The decision to go back to school to further your education is a tough one. Keeping pace with a fast-evolving workforce means continuing to update your skills and knowledge. On the other hand, earning a master’s degree is a major time and financial investment. If you want to take the next step to advance your career, you may be trying to determine whether earning a graduate degree is the best way to do it. Here are several factors to weigh when deciding whether it’s worth it.
The advantages of a graduate degree can vary greatly depending on your industry. According to the BLS, the most common careers that require a master’s degreeinclude those in business, education, health care, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
The fast-growing fields of health care and social service are also among the most common for master’s degrees awarded. This is actually an industry in which earning a master’s degree might increasingly be required for certain positions, according to the BLS.
The BLS estimates that employment of health care occupations will increase by 2.4 million new jobs by 2026. Industry growth, coupled with a greater emphasis on graduate-level education, makes a strong case for continuing your education in health-related fields.
In fields such as criminal justice, law, government, and other public sector areas, you’ll need to consider your career goals. For entry- and mid-level occupations such as paralegal and police officer, an undergraduate degree will usually suffice. Master’s degrees in fields such as legal studies and criminal justice can help if you are interested in supervisory, management, or leadership roles.
Though some careers require a minimum of a master’s degree, for others a graduate degree is somewhat rare. For example, a graduate degree may be less common and offer limited benefits for careers in commercial art and graphic design, construction services, petroleum engineering, studio art, and atmospheric sciences.After business, the second most common field for graduate degrees is education, where nearly 1 in 5 of all master’s degrees are conferred, according to NCES. In fact, those going into educational administration and supervision have among the highest rates of graduate degree attainment across all industries.
For example, a labor market and workforce study of six coastal counties in Maine, conducted by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, found that more than one third of local in-demand, high-wage occupations require a master’s degree or more. Echoing the national statistics above, some of the most common fields in Maine were found to be health care, business and professional services, educational services, and IT occupations such as software developers and computer systems analysts.
For other geographic regions that show a higher demand for master’s degrees, and to learn what level of degree local employers require for the positions you seek, visit CareerOneStop to get information on how much education you might need for an occupation in your location.
According to the BLS, “occupations that need more education for entry are projected to grow faster.” This could mean that there may be an expected increase in employment for jobs requiring master’s degrees versus just a bachelor’s. Careers that require a minimum of a master’s degree or higher are expected to grow 16.7% from 2016 to 2026.
A 2015 economic study suggests that the U.S. labor market increasingly favors workers who hold a graduate degree. Moreover, 13% of the U.S. population possess a master’s or advanced degree, up from 8% just 6 years ago, which means that competition for jobs that require a master’s degree could be increasing. And, according to NCES, the number of master’s degrees awarded is expected to continue rising.
If you’re currently working full time, putting your career on hold to go back to school can be a hard sell, and is nearly impossible for many adults balancing work, family, and other responsibilities. Online master’s degree programs can offer the flexibility to earn your next credential without taking time off or sacrificing your career advancement. However, you’ll need to ensure you select an accredited institutionthat combines rigor, quality, and reputation with the convenience of online access.
Refer to BLS data regarding unemployment and earnings to further inform your decision making process regarding seeking a graduate degree.
Jobs requiring master’s degrees are on the rise, as are the numbers of professionals going back to school to earn advanced degrees to compete for them. Data shows that earning a master’s degree may be advantageous in many fields, including education, business, health care, technology, nursing, and more. Increasing your skill level and knowledge has obvious benefits, whether it’s keeping up with the latest industry advances and technologies; developing leadership skills to pursue management roles; or gaining general competencies related to communication and professionalism.
While many of these studies suggest that professionals with master’s degrees will be in higher demand, you’ll need to do your research to determine whether a master’s degree is right for your industry, goals, and region—and to find the program that best fits your lifestyle and current career.