More U.S. students are going on to grad school than ever before. In 2016, 9.2 percent of those ages 25 to 29 had a master’s degree or higher. That’s more than double the 4.5 percent in 1996, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Why the increase? It’s all about opportunity.
An advanced degree can open doors to new knowledge, career growth and personal satisfaction. By almost any measure, a master’s degree can provide a significant return on investment over the long term.
5 key benefits of a master’s degree
1. A competitive edge
Employers recognize the added value of an advanced degree, as reflected in higher weekly earnings and lower unemployment rates for those who have a master’s. In fact, employees with master’s degrees earn an average of $228 more per week—or nearly $12,000 more per year—than colleagues who only have bachelor’s degrees, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the course of a career, that difference can add up.
The BLS also reports that the 2017 unemployment rate for those with a master’s degree was 2.2 percent, compared with 2.5 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree. And, a recent CareerBuilder survey found that more employers are raising their education requirements. Of those surveyed, 33 percent reported hiring individuals with master’s degrees to fill positions previously held primarily by employees with bachelor’s degrees.
2. Sharper skills
Whether you pursue a master’s in business, engineering, teaching, data analytics or any other field, chances are you will hone skills that are essential in the workplace. Here are just a few examples:
- Interpersonal skills, including leadership, team building and collaboration.
- Critical thinking, problem solving and other analytical skills.
- Project and time management skills.
- Communication skills, such as writing, editing and public speaking.
- Career-specific technical skills, such as expertise in applied statistics for engineering and supply chain management for business.
3. Increased value to potential employers
If you’ve found a field you love, open doors to opportunity by establishing yourself as an expert. A master’s program allows you to immerse yourself in something that matters to you. At the same time, you’ll gain specialized knowledge and skills that can strengthen your reputation, demonstrate your commitment to your field or industry and increase your value to employers. If you accept a job offer after graduation, you can pursue an advanced degree part time. Depending on your field, your employer may even help pay for your graduate school tuition.
4. Critical connections
With every graduate class, you will expand your network within and beyond your field. You will interact with students from a variety of backgrounds. You will learn from professors who draw on real-world experiences as well as the latest research. Many professors are happy to mentor students, serve as references and provide introductions to helpful contacts. They, in turn, can connect you to others.
Your graduate degree will also serve as a link to fellow alumni across the U.S. and, in many cases, around the world. The larger your network, the greater your opportunities for continued success.
5. Salary and career growth
A master’s degree can pay dividends throughout your career. In many fields, starting salaries tend to be higher for jobs that require a master’s degree. You also may have more opportunities for advancement, in part because employers appreciate the specialized skills and knowledge gained during grad school.
The financial return on your grad school investment will vary depending on both the field and degree program you choose. There are lots of options—and even more information. With a little research, you can find the best match for your goals and situation.