Determining whether or not to pursue a masters degree can be a tough decision, regardless of if you are a recent graduate or a seasoned professional. It is time consuming, requires a huge amount of self-motivation, and is a very serious financial commitment; naturally, you want to be certain that the benefits are worth it.
Well, luckily, they are; whatever your reasons for choosing to continue your education, masters can give you significant advantages over other graduates. So, if you are considering a return to university, then read on…
1. Financial Gain
As mentioned, masters degrees are not cheap. Although prices vary between institutions - and you can even get them paid for by the government, your employer or take them online - it’s important to take your current financial situation into account before committing to a program. On the plus side, once you have completed the course, you will get a pretty good return on your investment!
In the UK
In 2016, the full-time median salary for a postgraduate (i.e. masters) worker was 16 per cent higher than an undergraduate:
Avg. yearly salary for postgraduate: £38,000
Avg. yearly salary for undergraduate: £32,000
For workers under the age of 30, the gap was a similar 14 per cent:
Avg. yearly salary for postgraduate under 30: £29,000
Avg. yearly salary for undergraduate under 30: £25,000
It is also proven that a masters degree increases your chances of landing a high-skilled job. 78 per cent of postgraduates were in high-skilled work within 6 months, compared to 66 per cent of undergraduates. This disparity was amplified for workers under 30, with 75 per cent of postgraduates taking top jobs, versus just 56 per cent of undergraduates.
In the US
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the difference is even bigger across the Atlantic, with a massive 25 per cent increase for people that have a masters degree:
Avg. yearly salary for postgraduate: $68,000
Avg. yearly salary for undergraduate: $51,000
Whichever way you look at it, there is clearly value in continuing your studies - Tamar Shulsinger of Northeastern University agrees. “This is a remarkable difference,” she says. “It demonstrates that if you’re already educated, earning a master’s degree can add a significant boost to your pay check”.
2. Career Advancement
Most people – especially those who already have decent CVs – do a masters to progress to the next stage in their career. This might mean an MBA or a similar management qualification, or even something totally unrelated if you are looking to change direction completely; either way, a masters can be used as a very valuable stepping stone.
Employers recognise the value of a masters degree – some even make it a prerequisite, while in industries such as healthcare and education, they are mandatory. But even in general terms, a masters can set you apart from the crowd.
“It does make you stand out,” argues marketing graduate Beth Nightingale. “Pretty much everyone has a degree now, but not many have a masters”.
3. Specialist Knowledge
Part of this appeal to employers lies in the very specific and detailed knowledge you gain in a certain field or subject. If you are applying for a job in a relevant or related area, it will work hugely in your favour.
“As the workforce evolves, a masters shows that you’re dedicated to enhancing your industry expertise and credibility,” claims Shulsinger. “You can focus on a particular field of study, which helps you become more competitive in this field”.
For example, many lawyers pursue masters qualifications to become experts in relatively narrow fields, such as intellectual property law, environmental risk assessment or telecommunications regulation. Being a subject matter expert can also make you very valuable in a consulting capacity.
4. Flexibility and Lifelong Learning
One of the greatest benefits of a masters degree is its flexible structure. This means it can be done part-time, through distance learning, or via a combination of several methods; perfect for people who have other commitments.
It encourages lifelong learning among people who are at different stages in their life. Many masters students build on their existing skills and knowledge, and find that they develop new and highly useful ones such as researching, writing and analysing.
“You become a better problem solver and can more easily tackle complex projects,” says Shulsinger. “By earning a masters, you continue to expand upon a wealth of knowledge, preparing you for a life of constant learning”.
5. It Will Enhance Your Network
Studying a niche course with a highly successful group of like-minded individuals has another obvious benefit: the potential for networking. Depending on your industry, the contacts you make in this environment can make a huge difference in your career; additionally, your professors will be established industry leaders who can provide you with additional connections.
Management postgraduate Trisna Wardhani is a case in point. After meeting the CEO of Shell Indonesia at an alumni jobs fair, she sent a CV and managed to get a phone interview. “After this, I was lucky enough to be selected,” she says. “My skills and the selection of people and companies at the event helped facilitate an open door to my future”.
6. Personal Development
A masters degree is not just about academic achievement; it should also encourage personal development. By their definition, postgraduate courses are very autonomous, with much of the emphasis on the individual themselves to put things in motion; this helps to develop professional skills, as well as a huge host of other beneficial skills that can be applied to all aspects of life, such as independence and self-motivation.
It can also be a formative experience, especially for those who choose to study abroad. Maja Nenadovic, a Croatian postgraduate who studied at Leiden University in the Netherlands, found this to be the case.
“I became a much more confident person while I was at Leiden,” she says. “My studies there enriched my life by widening my circle of both Dutch and international friends”.
This kind of personal development, such as learning new life skills and adapting to another culture, will not only serve you in good stead but will be hugely appealing to potential employers, who will recognise your ambition and appetite for a challenge.
7. It is a Stepping Stone
To clarify, having a masters degree is not a compulsory requirement for doing a PhD in general, either in the UK or the US. Realistically though, due to the competitive nature of PhD programs, the majority of institutions will not accept candidates without a masters qualification. The only exceptions are those with significant professional experience or who are able to self-fund their own research.
This is mainly because postgraduate study is very different to undergraduate study. “People coming straight from an undergrad program may be surprised at how theoretical a PhD program is,” says Josiah Marineau, a PhD student from Texas. “If you’ve got a masters you will have already learnt this, and will perhaps be less surprised at the content”.
8. It Makes You Smarter!
If nothing else, you will actually learn some pretty interesting stuff! Education expert Monica Babson believes that regardless of what you intend to do with your masters, it will broaden your knowledge and develop key cognitive skills that can be applied in any field.
“Ideas are still born out of our ability to think and to be creative,” she says. “A masters will challenge and improve your analytical skills, and if you pick the right one you will study under world-leading academics and professionals”.
The structure of a masters is intended to help you teach yourself, rather than simply receiving information; this is another invaluable skill that can be applied almost anywhere. “Every respectable MA course is a successful blend of academic excellence and hands-on experience, combining theoretical coursework, case studies, group work and in-company placements,” adds Babson. Paul Martin, a literature postgraduate at King’s College London, agrees.
“I was able to expand upon the areas in which I was most interested, as well as being introduced to fresh ideas, research and concepts,” he says. “My time at King’s was an invaluable contribution to my career”.
If you’re still having second thoughts, hopefully these points have given you some food for thought. The structure of the courses are not for everyone, and some career choices don’t necessarily require further study as a means of progression, but many do, and the skills you will accumulate will translate to any field.
So whether you’re unsure of your next step, you want to progress in your career, or you’re simply just looking to challenge yourself, a masters degree could be just what you’re looking for.
Have you done a masters degree recently? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below…