When it comes to career advancement, there are two main factors to consider.
The first is experience, how many hours you have working in the field, solving problems and developing practical skills. The second is education, which looks different for every industry and may be a combination of on-the-job learning and academic instruction.
In many cases, getting a master’s degree is the only way to qualify for a higher-level position, and in some fields, it’s the minimum requirement to begin working. Depending on your job, career goals and finances, the choice to go back to school for a master’s could be a great investment or waste of time. However, a graduate degree can increase your earning potential and give you a better salary for an entry-level position.
For current students who are contemplating graduate school, the big question is whether they should apply for jobs and gain experience or transfer straight into a master’s program. This largely depends on the field. For example, someone who wants to be a therapist has to earn their graduate degree before they can apply for their state license. In this case, entry-level jobs require a higher level of education, so a master’s is a prerequisite, not a bonus. In other fields, having advanced knowledge or specialization can make finding work easier. In the business industry, there are hundreds of applicants for entry-level jobs who all hold bachelor’s degrees and have internship experience. It can be difficult to stand out, so you might pursue an MBA to give yourself an edge.
Cost is one of the greatest sources of conflict for students stuck between these two options. Taking on more student loans can result in more anxiety after graduation, especially if you don’t find work shortly thereafter. But the good news about attending graduate school is that you have access to greater funding. The principal amount for master’s student loans is far higher than those for undergraduates. If you’re interested in applying for MBA loans or other graduate loans, a private lender is potentially one of your strongest options. Flexible repayment schedules and fixed, low interest rates can make furthering your education feel like a better choice.
One thing you’ll find different about master’s level programs is the diversity among students. Some of your peers might have a decade or more of experience under their belts and want to take the next step in their profession. Others may be recent graduates who are embarking on a specialization before applying for any jobs. You are not forced to choose school over work. In fact, many programs are designed to help students build their professional experience while furthering their education.
You could get a job and decide to complete your classes entirely online. Colleges like Southern New Hampshire University and the University of Phoenix are completely remote and built for professional students. Shorter terms and flexible courses allow you to study on your own terms. You can complete your program doing homework solely after-hours or studying mostly on the weekends. While gaining experience is always a good thing, there is another advantage to having a job while completing your degree. Being in the workforce of your target industry gives you a chance to network and possibly gain new opportunities. Earning money that you can put toward your student loans while you’re still in school is also a huge plus.
The biggest question you should ask yourself is what you stand to gain by getting your master’s. It shouldn’t be a matter of what looks good on paper or what could happen. Strictly hypothetical opportunities may never come to fruition, but your student debt will be a very real and pressing reality. In some cases, you may realize that it’s more beneficial for you to put off further study until you’re more established in your field or financially stable. Some people decide to pursue other life goals, like getting married or starting a family, before they return to school.
What you stand to gain will vary based on your career goals. If you have your heart set on a certain profession or specialization, then getting your graduate degree is likely the best way to achieve it. Whatever you decide, take your time to carefully research. Reach out to other professionals, ask questions and make sure that your final decision is one you’re truly confident in.
Disclaimer: MoneyMagpie is not a licensed financial advisor and therefore information found here including opinions, commentary, suggestions or strategies are for informational, entertainment or educational purposes only. This should not be considered as financial advice. Anyone thinking of investing should conduct their own due diligence.