It’s a time-consuming endeavour that requires a huge amount of self-motivation. It’s also a very serious financial commitment; naturally, you want to be certain that the benefits you’ll gain out of it are worth it.
Well, luckily, they are. Whatever your reasons for choosing to continue your education, a master’s degree can give you significant advantages over other graduates.
So, if you’re considering a return to university, read on.
1. You’ll increase your earning potential
Master’s degrees are not cheap. Although prices vary between institutions, and you can get governmental or private funding, it’s important to take your current financial situation into account before committing to a programme. On the plus side, once you complete the course, you’ll get a pretty good return on your investment!
Indeed, in the UK, for example, a master’s degree holder earn, on average, 18% more than someone with just an undergrad degree, six months after graduation.
Meanwhile, a 2017–2018 study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that those with a master’s degree are also 7% more likely to find full-time employment and 20% more likely to land a higher role within a company. The difference is even bigger across the Atlantic, with a massive 25% salary increase for people that have a master’s degree, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Whichever way you look at it, there’s clearly value in continuing your studies.
2. It opens up career advancement opportunities
Most people – especially those who already have decent CVs – do a master’s 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’re looking to change direction completely. Either way, a master’s can be used as a very valuable steppingstone.
Employers recognise the value of a master’s degree – some even make it a prerequisite, while in industries such as healthcare and education, they’re mandatory. But even in general terms, a master’s can set you apart from the crowd. ‘It does make you stand out a little more,’ argues marketing graduate Beth Nightingale, ‘Pretty much everyone now has a degree, but not many have a master’s.’
3. You’ll develop 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’re applying for a job in a relevant or related area, it will work hugely in your favour.
Indeed, it shows that you’re dedicated to enhancing your industry expertise and credibility, which helps you become all the more competitive in your chosen field. For example, many lawyers pursue master’s 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. It encourages flexibility and lifelong learning
One of the greatest benefits of a master’s 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 master’s 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 also become a better problem solver and can more easily tackle complex projects.
5. You’ll build 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 her CV the following week and managed to get a phone interview. After this, she says, ‘I was lucky enough to be selected. My skills and the selection of people and companies at the event helped facilitate an open door to my future.’
6. It aids personal development
A master’s 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.
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 also be hugely appealing to potential employers who will recognise your ambition and appetite for a challenge.
7. It can be a steppingstone
To clarify, having a master’s 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 programmes, most institutions won’t accept candidates without a master’s qualification. The only exceptions are applicants with significant professional experience or those who can self-fund their own research.
This is mainly because postgraduate study is very different to undergraduate study. Indeed, postgrad study is much more theory-based, and completing a master’s degree provides you with the insights needed to complete a PhD programme.
8. It makes you smarter
During your master’s degree, you’ll have the opportunity to learn some pretty interesting stuff! Education expert Monica Babson believes that, regardless of what you intend to do with your master’s, it will broaden your knowledge and develop key cognitive skills that can be applied in any field. ‘Ideas […] are indeed born out of our ability to think and to be creative,’ she says. ‘An MA degree 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 master’s 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.
9. It could help you change careers
If you’re considering changing careers, enrolling in a master’s programme could be a necessary step.
Indeed, several postgraduate courses are open to professionals from different backgrounds, regardless of the subject of their bachelor’s degree. Even if you started out as a chemistry major who went on to work as a biotechnologist, you could still apply for an MBA or Master of Education. (That said, some master’s degrees, like MSc and Meng, may require previous study or experience within the relevant field.)
Through a master’s course, you’ll be able to establish new foundations and tap into a completely different job market from the one you started out in. It will also be easier for you to gain work experience in your new field, such as through a graduate scheme or an internship.
10. It’s a research opportunity
If there’s a particular area you were always curious and have always enjoyed independent research, a postgraduate programme is the perfect opportunity to dive deeper within a topic.
Not only that, but you’ll also have access to your institution’s facilities, resources and state-of-the-art equipment, all of which will take your research one step further.
If you’re passionate about academic research and you enjoy the process of compiling new data and conducting studies, then a research-based master’s programme is the perfect opportunity to do just that, while also gaining valuable real-world experience that will enhance your future job applications.
If you’re still having second thoughts, these points will hopefully have given you some food for thought.
The structure of a master’s course is 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 simply want to challenge yourself, a master’s degree could be just what you’re looking for.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 20 December 2017 and contains insights from staff writer Melina Theodorou.