
Fortunately, “There are a lot of modalities to earn a master’s today. You can do it online, or a combination of online and in person. The career coach in me recommends that you make sure you’re really interested and passionate about a program first — it’s a commitment,” says Steinfeld.
Taking stock of what you have accomplished at the undergraduate college level and perhaps taking a gap year is advisable before considering a master’s degree, says Sam L. Grogg, interim provost and executive vice president at Adelphi University.
“It can be beneficial because you can reflect on where you want to put your energies before making the investment,” says Grogg. And, “sometimes being in your career for a while helps you understand what knowledge you need bolstered and didn’t anticipate. A master’s degree is a real investment both in time and money, so take some time before you spend the money.”
Alternatively, if your undergraduate degree area of specialization is closely connected to a desired master’s degree, “there is a certain momentum and value to moving from undergrad to grad right away, in order to complete as much schooling as you can to become more viable in your career path,” he says.
At Adelphi, where over 30 master’s degree programs are offered, professions in the health sciences continue to require advanced study, says Grogg.
“Different fields are always looking for ways to have their employees or professional colleagues obtain more contemporary information about practices in the field or developments through master’s education,” says the administrator.
Secondary education is another field where a master’s degree will benefit you strongly. “Teachers are almost required to obtain a master’s degree in order to obtain tenure at their institution,” says Grogg.
Does having a higher degree pay off?
Footing the bill for graduate school is no small endeavor. On average, such degrees can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000 depending upon the school and program, says Rachel Cruze, personal finance expert and national best-selling author of “Love Your Life, Not Theirs” (Ramsey Press, out now).
Careful consideration on the return of your investment is in order. Asking yourself why you’re pursuing an advanced degree is wise, says Cruze.
“Some fields consider a master’s degree ‘permission to play’ while some undergraduates just pursue a higher degree for the heck of it and get deeper into debt,” says Cruze. “[Those students] realize later that the degree isn’t giving them what they want in the marketplace and their motivation wasn’t right in the first place.”
With many undergraduates graduating with $35,000 in debt already, “When it comes to your master’s degree, you should be debt-free and start on solid footing. You want to pay your way through or have the money upfront,” says Cruze.
Cruze says to look toward scholarships and grants as well as employers who will pay or assist in paying for your master’s degree tuition.
“The worst is when you graduate with a master’s degree and six figures in debt and the job you take isn’t paying you what you thought it would,” says Cruze.
However, Cruze does admit, “It can be very beneficial to have a master’s degree.
“Studies at Georgetown University claim that if you have a graduate degree, annually you will earn $78,000 a year compared to $61,000 without one. Over the years, that adds up to close to $400,000 over your lifetime. But if you don’t have the work ethic, you’re not going to have that return,” says the author.
Cruz advises to avoid debt. “It’s easier to sign your name to loans and call it a day, but if you graduate debt-free and start a new job with a good starting salary, it’s an amazing jump start when you don’t have loan repayments,” she says.
Also, evaluate your cash flow.
“Can you get a part-time job and live on next to nothing to pay for your degree? Can you make the tough sacrifice in lifestyle and time? If you’re already in debt and it’s too overwhelming, hit the pause button and step out. Clean up your financial situation. Prepare a written budget. Be intentional about money you have coming in and where it goes,” she adds.
Finally, research university work opportunities. “Some schools offer work-study or internship positions,” she says. “Take time to figure out how to pay for your degree. If working on campus can cut the cost of a $100,000 degree in half for you, that’s huge.”