5 ways to decide if a master's is worth it

Source: Yahoo

Is grad school worth it?

Grad school costs time and money - but there are ways to determine whether it's worth it for you.

By Terence Loose
Are you considering going back to school for your master's degree, but wondering if it's worth it? After all, there are costs - financially and socially - to pursuing a graduate degree.
But the time, money, and sacrifice invested into a graduate degree may be worth it. The 2013 study, "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings," by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce clearly demonstrates that master's degrees, on average, increase earning potential and decrease unemployment likelihood. But before taking this big step, there are some important questions you should ask yourself.
So we rang up Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce and coauthor of the "Hard Times" report, to get his take on how to decide whether grad school is right for you.

Can You Afford the Time?

Often, a master's degree is pursued by those who have already been in the workforce for some time, i.e., mid-career. That means that other obligations - a mortgage, job, family, or just a healthy social life - could give you pause. And the time factor is a valid concern, says Carnevale.
He says that studies have shown that ideally graduate school students should work only 20 hours a week or less. "We know that if you work more than 20 hours a week, it will hurt your academic performance. So a half-time job is good. A full-time job and going to college is tough," he says.
Tough, but doable. Carnavale says it will just require some good time-management skills.

Will a Master's Degree Help Advance Your Career?

Carnevale says that the majority of grad students pursue their master's degrees in order to advance their careers in the same field. And, he says, this usually results in the highest returns.
He says graduate school is often a solid way to help advance your career with a promotion and more pay. "That's because you're already in the door. You may not be in the office or job you want, but you're in the industry. So it's a fairly powerful synergy between the job and schooling," Carnevale says.
He adds that often employers are very encouraging of their employees going back to school for a master's, and there is an almost implied understanding that it's for the purpose of advancement.

Will a Master's Teach Me Marketable Skills?

If you're under the impression that most graduate degrees only result in a lot of "book knowledge" and are purely academic pursuits, think again. Carnevale says while those degrees certainly do exist, most master's are "professional" degrees. And for good reason.
"The faculty tends to be work-oriented. Students are often working, and the emphasis is on practical skills for the workplace," says Carnevale.
He says that if your master's degree "sounds like a job," it's probably teaching marketable skills employers will desire.

Will It Help Me Network?

Talk to some and they'll tell you that gaining connections is as important as gaining knowledge when it comes to pursuing a master's degree. And while that may or may not be true, networking is certainly an important part of the grad school experience.
"It's like joining a club. You're being taught by people and going to school with people who are intending to do the same sorts of things you are. Often, they're already working, and the fact that you know the students and professors often gets you a job in the field even before you finish," he says.
So, he says, networking might be the strongest argument for going to grad school.

Will You Get a Return on Investment?

Let's face it: Getting a graduate degree isn’t cheap, so you probably want to make sure that going back to school will pay off financially. Well, the good news for many areas, says Carnevale, is that it has a good chance of doing just that.
"A good example is a master's in psychology or counseling," he says. For someone with a bachelor's in psychology, the average salary is about $40,000, while someone with a master's in the field could make anywhere between $55,000 to $60,000, according to Carnevale. He says this is because it allows them to pursue professional counseling and social work.
He calls this is an example of "gotta-have graduate degrees" that are necessary for people who want to pursue work in particular fields. For others, such as elementary school teachers or nurses, a graduate degree is important for advancement in their careers.
"Then there are the ‘crazy-if-you-don't-do-it' master's degrees. Those are in such things as STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]. The salary bump you get from getting a graduate degree in these is very large," he says.
Even with a bachelor's, Carnevale says you have a good salary potential of $55,000 to $60,000 in most STEM careers. "But if you get the master's degree, it'll take you up to $90,000. And in some cases, like engineering, it'll take you higher," he says. Hence, his label of "crazy if you don't."
After taking into consideration the other factors that come into play, let's check out a few master's degrees that might well provide that crucial ROI:

Master's in Health Care Administration (MHA)

Here's a degree that Carnevale says will likely be in demand in the decades to come, because our grossly mismanaged health care system will need people with management skills specific to health care to shape the future of this vital industry.
Potential Career*: Medical or Health Services Manager
Median
Annual Salary**
$88,580
Top 10 Percent of Earners
$150,560
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners
$53,940

Master's in Psychology

As Carnevale stated, this master's degree could help improve your salary and career. It's a must-have degree if you want to work as a professional psychologist in any area, he says. Plus, he adds, because many of these jobs are in health care, the nation's biggest driver of jobs, it could really pay off.
Potential Career:* Industrial Organizational Psychologist
Median
Annual Salary**
$83,580
Top 10 Percent of Earners
$168,020
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners
$48,780

Master's of Science in Nursing

This is a degree that will be more and more in demand, because nursing opportunities are growing due to the following reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Labor: technological advancements, increased emphasis on preventative care, and the aging baby boomer population.
Potential Career:* Nurse Practitioner
Median
Annual Salary**
$89,960
Top 10 Percent of Earners
$120,500
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners
$64,100

Master's Business Administration (MBA)

Carnevale says that despite a lot of claims in some circles that MBAs are not as hot as they once were, the data shows that an MBA is still a very well-rewarded degree. He says that the bottom line is that an MBA pays off, because employers know that a good MBA program prepares professionals in many areas, from marketing to human resources management to finance.
Potential Career:* Financial Analyst
Median
Annual Salary**
$76,950
Top 10 Percent of Earners
$148,430
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners
$47,130

Master's in Public Administration (MPA)

Carnevale says that an MPA has always been a smart choice for those who want to work in local and state governments, the defense establishment, government relations, and regulatory agencies. That's because these government agencies recruit MPAs above other master's degrees, he says.
Potential Career:* Political Scientist
Median
Annual Salary**
$102,000
Top 10 Percent of Earners
$155,490
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners
$49,290

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