Achieving Your Educational Goals: The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Most from a Master’s Degree
Today’s job market is more competitive than ever. Even professionals with extensive experience, advanced skill sets, and bachelor’s degrees from prestigious universities may face difficulties attempting to build a rewarding career. Often, job options are limited by a candidate’s experience, providing limited opportunities to move into different fields and advanced positions.
To succeed professionally, working individuals and undergraduates increasingly consider pursuing master’s degrees. Postgraduate education can provide a competitive edge through advanced skills and competencies that help individuals excel in specific roles. An advanced degree could be the factor that helps a professional receive a job offer or a promotion over another qualified candidate who doesn’t have a similar degree.
Interested candidates can choose from an extensive range of master’s degrees from general professional degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to specialized professional degrees such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity or liberal arts-focused degrees such as a Master of Arts in History. Regardless of the field, a master’s degree can help an individual excel in a competitive professional landscape.
According to an article in Fast Company, “employers have seen education make a positive impact across the board, from employees’ ability to produce better quality work, to productivity and the ability to boost customer loyalty.” Forbes notes that acquiring marketable skills can help professionals get noticed in the competitive job market. Many of these skills are obtainable by attending a master’s program.
Some master’s degrees are more valuable than others depending on a student’s current and future career and educational goals. Individuals considering a master’s program should take into account the following information when choosing the right one.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Graduate Degree
Students asking the question, “What master's degree is right for me?” should consider the following information to guide their decision.
Tuition is one of the primary elements that a student must consider when pursuing a graduate degree. Costs vary depending on the school and the program, which may cause prospective students to question which type of degree will best help them meet their educational goals. For example, an acclaimed MBA program at a prestigious university may prove expensive, but still represent a better fit than a program at a more affordable school that isn’t well established in its reputation.
In addition to program costs, students should consider their future career goals when researching graduate degrees. If prospective students wish to pursue a career in nursing but are unsure of a specific path, they can benefit from a general Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. Students who want to become a family nurse practitioner, however, should choose a specific MSN-FNP program.
Beyond career goals, students should consider their passions, whether a graduate program fits into their daily lives, and if a graduate degree is necessary for employment or advancement in their chosen field.
While an MBA may help prospective students earn a higher income, a career in a business-oriented field may not fulfill a student’s passion. At the same time, some jobs do not require a degree. U.S. News & World Report mentions that some graduate programs can help students expand their networks but may not be ideal for individuals who are self-starters or are pursuing careers that don’t require advanced degrees.
While each person has specific reasons for pursuing a degree, Investopedia recommends that students consider starting salaries, earning potential, in-demand skills demand, and other factors when looking into graduate programs.
Commonly Asked Questions About Master’s Degrees
Prospective students interested in graduate degrees naturally have questions about specific programs and their ability to boost career prospects, among other concerns. Here are some common questions regarding master’s programs:
Why get a master's degree?
While the specific reasons to pursue a master’s degree vary, they often include becoming competitive in the job market, obtaining a higher-level position or role at a company, developing new professional skills and competencies, earning a higher income, and having a rewarding life experience.
How many years does it take to get a master's degree?
Years of schooling depend on the program and whether the student is participating on a full- or part-time level, U.S. News & World Report notes. For example, students can complete some master's programs in just under one year, while others may take one-and-a-half to two years. Students taking classes on a part-time basis will require more time to complete a program.
How much does a master's degree cost?
The tuition for a master's degree can vary depending on the program and university, U.S. News & World Report states, as well as how much financial aid or funding a student receives. For example, a public in-state university may offer a master's program tens of thousands of dollars less than a similar program offered at a private university. However, students who attend that private university might receive scholarships and funding. Prospective students also must consider other financial factors such as living expenses, rent, transportation, food, books and supplies, and other monetary obligations.
Will I expand my network because of a graduate degree?
Graduate programs often enable students to expand their networks, especially if they pursue a degree in a specific professional field. Students can network with their peers, professors, and other professionals involved in the program. These new relationships can potentially lead to new jobs and other positive outcomes.
Do I need a graduate degree to enter a certain career field?
In some fields, such as speech pathology or social work, a graduate degree is required before holding a position. In other fields, such as business administration, a graduate degree may not be a requirement but can help students become more competitive, advance to higher positions, and potentially earn higher salaries. Prospective students should carefully consider their chosen fields to determine whether a graduate degree is necessary and how it may benefit them.
Types of Jobs, Fellowships, and Internships for Graduate Students
There are a several employment opportunities available to students during and after their time in graduate school. Some are offered by the schools themselves, while others come from outside companies or organizations, on a full- or part-time basis.
These positions allow students to work alongside instructors or professors at a university while pursuing their own educational goals. They may help organize and teach classes, grade homework, perform research and conduct other organizational and administrative tasks. Instructors and professors may also provide teaching assistants, or TAs, with networking and professional opportunities in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities. TA positions are valuable professional stepping stones for those pursuing a career in higher education.
Graduate Fellowships and Assistantships
Graduate fellowships vary by university, but they are often awarded to help cover a portion of a graduate student’s tuition. They may also be sponsored by an external company or organization and require that a student complete work for them. For example, an engineering student might receive a graduate fellowship from an engineering firm where the student is required to work during enrollment.
Graduate assistantships may also cover a portion of a student’s tuition, but often require some type of on-campus work-study, such as working at a school bookstore or in a university office.
Internships are professional, temporary working opportunities that companies and organizations offer to students. These positions often take place during a student’s time in a graduate program, but may also be offered after graduation. Internships often help students obtain advanced skills and experience, and enable them to enhance their professional network. How much an internship or work experience a graduate student has before participating in their degree program can vary.
For example, graduate students in public health and policy programs can intern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program, experiencing how government agencies operate and studying the role of policy in public health firsthand. Internships may offer a wage or salary, although some are unpaid. However, unpaid internships still may be worth the experience due to their ability to provide students valuable, real-life professional skills, according to the American Institute for Economic Research. Schools may provide course credit for graduate intern positions as well.
Entry-Level and Mid-Career Jobs
Entry-level jobs are positions that students can obtain with professional companies and organizations after they graduate from their degree programs. These positions may require limited or no professional experience and are often designed to help early-career professionals gain the necessary experience to advance into higher roles. For example, someone who serves in an entry-level role at an accounting firm may initially work with smaller accounts or have limited responsibilities before they advance.
Many graduate students will already be established in their fields and are pursuing an advanced degree to move beyond entry-level jobs. Mid-career jobs are meant for professionals who already hold several years of experience in a particular professional field. These positions may encompass more challenging tasks and responsibilities, involve cooperation and partnerships with internal and external stakeholders, and potentially supervisory or delegation responsibilities over a specific team or department.
The Harvard Business Review notes that recent grads are more likely to be underemployed than those who graduated between 1998 and 2003. In these employment situations, holding a master’s degree may be beneficial for helping individuals obtain better and more fulfilling jobs.
Promoting a Master’s Degree on a Resume
After graduate students complete a program, they may wonder how to write about their master's degree in a professional resume. According to NBC News, highlighting your unique strengths and capabilities, as well as crafting a compelling cover letter, are fundamental to a successful resume.
When incorporating educational experience into a resume, new graduates should consider pertinent courses from their programs. For example, listing finance courses that are fundamental to a specific position in finance or business would be valuable to an MBA graduate. Additionally, graduates may consider pursuing employment in multiple fields or industries. In these cases, it would be beneficial for graduates to highlight any specific courses that may be relevant to those particular industries. When MBA graduates apply for positions in fields such as marketing or technology, they should list relevant classes alongside their finance coursework that can help them stand out.
Highlighting specific academic achievements can help graduates effectively tailor their resume and increase their chances of gaining employment. If a student worked or studied with a notable professor or leader in their desired industry, that experience may be worth including on a professional resume. Obtaining a professional recommendation from that instructor or leader may also help the graduate’s career.
Another important factor when incorporating a master’s degree into a resume is to include specific skills learned during the program. For example, a student in a Master of Science in Nursing program will develop an array of medical and interpersonal skills that are valuable to health organizations. Graduates who delineate these skills on their resumes can increase their chances of being hired.
Obtaining Jobs That Require a Master’s Degree
A master’s degree may give a job applicant a competitive edge when pursuing a job or negotiating for a higher salary, according to Business Insider. But in some professions, a master’s is a requirement.
Many health care careers require that candidates hold a master’s degree, such as nurse-midwives, which require the experience and training provided through a Master of Science in Nursing program. Countless other jobs may require a master’s for entry-level positions.
A master’s degree may also be required for more advanced positions within a given field. For example, someone with a bachelor’s in accounting can likely obtain a position as a bookkeeper or entry-level accountant. However, to advance to a position that commands a wider range of responsibilities, a Master of Professional Accounting may be necessary.
In certain fields, holding a master’s degree may help elevate a candidate’s likelihood of obtaining a certain position. For example, two candidates may be shortlisted for a job as the director of a government agency. They both possess similar levels of experience and professional skills, but if one holds a Master of Public Administration, that is likely to increase the chances of being offered the position.
Paying for a Master’s Degree
Once a prospective student has identified a master’s program that aligns with their professional and educational goals, the next step is determining how to pay for it. There are various funding options available to prospective students who wish to pursue master’s degrees.
Scholarships are financial awards provided to students based on factors such as academic or professional achievements or personal background. Some universities may award scholarships to prospective students with high GPAs or standardized test scores, while others may give them to students who have demonstrated success or potential in certain professional fields. Scholarships can range in size, covering a portion of a student’s tuition or the full amount. Additionally, students can receive multiple scholarships for a master's degree from different sources, such as one through the university itself and another provided by a different organization or third party.
This type of financial aid enables a student to work for the university in some capacity while earning money. This money can be used by the student to cover tuition as well as other living expenses. Work-study assignments vary depending on the position and the school itself. For example, some graduate students might work as administrative assistants within a university organization unrelated to their specific career field, while others might work with a department or a professor more closely aligned with their career goals.
Graduate students who use this type of financial aid receive funds to cover tuition which they agree to pay back, often with interest, after they graduate. For some graduate programs, student loans may be a wise investment, if a student is pursuing a career that will provide the ability to comfortably pay back the loans. Student loans are offered by the federal government as well as other third-party lenders, such as banks and credit unions.
Because student loans are difficult to pay off, CNBC reports that it may benefit some students to pursue graduate programs with lower tuition that are still in line with their larger educational goals. Forbes recommends that graduates consider options like refinancing and student loan forgiveness when repaying their loans.
Some companies and organizations may offer to pay for all or some of an employee’s tuition costs for a graduate program. For example, one company may offer to cover a certain percentage or amount of a student’s tuition each year if the degree is relevant to their position. The payment terms may vary depending on the employer. For example, a company may require that an employee continue to work full time to qualify for tuition reimbursement, which may mean it will take longer for the employee to earn their degree. At another company, an employee may have to stay with the company for at least one year after they graduate to ensure they receive tuition benefits.
Begin Your Journey to an Advanced Degree
Not all master’s programs are equal, nor are the reasons why a prospective student might consider an advanced degree program. One student may pursue a master’s degree because they believe it will help them earn a higher salary and become more competitive in the job market. Another may choose a graduate program because the curriculum itself is enriching and rewarding, regardless of what their specific career goals may be after graduation.
Because the benefits of specific programs vary, students should carefully explore their educational goals and the funding options available. For some, student loans may prove relatively easy to pay back, if the degree leads to a higher paying job. For others, completing a master’s degree on a part-time basis may enable them to maintain their current life responsibilities while pursuing an education that will benefit their future.
Prospective students who are interested in valuable master’s degree programs, such as those offered online by Norwich University, should carefully consider the unique benefits and opportunities of each program. They should weigh how it may help their current and future professional goals, and the funding options available to make this type of education possible. What may be an ideal educational opportunity for one student may not be as valuable to one who has different career goals. Only by carefully evaluating what they want from their education can prospective students choose the most rewarding master’s degree program.
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How The Master’s Degree Became The New Bachelor’s In The Hiring World, Fast Company
10 Ways To Stand Out In A Very Competitive Job Market, Forbes
What Is Graduate School and Why Should You Apply, U.S. News and World Report
When Is Graduate School Worth It?, Investopedia
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's Degree?, U.S. News and World Report
Weigh the Cost, Benefits of Graduate School, U.S. News and World Report
Administrative and Communication Internships and Externships, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5 Reasons Why Communications Internships Are Extremely Beneficial, American Institute for Economic Research
What the Job Market Looks Like for Today’s College Graduates, Harvard Business Review
How to Update and Edit Your Own Resume (and Land the Job), NBC News
The 11 Highest-Paying Jobs You Can Get with a Master's Degree, Business Insider
Money Expert Dave Ramsey Tells Students: Skip the ‘dream’ college and Go to School Where You Can Afford, CNBC
Here Are The Top 5 Student Loan Mistakes, Forbes
Master’s Degrees, Norwich University