An undergraduate degree, such as an Associate's or a Bachelor's degree, is regarded as the essential education level for embarking on a wide range of professional career paths. With experience and subsequent on-the-job training, these degree programs have led millions of people to find rewarding and professionally satisfying careers in fields that they enjoy. Given that, students in many fields are now wondering about the value of pursuing advanced, graduate-level programs, such as Master's and PhD-level degrees. These pursuits represent a significant additional investment of time and money; during the additional 2-4 years spent in pursuit of a more advanced degree, the student might instead be advancing themselves through professional experience, with a more than adequate program already in the bag. Professionals within a range of occupations across the country, many of whom hold undergraduate degrees themselves, are turning a critical eye on the earning power of a graduate degree; perhaps more so than at any other time in American history, the value of such degrees is being questioned — in terms of investment versus return.
Will earning a graduate degree impact your earning power? If so, how effectively and efficiently will it do so? Is it worth the added investment for what may prove to be a return of limited value: a mid-level career ceiling, reporting to administrators and executives with undergraduate degrees (but more professional experience)?
Cutting-Edge Research and Innovation
An individual with a graduate degree is seen as possessing certain desirable qualities by default, regardless of what field their degree is in. In today's advanced technical fields, they are known for supplying many of the innovations and outside-the-box concepts that keep information technology and other digital fields marching ever onward (providing expanding opportunities for lucrative employment as they go). A graduate degree is not necessary to enter into such fields as computer science or information technology, but it definitely unlocks both additional earning power and advancement opportunity. A Master's degree in computer programming can lead to administrative responsibilities, additional high-priority projects, and more lucrative financial incentives.
Education: A Viable Path for the Modern Graduate Student
A Master's degree or a Doctoral program are of significant value in the world of education; typically, a graduate degree of some sort is all but required in order to secure a teaching position. An advanced graduate degree in a highly technical field will open up doors in the world of education which the average graduate student might not even realize exist. Instruction isn't the path of choice for everyone, but it remains a highly lucrative option when specialized programs, prestigious universities, and other such highly accredited opportunities are involved.
Marking Out Your Prospects in Advance
There are things for which a graduate-level degree program should not be used. A Master's level program (or higher) is ill-advised as a means of padding one's resume, unless there are specific career directions which require it: ultimately, it's too expensive to be worthwhile as another educational credential. Similarly, it's not a financially sound strategy to pursue while waiting to see if a given job market improves; if it doesn't, you're out that much more money, with no greater prospects than what you had going in. Generally speaking, the obvious choices (such as medicine and academia) aside, career fields that offer the most earning potential for a Master's or a Doctorate are fields that incorporate a lot of big data, information management, and computer science. Highly technical and technologically innovative fields are a solid bet.
A graduate degree typically imparts substantially more earning power than an undergraduate degree, particularly over the course of an entire career. At their peak, a computer science researcher with a graduate degree can earn as much as 60% more than their counterparts from undergraduate programs. The key is to focus on specific aspects of one's chosen field, wherein research and development, education, or advanced theory are involved. A complicated, technical field, as well as a career in education, will reward advanced graduate degrees much more than other, less demanding, and less complicated fields will, but choosing the right specialized field (where innovative thinking and critical analysis skills are in high demand) can make all the difference.