One Degree Higher

What's the value of a master's degree?


It wasn’t an easy decision for graduate student Brett Neller to give up his full-time job to return to the life of a college student to pursue a master’s degree. But it’s a decision he doesn’t regret.

“Anytime you decide to give up two years, when you have a steady job, and you have disposable income and to give that up to go into debt, then I think it is a difficult decision,” Neller said.
But he also called it “one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Deciding whether or not to further one’s education, is something many MSU students dwell on, determining if the extra bills and time in the classroom are worth a higher chance of job placement and higher average salary wage.

Average raise in yearly salary when a student receives a graduate
degree is $36,900
Average improvement in unemployment rates when a student receives a
graduate degree is 4.53 percent
Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

For supply chain management senior Siddhant Bhambhani, the decision to go to graduate school already has been made because of what it’ll add to his résumé.

“Grad school is like a branding on your name,” Bhambhani said. “It’s going to make me get a better job.”

The numbers don’t lie

Graduate school offers advantages in both employment and salary, according to a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, highlighting the different job placement and average salary wage numbers for each field with an undergraduate and graduate degree. But some master’s degrees paid off more than others, especially when compared to what someone in the same field would make with a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience.

In terms of employment, master’s degrees are most helpful for majors focused on physical fitness and parks recreation. While a bachelor’s degree holder in this major faces 8.3 percent unemployment, those with a master’s degree in the same field have an unemployment of only 2 percent.

But a master’s degree might be less helpful for business majors, who face 4.4 percent unemployment with a master’s degree and 7.4 percent unemployment without it.

The differences in average yearly salary also improved in all 15 categories for those with a master’s degree, from a $23,000 increase for education majors to a $55,000 increase for some sciences and physics degree holders. The average salary increase for the 15 fields of study was just less than $37,000 when a student continues their education past an undergraduate degree.

“Some things we had were big surprises ­— you see high earnings with a graduate degree, and that really surprised me,” said Andrew Hanson, a research analyst for higher education and labor markets who worked on the report. “STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are the ones where you see the biggest difference in variance.”

Experience just as important as grad school

The addition of graduate school to one’s résumé has shown clear signs of helping in job-placement numbers, but without prior experience, another degree title isn’t as beneficial as it appears.

MSU Director of Research for the Collegiate Employment Research Institute Phil Gardner stressed the importance of students getting internships and work experience in their field to better the chances of job placement after graduation.

“If you want to score a high salary, you’re going to need a high portfolio and a lot of experience,” Gardner said. “Just getting a degree doesn’t guarantee a heads up every time.”

At least five years of experience can lead to huge leaps in salary for bachelor’s degree holders, although it doesn’t quite equal the amount made by master’s degree holders.

Those with a bachelor’s in the field of architecture can increase their salary from an average of $36,000 to $64,000 through experience alone. By comparison, those with a master’s degree have an average salary of $71,000.

Similar to Gardner, Neller supports students getting real-world experience before diving into a graduate program.

“The real-life experience is very important, and I think you need that before the next step in the process, which is the M.B.A. and will prepare you for the next tier after the M.B.A. program,” Neller said.

Is it worth it?

With the high costs of continuing one’s education into graduate school, the question remains as to whether the reward is worth the time and expenses.

“It really depends on what you want to do,” Dean of the MSU Graduate School Karen Klomparens said. “If you want to be a physician, M.B.A., lawyer or teacher you have to go to grad school to meet requirements.”

Graduate student Dan Clark said for him, attending graduate school was never a question as he wants to be a professor. But graduate school also has given him connections that might help him land a job.

“I feel like by the time I leave here, I will be well prepared to do meaningful work in the field I’m going into, and contribute to society and making a decent living for myself,” Clark said.

When giving advice on attending graduate school, a student should look at whether the degree will better their chances of achieving their goals in life, Klomparens said.

“Think about what you want to do and find out if a master’s, doctoral or professional degree is required for what you want to do,” Klomparens said.

“Some people are so passionate about their field and study, and they want to further their education. It’s not always an economic situation where some just want to further their education, (it) depends on each person and what they want to do.”

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