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How a master’s degree can impact your career prospects

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • The 2021 median weekly wage for workers with master’s degrees was about $240 more than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • A master’s degree isn’t for everyone. Deciding whether a master’s degree is right for you and part of your academic goals will depend on your career goals.
  • University of Phoenix offers 27 master’s programs in business, nursing, technology, education and more.  

When plotting your career trajectory, your choice of education can play a major role. The type of degree you pursue, the subjects you study and the level of study you attain will define that trajectory in a major way. For some, a high school degree is enough. For others, a bachelor’s degree is perfect for their career goals.

For others, pursuing a graduate degree is the right choice for their aspirations. In fact, a master’s degree may be a requirement for some specialized career fields or leadership roles. By pursuing a master’s degree program, students can hone skills beyond those of an undergraduate degree program.

That being said, a master’s degree isn’t for everyone. Understanding how a graduate degree can prepare you to pursue career outcomes can help you decide whether it’s the right choice for you!

What is the difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s?

While a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree both take a lot of work to achieve, they differ in important ways. If you have achieved a bachelor’s degree, this can help you know what you’re getting into when you earn your graduate degree.

Coursework

Compared to an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree has a much sharper focus. Instead of broadly introducing students to an academic subject, a master’s degree program has students learn more-specific skills that have practical applications in specific industries.

Time and cost

Master’s degree programs tend to take less time to complete than a bachelor’s degree program — about two to three years versus the four years generally associated with a bachelor’s degree.

Don’t let that shorter time fool you, however. That condensed time frame typically is packed with a rigorous workload that takes dedication to complete.

Why should I pursue a master’s degree?

There are several situations in which completing a master’s degree program can be helpful.

Changing career industries

Whether because of personal taste or economic headwinds, taking a new direction in your career might be the right choice for you. A master’s degree can help with that.

Jessica Roper, the director of Career Services at University of Phoenix, has this to say on the topic:

“In today’s world, career changes are very common and often a master’s degree can help broaden one’s knowledge in a different area or help compensate areas where one has a lack of experience.”

For someone with an undergraduate degree in one field, a master’s degree in a different field can help expand their skill set. In turn, this combination of skills may help them expand their options if they choose to change fields or industries.

New job opportunities

While it’s certainly not true across the board, some jobs require a master’s degree as a prerequisite. This is especially true when it comes to leadership roles within organizations.

This isn’t just about giving you more hoops to jump through. When it comes to the day-to-day responsibilities of administrating broad efforts, the skills learned in a bachelor’s degree program may not be enough.

Personal achievement

For some, pursuing a master’s degree isn’t entirely about a career change or a job opportunity. Many students have a passionate interest in a particular subject. To satisfy their curiosity, some students pursue studies beyond the bachelor’s degree level.

Completing a master’s degree is a substantial achievement in its own right. For these students, that’s as good of a reason as any to earn one.

How does a master’s degree impact career outcomes?

In a general sense, pursuing a higher level of education has its benefits. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that possessing a graduate degree trends in favor of higher earning potential and employment outcomes as well as lower unemployment. Let’s dig deeper into how a master’s degree can impact career outcomes.

Earnings potential with a master’s degree

Possessing a graduate degree can often lead to greater earnings throughout someone’s career. Full-time employees over the age of 25 with a master’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,574 compared to $1,334 for those with a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS. That means the 2021 median weekly wage for workers with master’s degrees was about $240 more than those with bachelor’s degrees. This wage was $765 more than those with just a high school diploma.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Employment rate for master’s degrees

The unemployment rate for the same employed demographic with master’s degrees was 2.6% compared to 3.5% for those with bachelor’s degrees, according to 2021 data from BLS. The unemployment rate of those with just high school diplomas was 6.2%.

Of course, these are broad trends, and your specific career path may or may not accord with them. Researching the prerequisites for your desired roles is the best way to find out whether a master’s degree is right for you.

Skills in the workplace

Roper points out an important trend that may affect the career outcomes of earning a master’s degree, “A workplace trend that we are seeing is that employers are valuing skills. More employers are starting to embrace skills-based hiring practices.” According to Roper, the specificity of the skills developed in pursuit of a master’s degree may give job candidates an edge.

Is a master’s degree always necessary?

As noted, researching your desired career path is the best way to know whether a master’s degree is the right choice for you. For some occupations, the answer may be no.

If you’re looking for entry-level work within a field, there may be options that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s degree. It’s certainly not a thorough picture, but of the 13 occupations listed by BLS under “Education, Training and Library Occupations,” only four list a master’s degree as an entry-level requirement.

Some occupations require advanced education or specialties only found in a graduate degree, and other roles with a managerial or leadership focus may also require a master’s degree. For example, postsecondary teachers often need a master’s degree as do counselors and social workers. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants do as well. While an undergraduate degree can be an entry point for careers in business and technology, some employers may prefer managers and supervisors to have a master’s.

It’s important to note that a master’s degree alone is often not the only requirement for employment in leadership or management roles. Years of experience and a strong network can play an equally important role.

So, should I pursue a master’s degree?

“Whatever one’s reason for choosing to pursue a master’s degree” Roper says, “it is important to be clear on the reason why.”

If you have a specific goal in mind for your career, and your research has revealed the importance of a master’s degree toward that goal, then it might be the right choice for you.

On the other hand, if you don’t know why you would want to earn a master’s degree, then it’s perhaps time to take a step back and do more research. Ask yourself:

  • Where do I see myself in 5, 10, 20 years?
  • Do I want to lead others?
  • What industry do I want to work in?
  • Does my existing education suit me for the kind of work I want to do?

These questions can help you decide on your unique ideal path and where, or if, a master’s degree fits into it. Depending on your answers, you may even want to consider a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree or a certificate as the next step.

Pursue your master’s degree at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix (UOPX) offers more than 27 master’s degree programs in topics ranging from business to healthcare to criminal justice and more. Learn more about the master’s degree programs at UOPX here!

Here are just some of the programs currently available:

Master of Business Administration  For those looking to elevate their business skills and take on greater leadership roles, this program is for you. Learn how to develop strategies to foster innovation and facilitate change in a dynamic business environment.

Master of Management  From communication and leadership skills to operations and strategic planning, the lessons learned in this program are important for running a complex business operation.

Master of Arts in Education  With specializations in adult, elementary, special education and more, this degree can help prepare graduates for a variety of teaching positions.

Master of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology  Delve into the psychology that makes positive workplace culture and helps businesses make better hiring and management decisions. This role can prepare graduates for roles as employee relations managers, development managers and more!

Master of Science in Cybersecurity — This online program explores such skills and topics as cybersecurity, security policies and vulnerability in depth.

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