By Jacob Kirn
Job growth is stagnant and unemployment remains relatively high. So recent graduates continue to ponder: Should I search for a job in a difficult market, or find a graduate school? The later usually induces far less anxiety. But the truth is, only some advanced degrees may be worth pursuing.
Sure, attending medical or law school, even with its sticker shock up front, typically pays off in the long run. But what about master’s degrees?
The answer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is that most advanced degrees are a net gain when likely lifetime earnings are considered.
A Master’s of Business Administration, for example, earns its recipient $375,780 more over a lifetime than an individual with a bachelor’s degree, according to an analysis by Liz Pulliam Weston of MSN. It also can’t hurt if you’re lucky enough to attend business school at Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern or UPenn; all are top-ranked by U.S. Business and World Report.
By all accounts, engineering students are sought after for jobs far more than students with degrees in the arts. A 2011 report by Identified showed that companies can’t find enough American engineers to hire, and often look to overseas graduates to fill gaps. So while an advanced degree may not be necessary to find work, engineers are also more successful when they hold advanced degrees. The profession already pays well (often in excess of $100,000 a year). But here, too, data show those with the equivalent advanced degree make over $300,000 more in their lifetime than colleagues with bachelor’s degrees.
Teachers, perhaps more than any other profession, rely on further schooling to move up the ladder. Pay scales are based on education. And most administrators and superintendents have a master’s degree, at minimum. With time off during the summer, teachers can also fast track an advanced degree while their students are at the pool. Also, a teacher’s alma mater, particularly for professional degrees, tends not to matter as much as, say, a lawyer’s, making it easier to shop around for a good deal. It’s worth the extra effort; a master’s degree in education nets a teacher over $100,000 more in their lifetime than teachers who have a bachelor’s degree.
For those not in these fields, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of graduate school. Liberal arts and humanities majors tend not to make more when they earn a master’s degree, according to the MSN analysis. If financial aid or graduate teaching assistantships are a possibility, pursuing a degree in the humanities makes more sense. Otherwise, beware of student loan debt. It’s often not forgivable, even under bankruptcy.