By Brian Fairbanks
Are you thinking of going back to school to take the next step in your educational journey? If so, it’s normal to wonder if getting a master's degree is the right move for you. The answer, of course, depends on your situation and goals. There are numerous reasons why pursuing a master’s program may be a wise move.
For some, a bachelor’s degree is exactly what they need in order to achieve their career goals. For others though, an undergraduate degree might simply be the first step towards their career and educational aspirations.
Not only does a graduate-level degree set you apart from a growing workforce armed with bachelor's degrees, but it also suggests you have the sort of skills employers need to see for advanced positions.
While hard skills are obviously required for job positions, obtaining a master's degree shows you understand time management, self-discipline, and intellectual curiosity.
An advanced degree can directly increase opportunities for employees looking to enhance their careers. From higher-level positions in the same company to making up for a lack of work experience, master's degrees can open doors.
Continuing to develop and learn can be a positive outcome from both a career perspective as well as from a personal one. However, for many, the greatest benefit of an advanced degree is the new opportunities that come with it.
Chris Gloor, the vice president of enrollment at the University of Phoenix, notes another possible benefit:
"Students have a sense of accomplishment when they invest in themselves. When you earn a degree, you make a sacrifice and invest money, time, effort, dedication and commitment. Having a degree can tell others you possess these qualities. An education and advancing [your] knowledge can be what sets [you] apart … it’s [your] competitive advantage in the job market."
A 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on employment rates by educational attainment showed that the unemployment rate decreased by each level of education a person earns.
Those with a master’s degree had an unemployment rate of 4.1% compared to 5.5% for a bachelor’s holder and 7.1% for those with an associate degree. Those without academic degrees experienced the highest unemployment in the nation.
|Degree level||Unemployment rate|
|Some college, no degree||8.3%|
|High school diploma||9%
One of the main benefits of completing an advanced degree is the potential to earn a higher salary.
According to the same BLS report, degree holders with master's degrees or higher earn more after receiving the next highest degree level. Graduates with a master’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,545 compared to $1,305 for bachelor’s degree graduates.
BLS notes, however, that these numbers do not take into account apprenticeships, training programs or other training. Median weekly earnings by degree level:
|Degree Level||Median Weekly Earnings||Median Annual Salary|
|Some college, no degree||$877||$45,604|
|High school diploma||$781||$40,612|
Let's say that the average career lasts 45 years before you can retire. Your lifetime earnings would translate to:
|Degree Level||Gross Income Upon Retirement|
|Some college, no degree||$2,052,180|
|High school diploma||$1,827,540|
If you have a master's degree that's an additional $562,000 by the time you retire!
We're currently in one of the best job markets for career changers and first-time employees. It's an exciting time to find and fill your dream role. However, some advanced positions require a graduate degree.
An advanced degree from an accredited college or university can make your resume stand out, improve your odds of landing a job interview and provide you with the leverage you need to negotiate employment terms such as salary and benefits.
Attending and successfully completing a graduate program instills a greater sense of confidence, mastery, and understanding in your chosen field. This experience lends itself as you enter the job market.
Feel like your career is stagnant and you're in need of a change? It's often hard to break into a new field when you lack direct experience. For example, someone in information technology (IT) might struggle to land a new job in project management (PM), however, if you obtain a graduate degree in PM, many employers will overlook your lack of experience because you've shown dedication in picking up a new skillset.
While there's no guarantee that you're safe in your current role, furthering your skills and knowledge helps establish your credibility and expertise – therefore improving your value to the organization. This earns you greater job security in the process. Just think about the unemployment rate chart above. There's a reason why graduate degree holders experienced the least amount of unemployment.
With the speed at which today's technology moves, oftentimes job requirements also shift and grow. Whole markets become outdated almost overnight. If you want to keep pace in your field and update your credentials, furthering your education may be the best way to stay on the leading edge!
Now more than ever, going back to school is as simple as logging into your computer. Online programs, like those offered at University of Phoenix, are available to part-time and full-time students. They're the perfect solution for the working student because classes are available to you 24/7 to help with a work-life balance.
If you are a master's or doctoral degree holder, you have the distinct ability to express your passion for your subject area by bringing new insights to your field. Most programs help you conduct real and meaningful research so you can publish your findings and share them with others in academia.
The graduate degree world is filled with these types of opportunities and they can really separate you from the rest when applying for grants, scholarships, and job opportunities. A graduate degree might just be the launchpad you need to extend your field of research.
If you’re considering going back to school for your advanced degree, you may be worried about the time commitment involved and/or the possible disruption to other priorities in your life. The good news? Pursuing your master’s degree is not only worth it. It’s also more doable than you think.
On average, a master’s degree can take 1.5 to 3 years to complete as a full-time student. There are many factors that play into this: such as transfer credits, program length, course load, and breaks.
Pursuing accelerated programs or attending classes online can help to save yourself time and even earn a degree in just one year.
Traditional, in-person higher education can require a much greater time commitment and disrupt your personal and professional life. For example, to attend in-person classes, you'll likely need to live on or near campus. If you don’t live on campus, you’ll also need a car, which involves expenses like gas, insurance, and maintenance.
A master’s degree may require dozens of total credits.
Others, including a Master of Arts in Education/Elementary Teacher Education program, can mandate 44 credits. Some in-person schools, however, mandate as many as 60 credits.
When it comes to being a full-time or a part-time student, both pathways offer certain advantages.
Part-time students can theoretically work while going to school, which means they can earn money and experience while getting their degree.
Meanwhile, a full-time student has the advantage of being able to complete a degree program more quickly. The downside to this is that they need to have a way to finance that full-time student life, which isn’t always feasible for working adults with families to support.
Online universities, however, can provide the best of both worlds. At the University of Phoenix, students take just one course at a time, which means they can fit a degree program alongside work and family obligations.
An accelerated program is, as Prep Scholar suggests, "designed to let you get a master’s degree on a compressed timeline." In other words, you can potentially earn your degree faster.
"Some master’s programs have accelerated program options," writes Prep Scholar. "These typically have a slightly lower credit hours requirement, a higher per-semester course-load and less flexibility in choosing electives, but you can graduate faster. These are more common for professional programs (like MPH and MBA programs) than degrees focused on academia. Also, you sometimes have to have a certain level of professional experience to qualify as a candidate for application."
Accelerated programs may sound good on paper, but they can be hard to maintain in the real world, especially for working adults. They are also not always available at every school. So if an accelerated master’s program makes sense for you, be sure to check with the admissions offices of your prospective schools before applying or enrolling.
Here is Indeed’s full list of popular master’s degrees ranked by the most in-demand:
About half of the most-earned master’s degrees are from just three areas of educational study: business, education, and health professions, with engineering or public administration and social services rounding out the top five.
To give you an idea of how long it may take to complete one of these programs, let’s look at the most popular.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program may take two years to complete if you’re attending an in-person program. But at an online educational institution such as the University of Phoenix, you can complete your MBA program in just 18 months.
To begin a master’s degree program, many universities may require applicants to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Which test you take will depend on your degree program and school of choice.
The GRE is the most widely accepted graduate school admissions exam, while the GMAT is almost only used to apply for business schools. If you are thinking of applying to a business school, inquire at your prospective schools about their GMAT score requirements. For other master’s degree programs, you may or may not be required to take the GRE first.
Check with each school before applying so you allocate your time and energy (as well as your cash) wisely. University of Phoenix, for example, does not require applicants to take the GMAT or GRE.
If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree and are thinking about going back to school to potentially earn a master’s degree, you might consider the University of Phoenix.
UOPX offers 26 master’s programs nationwide, including many of the most in-demand and high-earning degrees, including a Master of Business Administration degree, Master of Health Administration, and Master of Information Systems.
At University of Phoenix, advanced degrees are designed with real-world careers in mind and taught by faculty with more than 26 years of experience in the field in which they teach. With flexible start dates, affordable tuition, and one-class-at-a-time scheduling, online master’s programs are an accessible way to change your life.
Earning your master’s degree, after all, may be more than just a goal. It can be the decision that changes your life. Choose wisely.