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Finances & Money

Deciding when to get a masters degree

When I graduated college with my business/IT degree and got my first corporate job, I saw many of my coworkers going off to college again to get their technical masters or MBA. I wondered whether I should do the same.

Six years later, I’m finally back in school for my masters degree. Why did it take so long?

The answer: I didn’t want to rush into something I would regret or wouldn’t use. The hot thing to do in my line of work was to either get a computer science masters or an MBA. Not being a programmer or “true techie” myself, I didn’t think a very technical degree was right for me, so that left an MBA to consider. But I was just out of college. I barely had enough experience to even add to a resume, and I was thinking of advancing my career further?

So here’s a question for you: When should you go back to school for a graduate degree?

  1. Get it all over with as soon as possible. Therefore go back to school when your brain is still open to learning and you probably don’t have kids or other heavy commitments yet.
  2. Wait until you get more job experience. We’ll talk about this more.
  3. Never. Do you really need more education?

First, let’s ask this. Does your field thrive on higher learning? Is it impossible to advance without a masters or PhD? In many science fields (chemistry, psychiatry, rocket scientist), you simply can’t get further than the mailroom without a top degree. Question answered; You need an advanced degree (or degrees).

Next, let’s ask this. Can you get more out of a degree if you understand your field more first? I could have gone to any related degree program on the company ‘s full dime, but did that mean I HAD to take advantage of it? Five years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do THAT YEAR, much less for the next 5 years. Did I want to lock up my evenings and weekends for the next 3 years?

Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t go for an MBA, because after being in my field for 6 years, I know I don’t need that type of education. I’ve gone back for a degree directly related to my career today and probably the next 5 years. But I also regret not taking advantage of my former company’s excellent tuition benefit and the time before getting married and owning a home.

I am now more aware of alternative ways of earning a specialized, advanced degree as well, such as doing it through an online university. This would have been the perfect way to go about it for me, since I would not have had to attend classes at night and could have completed the coursework from my own home. These online programs offer access to the coursework 24/7, so I would have been able to do the work on my own time, while still being able to connect with the same professors as on-campus students.

For those of you uncertain about your intentions for the future, consider WHY you want/should get a graduate degree before thinking about which one. I initially thought I should get a masters simply because it seemed like everyone else was doing the same. There are many options out there that make it easy to get one, like the many online masters degree programs. In actuality, it was just the most visible people getting their degrees. Having a masters would have helped me get positions like systems architect on contracts that I’m currently excluded from, but without that education, I would have fallen short of meeting the demands of that position.

So, getting this degree comes at a both critical and a worthwhile point in my career. I know what I want to get out of my education, because I see my own deficiencies from my experiences.

Now, ask yourself this one. Do you just like learning, or do you miss the college atmosphere? I actually know people who went back for a masters because they wanted to relive their undergrad days. Unfortunately, working full-time and going to school only a few nights per week doesn’t quite live up to those party days of yore, and they get bored with school quickly. I also know a few people with 3-4 masters degrees, but they work as system administrators (a job I did out of college). They’re just plain overeducated.

But ultimately, if your company is willing to foot the full bill and you have ample free time, AND you know what you want to get out of the degree (aka “a goal”), then I say GO FOR IT! Get your masters now, but always keep your goal in mind, and don’t let your personal and professional life suffer too much either.

About the author

Clever Dude

4 Comments

  • I am currently in this situation. I just graduated with my bachelor’s and have been feeling a little left out with some of my friends having gone off to get their master’s or in law school.

    However, I am still not sure what I want to do, like you said, THIS YEAR, much less for the long term. I would like to just get it over with because, as they say, the bachelor’s is becoming the new high school diploma.

    But the thing stopping me is the cost! Master’s programs are too expensive to spend time pursuing something that you either don’t need or won’t use.

    I think I will use this time to really find out what it is I want to do and hopefully soon I wil l have some direction and then I will go further with my education if so needed.

    Thanks for the post!

  • I encourage people to research thoroughly if getting a Masters degree (or whatever advanced degree) will truly help them achieve their career goals.

    I did not do enough such research before I got my MSW. Not only do social workers not get paid well, but I lost 3 years of decent earnings (2 years of school + 1 year of a fellowship) in the process.

    Now I’ve just finished getting a JD. It was 3 years of basically no earnings, but the pay rate will be good (and the work will be more suitable for my personality and interests, too).

    For what it’s worth: I’ve tried both the full time student way plus working full time and going to school part time at night. Although the latter is less costly, I didn’t get nearly as much out of part time schooling as I did out of full time schooling. JMO.

  • You sound as though you’re in a similar situation to what I was a few years ago. I was in a technical IT field, I had been in it for about 7 years and risen to the level of an engineering manager.

    I knew that if I wanted to go to the next level that I would need to be conversant in accounting and finance plus I would need to have that “stamp of approval” of an MBA. So I went back to school at night and got it in 2 years.

    I feel that I got a lot out of it because I was already a manager so the case studies seemed more relevant and less theory. I also had never had any accounting or finance so that was critical for me. The most valuable thing you get out of it though is connections: with other students, with the professors and with the alumni – all of which you can call into action if you’re looking to change jobs.

    Oh, and goal achieved, it did allow me to move up to the next level.

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