While jobs that require a graduate degree are on the rise, outcomes may depend on your field, location, and career goals.
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.
As you begin your research, you can use the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to review average earnings, education requirements, and growth rates of thousands of jobs and career paths.
Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree Are Stronger in Certain Fields
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 degree include those in business, education, health care, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Business Occupations Experience Highest Rates and Returns for Master’s Degrees
More master’s degrees are awarded in the field of business than any other. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which tracks degrees conferred by post-secondary institutions in the United States, reports that in 2015–16, more than 180,000 MBA degrees were awarded.
These are the top master’s degrees, according to NCES:
- Business 24%
- Education 19%
- Health care 14%
- Engineering 7%
- Public administration and social services 6%
- Computer and information sciences 5%
- All other degrees 4% or less
In addition, the BLS reports that many securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents earn MBAs as it may be required for high-level business jobs. Earnings estimates for various business degrees can help determine whether master’s degree-level job opportunities fit with your business career path.
You’ll want to ensure that you choose a university that offers graduate business degree programs that align with industry demand. For example, Purdue Global offers a master’s degree in business with concentrations in growing sectors such as finance, HR, IT, marketing, health care, and project management.
Health Care Careers Increasingly Require Advanced Education
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.
Sample jobs in the industry where an advanced degree may be advantageous include:
- Nurse practitioners
- Social and human service assistants
- Medical and health managers
- Nursing instructors and teachers
- Social workers
To learn more about graduate degree programs for these career paths, check out the following:
- Health sciences master’s degrees
- Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice
- Masters’ degrees in public administration, human services, and psychology
The Information Technology Industry Shows Both Job Growth and an Increased Benefit for Graduate Degree Holders
Many master’s degrees are also awarded in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Plus, the sub-sector of technology is expected to add more than 500,000 new IT jobs by 2026. According to the BLS, IT occupations where a master’s degree can strengthen career prospects include:
- Network and computer systems administrators
- Information security analysts
- Computer systems analysts
- Web developers
Graduate Degrees in the Public Sector Can Help Those Seeking Higher-Level Careers
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.
Education Professionals Rely Heavily on Master’s Degrees for Career Advancement
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. And the BLS reports that workers who have this type of degree have found careers in these types of occupations:
- Education administrators
- Educational supervisors
- Elementary and middle school teachers
- Secondary school teachers
- Special education teachers
To move into these types of teaching or education roles, a graduate degree in education can support your goals. To help you decide, explore Purdue Global’s master’s degree programs in education.
Career Changers: a Master’s Degree in Teaching May Be a Path to Consider
If you are considering becoming a teacher and looking for the best master’s degrees for career change, a Master of Arts in Teaching may be worth exploring. Purdue Global’s degree program, for instance, is designed to help those with bachelor’s degrees in other fields of study or working in another profession to make the transition to a teaching career.
Where You Live Matters
The benefits of a master’s degree depend not only on your career path, but also on your geographic area.
Spotlight on Maine: Study Shows High Demand for Master’s Degree Holders
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.
Careers That Require Master’s Degrees Are on the Rise
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.
A Degree Program Needs to Fit Your Life to Maximize Your Career Outcomes
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 institution that 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.
Please note that certain positions require licensure, training, or certification in addition to educational requirements. Prior experience may be necessary for leadership positions.