Is a Master's Degree Worth It? That Depends

Education is always a good thing, but is an advanced degree worth the investment of time and money? Possibly, but answer some questions first.

Is a Master's Degree Worth It? That Depends

Specialized jobs may require you to have a master’s degree.

No matter where you are in your career—whether you're fresh out of undergrad or a working professional with loads of job experience—surely, at some point, you've asked yourself, "Is a master's degree worth it?"

That depends. Grad school isn't right for everyone, especially when you consider that the cost of tuition alone can reach well into the six figures. On the other hand, certain specialized jobs require candidates to have a master's degree—and some of those jobs offer salaries that make the additional education worth it.

Answering these questions can help you decide if getting a master's degree is the right call for your career.

Do I Need a Master's Degree to Get the Job I Want?

Obviously, you want to have a job that is fulfilling and keeps you engaged. If that job requires a master's degree, well, get your backpack ready. While it's possible to bypass education requirements for certain jobs, some occupations, such as speech-language pathologists, biomedical engineers, and data scientists, demand a master's degree, no exceptions.

In other cases, though, having a master's degree—while it makes you a more attractive job candidate—is a "want" for employers and not a "must." If you're targeting a specific position, look at job postings to see what's mentioned under "preferred" compared to what's mentioned under "required."

Will I Make Substantially More Money?

A master's degree is a financial investment—and it could be a big one. Therefore, look at it the way you would any other financial commitment. Think about your return on investment. Check the salaries of people with this master's degree versus the salaries of people without it.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median weekly earnings for a person with a master's degree is higher than for people with a bachelor's degree and even more so than for people with a high school diploma. But this isn't the case for all jobs.

The salary boost you'll see in certain programs might not, in fact, be that much relative to how much you have to pay to complete your degree. In light of this info, ask yourself again, "Is a master's degree worth it?" (As in, is it literally worth it?)

Can I Realistically Afford to Pay for a Master's Degree Program?

Not to keep harping on the money thing, but the fact is that student loan debt is a harsh reality for loads of people. Enrolling in graduate school often requires people to take on debt, and students who pursued graduate and professional degrees account for a large chunk of outstanding national student loan debt.

Moreover, graduate degrees are getting more expensive. For example, from 1989 to 2014, the average debt levels of borrowers with a graduate degree more than quadrupled, from just under $10,000 to more than $40,000, a study from the Brookings Institution found.

So if you'll need to take on more student loans, be sure to do the math and see whether you'll be able to pay the money back without defaulting.

How Much Longer Do I Plan to Work?

Though there's no set age at which you should stop pursuing your education, how much longer you have left in your career matters when weighing this decision. For instance, if you're planning to retire in five years, shelling out a ton of dough for grad school may not make sense, since you won't have time to recoup that money in your higher earnings.

On the other hand, if you're just starting out or have a good number of years before you can even consider retiring, graduate school may be worth the cost if it's going to increase your long-term earnings.

Is This the Right Program for Me?

Have your eye on a particular grad school? Analyze how a degree from that program will boost your career. Particularly, look at the strength of the alumni network. Note: You don't always need to have gone to a top-shelf school or university to get access to a particular alumni circle. Getting a master's degree from a state school may also help you save money.

Of course, the reputation of the university is important, too. Obtaining a master's degree from an accredited program, as opposed to one that's not, can make you more attractive to future employers.

Can I Work While Going to Grad School Part-Time?

In order to finance their education, many people choose to work full-time while they get their master's degree; however, that can be a hard juggling act. Balancing grad school and a full-time job requires strong time-management skills and support from your employer.

Pro tip: Depending on your work schedule, getting a master's degree online—and studying at night and on weekends—might be your best move.

Keep Your Career Moving Forward

Whether you decide to get a master's degree or not, you should always be nurturing your career. Want a little help? Monster can play a part in powering your career. We'll send job alerts right to your inbox, which cuts down on the amount of time you'd spend combing through ads, plus we can get you connected to recruiters in your areas of interest. Let Monster do some of the work for you.