Is it useful to have a master’s degree?


Dear Anonymous

In general, I think that a Master’s Degree is useful for specialized professional training; for example a Masters in Business Administration.  Otherwise I have trouble seeing its incremental value. In some professional and academic fields you need to go all the way for that PhD. Some people I know have a Masters degree as a consolation prize from not completing a Phd.

Let’s look at some background.

According to US Census statistics,

                                                 1940            2010

High School grads                <25%            90%

College or higher grads        4.6%            33%

In 2018, about 70% of High School grads go on to College.  However, many eventually dropped out with about 55% graduating.  Doing the math, nearly 40% of young adults eventually get a College degree.  So the trend for increasing percentages of College grads continue.

Clearly being a College grad is no longer as special as it had been for the job market.  In fact the percentage of College (plus) degrees is about where percentage of High School grads used to be.  I think that the value of the College degree has been greatly diluted because of the larger numbers. This is the reason why many College graduates are under-employed.  On the other hand, where would they be if they had only their High School Diplomas?

One can conclude from the above statistics that a Masters Degree is the next step in distinguishing oneself from other College graduates.  I think this is true to an extent. But you have to consider that getting that Masters will cost you maybe another two years plus expenses (and possible lost income).  In this equation, is the potential better employment worth the cost? Checking public sources, it appears the best (i.e. highest paying) Masters degrees are;

  1. Business Administration (concentration in Finance and Marketing)

  2. Health Care Management

  3. Nurse Practitioner

  4. Political Science

  5. Engineering Management

  6. Computer Science

  7. Petroleum Engineering

I am more familiar with the MBA and engineering fields.  In some companies, one may not get credit for the Masters because they prefer to hire the smartest people and then develop them with specialized training conforming to their culture.  In the tech field, it could even be stranger because while most software engineers are College grads, some really sharp coders skip college and get “trained” on the job. Other tech jobs are more in the research end and they want people with PhDs.

The MBA degree is a very popular degree because it seems to pay off.  My experience is that the increasing number of MBA’s has diluted the value of this degree as well.  It matters where you get your MBA. One can take the position that really talented people will rise regardless of what school he/she went to.  The reality is that one can’t show his/her talent if he/she can’t get through the door first. So getting your ticket punch from a good school gives you a much better chance to get through that door and show what you can do.  And lastly, you will benefit from working and networking with your colleagues in the top schools.

Good luck with your decision.