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 Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree Are Stronger in Certain Fields
The advantages of having a graduate degree can vary greatly depending on your industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common careers that require a master’s degree include those in business, education, health care, and STEM, and “other” areas including such occupations as public relations specialists, editors, and first-line supervisors of office and administrative workers.
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. Per BLS data, a graduate degree is considered beneficial in the following business, finance, and sales career paths:
- Marketing and sales managers
- Human resources workers
- General and operations managers
- Real estate managers
- Financial services sales agents
- Financial managers
In addition, the BLS reports that many sales agents earn MBAs as it may be a requirement for high-level business jobs. Work-life earnings estimates for various business degrees can help determine whether master’s degree job opportunities fit with your business career path.
You’ll also want to ensure that you choose a university with graduate business degree programs aligned to the reported industry demand. For example, Purdue Global offers business master’s degrees 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 rather than just preferred.
It is estimated that employment of health care occupations will increase by 2.3 million new jobs by 2024. Industry growth, coupled with a greater emphasis on graduate-level education, make 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
- Master’s 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, if we look at the sub-sector of technology, almost 500,000 new IT jobs are expected by 2024, which indicates a confluence of industry growth with increasing educational levels. 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
Work-life earnings estimates can help you evaluate whether an advanced degree in IT can help you seek master degree job opportunities in computer and technology occupations.
Also look for technology degrees aligned to anticipated industry growth. Purdue Global’s master’s degrees in IT and cybersecurity management are designed to prepare graduates for several of the above career paths.
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, in areas such as commercial art and graphic design, construction services, petroleum engineering, studio art, and atmospheric sciences, attainment of a graduate degree is relatively uncommon and/or has limited expected benefits.
Education Professionals Rely Heavily on Master’s Degrees for Career Advancement
After business, the second most common field for graduate degrees is education, where more than 1 in 5 of all master’s degrees are conferred. 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 earning this type of degree can help expand your career prospects 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 decide, you’ll want to consider estimated work-life earnings and explore master’s degree programs in the above education-related areas.
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 conducted by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research found that more than one third of local in-demand 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, try this tool to get information on how much education you might need for your 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 means that there is an expected increase in employment for jobs requiring a master’s degree versus just a bachelor’s. Careers that require a minimum of a master’s degree or higher are expected to grow 26% from 2014 to 2024 (13.8% for master’s and 12.2% for above).
A recent economic study also shows that the U.S. labor market increasingly favors workers who hold a graduate degree. Moreover, 12% of the U.S. population now possess a master’s or advanced degree, up from 8% just 5 years ago, which means that competition for jobs that require a master’s degree could be increasingly fierce. 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 show 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.
Sources used in this article, and resources for your future research:
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Employment Projections, Occupations that Need More Education for Entry are Projected to Grow Faster, https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_education_summary.htm
Maureen Soyars, Thinking of going to grad school? This study says it will be worth it, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/beyond-bls/thinking-of-going-to-grad-school-this-study-says-it-will-be-worth-it.htm
Allen Chen, "More education: Lower unemployment, higher earnings," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2017, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/data-on-display/more-education.htm
Elka Torpey and Dalton Terrell, "Should I get a master’s degree?," Career Outlook, 2015, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm.
Source for Health Care Job Growth: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Health Care Occupations, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm.
Source for IT Job Growth: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm
Jobs requiring master’s degrees: Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/occupation-finder.htm?pay=&education=Master%26rsquo%3Bs+degree&training=&newjobs=&growth=&submit=GO
Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce:
What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/whatsitworth-complete.pdf
A Labor Market and Workforce Profile of the Coastal Counties Workforce Investment Region, The Maine Center for Business and Economic Research University of Southern Maine, Portland, December 2015, http://www.coastalcounties.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/2016-Labor-Market-Workforce-Profile.pdf
U.S Census Bureau:
Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf
Educational Attainment, Five Key Data Releases From the U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/cspan/educ/educ_attain_slides.pdf
Pathways After a Bachelor’s Degree, https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2012/comm/pathways-series.html