Is It Easier to Get a Job with a Master’s Degree?

More and more jobs require applicants to have a college degree. If you are considering this large time and financial commitment, you’ll need to know which degree type is best suited for the industry you are hoping to work in. It’s not always as advantageous to get a master’s degree as you may think.

Is it easier to get a job with a master’s degree? Yes and no. Having any degree will aid, but the degree alone will not land you a job.  In some fields, a Master’s degree is a prerequisite, but in others, your experience and portfolio are what is most important.  Having a master’s degree can greatly increase the level of compensation offered to you, often by 15-20%, as well as elevating your overall reputation and educational worth to your employer.

Committing to your education is a wonderful thing, but it is also expensive and time-consuming. Before landing yourself in tens of thousands of dollars of student loans, read this guide, which will cover the industries increasingly requiring a master’s degree, the ones that are not requiring a master’s, and the overall value of that master’s degree. Keep your professional goals and long-term ambition in mind as you read so you can decide which path will offer you more in the long-run.

Will a Master’s Degree Make It Easier to Get a Job

It depends on why you ask.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Earnings to Education Chart , which you find here, you will not see a huge difference between the bachelor’s and master’s.  This study reports that pay is only slightly higher for those with a Master’s. 
  • But the National Association of Colleges and Employment (NACE) says, “A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science is projected to earn a starting salary of $68,103, while a computer science major earning a master’s degree this year is expected to earn $82,275, for a difference of more than $14,000.”  (Source here)
  • According to The Washington Post, in some cases, it will not matter what degree you receive. Their chart on annual levels for different degree levels shows that a Communications major will make the same amount with BA or MA, only greatly increasing their salary by receiving a PhD.  (Source here).

This is not to say that you should not go back for your master’s or continue your education beyond the bachelors, but you may not see it financially payoff. Ask yourself, is that all that matters to you, or do you want the educational value more than the monetary?

If knowledge is your goal, then the master’s will pay off immediately.  If your goal is increased pay, it might pay off–eventually.

How Does Industry Experience Compare to Education?

To offer you some understanding of how experience compares to education, some employers will find more value in you developing your skills with hands-on experience.  They prefer that you spent those 2 or 3 years in an agency environment, working with clients, or enduring an unpaid internship instead of sitting in a classroom. Other employers will absolutely be seeking candidates with a master’s degree.

It will be a matter of principle and it may take some research on your end to know what your goal industry is seeking from its hires. If they would prefer the internship, evaluate if it’s worth it to you to invest in student loans and invest your time.

The Procedures for Education and Equivalences says, “when the equivalency is allowed, a Master’s degree is generally considered 2 years of experience. This means that one year of college equals one year of experience and vice versa.”

Human Resources of Educational Equivalence, supports this claim by stating that, “if a position requires a Master’s degree and you have neither a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree, you may substitute five years of relevant experience for the required education.”

If direct experience is equal to education, and it will be measured at a 1:1 ratio of worth, then your decision should be made about which life-path you feel most prepared to walk down. You don’t have to weigh it by which will pay off the most because if you have talent, that is what will pay-off in the long-run.

Why Some Corporations Require A Master’s Degree

Some corporations use the degree as a way to eliminate candidates.  Imagine that you are a human resources manager and you are looking at 75 applications.  You might determine that an applicant who was willing to get an advanced degree has demonstrated two qualities that can benefit a company.

First, that person has demonstrated they will work hard.  Also, the candidate has shown a desire to excel. Both of those qualities can be harnessed as the employee makes a transition from book learning to what is needed to succeed in industry.

The Increase in Master’s Degrees

With 16 million Americans owning their Master’s degrees, and the numbers steadily moving in an upward direction since the 1970’s, it hasn’t stopped increasing for the last 50 years.

More and more students are going for their master’s, ready to commit to 6 years on their freshman year with more freshmen than ever planning on their master’s, according to this Higher Education Research study done, which you can check out here.

A master’s degree has become the equivalent of a bachelor’s in the 1960’s, so this might make you ask yourself – do you need the master’s degree just to remain relevant in this ever-changing job market? If there’s been a 43% increase in the number of students with a master’s in the last 20 years, do you need a master’s degree just to compete?

These are all fantastic questions that can’t quite be answered because it is so dependent on each individual company and each individual candidate.

If you are the best designer in the world, they may not care at all what your credentials are, only regarding your talent and what kind of asset you are to the team. Conversely, another employer may highly value that educational-weight, especially when you are an entry-level employee with little else on your resume. It could make all the difference in the world to you starting out, and little difference once you’ve built-up a professional portfolio and network of colleagues.

More Tuition Debt Than Ever

People are also getting themselves deeper into student loans and debt than ever before.

The Pew Research Organization has released some terrifying statistics on student loans, stating that, “Americans owed about $1.5 trillion in student loans at the end of March 2019, more than two times what they owed a decade earlier. The increase has come as historically high shares of young adults in the United States go to college and the cost of higher education increases.”

The average amount of debt for each student is around $29,000, up from $28,000 the year before, and only set to continue increasing in the future. 

Some students going for their master’s program easily end up in 6-figure debt, and with the wage increase being only slightly more, it is difficult to say if it is ‘worth,’ it or not. 

People feel held hostage by their debt and trapped in a situation they feel forced into to compete in this flooded job market. A 2018 report discovered that almost 50 million Americans have student loan debt, so it is becoming more and more normalized in our society to enter debt for the sake of creating a better future. 

Another important figure from the Bureau of Employment to Earnings Chart mentioned earlier is that those with a master’s make, on average, 19% more than those with a bachelor’s. Of course, some will make less, some more, but the biggest jump is the 57% increase from masters to PhD!

To help you weigh out the pros and cons (the most tried and true way to make any important decisions), here are the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Getting a Master’s Degree

The reasons that you should get a master’s degree include but are not limited to:

  • You will have deeper expertise in your field, which is invaluable. Regardless of if this pays off immediately or at your first job, it will pay-off in the long run because you will know more than your peers who only obtained their bachelor’s. 
    • With that being said, it is worth saying that employees with bachelor’s degrees may have obtained their education in the form of hands-on experience, which could surpass your knowledge because you were limited to the classroom instead of practical application. But it is undeniable that you will bring something unique to the table, simply by reading and researching deeply in your field. 
  • You will have access to opportunities that are not awarded to those with a bachelor’s degree alone. 
  • It may offer you more job security over those that do not have the master’s. 
  • It will make you more qualified to teach. 
  • It proves to employers that you can work harder at something that the bare-requirements or base expectations. You are ambitious and have goals that can be challenged in the pressure-cooker that is grad school. It shows a lot of character and a lot about your endurance. 
  • You will have an increased opportunity to network for educational opportunities, grants, jobs, and networking to meet people in your industry through your much more intimate-graduate program.  
  • You have something to diversify you from the competition. Against thousands of qualified candidates, you need all the help you can get! 
  • Your resume will pass the Applicant Tracking System considerably easier. The ATS is a system of candidate tracking that helps employers sift through applications. Essentially, they are receiving thousands of applications a day and need a robot to identify them as good and bad candidates before they bother wasting human-time on it.
    • If you don’t have a degree or it’s not clearly written on your resume, the Applicant Tracking System will swiftly throw your resume in the trash and remove your resume from eligibility. With the master’s, this should not happen to you, which directly means more opportunities to get your foot in the door with them. 
  • The advantages are really interlinked–you get the degree, read more, know more, can apply your knowledge more easily, it leads to greater confidence, which leads to greater performance and subsequent pay-increase. It’s all connected and should all ripple into more wonderful effects for you.

Just learn because you love to learn. Do it for the sake of learning!

Disadvantages of Getting a Master’s Degree

Some reasons that the master’s may not be right for you, or why it may not be the right time presently for the master’s degree are:

  • Tuition debt – the major one which we’ve covered above. This is the key argument, according to most people, so we will also offer you savings tips and ways to make the program more affordable in the next section!
  • High competition – with more people obtaining the master’s than ever and numbers increasing, it’s hard to say the worth of it in the future. 
  • You will need to know the industry you want to work in because some industries will simply not pay much solely because you have a master’s, and it may not be worth the investment. As Education Dive puts it, “Master’s degrees in fields like philosophy, art and early childhood education yield the lowest earnings — sometimes less than that of an individual with a bachelor’s degree or even associate’s degree.” 
  • The amount of time you have to invest – taking 2 years away from that hands-on industry experience isn’t favorable, especially in situations where you have to work full-time while going to grad school which can nearly double the time required to complete your graduate program.
  • In most cases, you will be offered more opportunities through having the masters. But some employers will obviously prefer experience over education, and it could simultaneously limit your opportunities in some areas too.
  • Having to get yourself to class each day, commute time, spreading yourself between school and other life responsibilities. Oftentimes it is not viable for those with other obligations.
  • Some jobs might think you are overqualified if you have a master’s degree.

Sometimes people consider the master’s as a way to ‘kill time’ because they do not know what to do next. This is perfectly fine! Kill some time and wait for that next great opportunity. You can always take an opportunity that comes up.

If it does not work out, you will be able to go back to school. School will always be there for you if you want to return.  Many careers will also be available, and those that won’t will not have many graduate programs anyway.

Go where the wind takes you and follow the timing that is working out for you.

Ways to Make Graduate School More Affordable

A master’s degree will cost on average $30,000-$120,000, so seek out any financial aid you can find.

If you have a dream of achieving your master’s degree, there are plenty of ways to make it more affordable than all of the scary figures we’ve listed above. We want you to succeed in whatever direction you set your heart to, so some of the best ways to make graduate school more affordable are:

  • Become a TA (Teacher’s Assistant) or a research assistant. You are almost working for free as an instructor but not really because your education is mostly paid for! Many with their master’s took this path.  
  • By teaching others, they found that they learned more and stayed up-to-date in their fields. 
  • This is why many found that master’s students were actually in considerably less debt than students with a bachelor’s degree.

Find scholarships dedicated to grad students, specifically on pages like:

  • Get hired at companies that pay for their employee’s continued education! Some companies that commonly pay for their employees to receive further education in graduate programs are (figures and examples below were at the time of publishing):
    • Best Buy – $3,500-$5,200 annual reimbursements for education
    • Disney – $700 per hourly credit + material cost
    • AT&T – $8,000 annual reimbursement for education
    • Verizon – $8,000 annual reimbursement for education
    • Chipotle – $5,200 annual reimbursement for education
    • Smuckers – up to 100% of your education

During tough times (like the coronavirus pandemic) your student loans might be impacted. Bankrate has put together a great resource that explains how different types of student loans will be affected by the federal rate cut and how it may help you find financial relief. 

Industries that Are More Likely to Require a Master’s Degree

To help you make your decision, here are the industries that are more likely to request the master’s credential from their employees. If you are seeking to develop professionally in any of these industries, this may make your decision simple.

The fastest-growing industries needing master’s degrees more and more are:

  • Law enforcement (Federal)
  • Engineering
  • Health and medical industries
  • Psychology
  • Education 
  • Leisure and fitness studies
  • Multidisciplinary studies

The top-paying jobs for those that have achieved a master’s degree are:

  • Social worker
  • Dietitian
  • A counselor or any kind of therapist/psychologist
  • Criminal Justice Educator
  • Nurse Practitioner or Director of Nursing
  • Economist
  • Computer Software Engineer
  • CEO

You can reference the 50 Top Paying Careers with a Master’s here.

Industries That Do Not Require a Master’s Degree

You can enter the following industries without a master’s.  Now, this is not to say that you do not need a master’s for the following industries. It will always help you to have a master’s and honestly cannot hurt. You will be more educated, used to challenging situations and deadlines, and be more prepared for having a master’s.

But! If you are on the fence and unsure if you want to spend more years in school or risk tuition debt, here are some industries that it may not make a huge difference.

Some top-paying jobs that may not need a master’s:

  • Computer Architect
  • Computer Programmer
  • Public School Teacher or para-educator
  • Translator or Interpreter
  • Administrators
  • Accountants
  • Mechanical Engineers 
  • IT Specialists or Analysts 
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Communications Specialist
  • Business Analyst
  • Project Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Financial Manager 
  • Advertising Manager
  • Human Resources Manager (or most any kind of manager)

Again, it may raise your compensation for any of these jobs if you do have a master’s degree, but you can absolutely be hired and succeed with the bachelor’s degree alone.

Questions to Consider in Your Decision Process

Some considerations to make while figuring out your next move are:

  • Do you have time in your schedule for this? If you are caring for children or elderly family members, trying to provide for your household and take care of yourself, this can leave little time for school. Look into online programs or classes that work with you, but the timing may not be right now. 
  • Could you go back to school later?  Related to the last point, will the timing work out better later? Are the kids nearly off to college? Are you about to be an empty-nester when there is free time to kill? Consider if there will be a time that is easier and allows you to enjoy graduate school even more, able to immerse yourself in your education with fewer distractions than the present moment will allow.
  • Do your professional goals require it? If the industry you are moving into only requires a bachelor’s degree, you may not want to spend time in the classroom. Weigh out if the compensation increase is worth it and research your particular industry. If you are going into communications, it is probably more worth it to get agency experience. If you want to be a psychologist, you will absolutely need that master’s degree and probably a Ph.D. to find success.
  • Can you afford it? Or can you seek financial aid from the resources listed above? Do you qualify, or would you be on your own? All of these questions are valid and should be given consideration.
  • Do you love to learn, and would it be enjoyable? This is a question you can only answer for yourself. You might find the need to focus on a professor’s curriculum limiting.  Maybe you are a free-thinker and like to be in charge of your own learning.

You need to ask yourself if you love to learn in a classroom or if you’re better as a self-educator. That ought to greatly increase the ease of deciding for you.  

You will learn something in those bonus two years of education that will set you apart from the competition, even if you don’t realize it in the moment or see it reflected immediately in your paycheck.

There is no wrong answer regarding a master’s degree.  You need to do what feels right for your personal situation, career goals, and industry requirements. But perhaps you do not place educational value over monetary value. Smarts will not pay the bills, so you want that degree to pay-off! Literally!

If you are debating whether or not you should go back for your master’s or if you should spend this time in your industry directly, here is our final insight.

Final Thoughts

It takes a lot of dedication, perseverance, focus, and commitment to obtain your graduate’s degree, but ultimately it will definitely add value to your resume and make you a stronger candidate. 

If you think your future employer/industry would prefer the degree, your answer is simple. If you do not care what any of them think and only want to do what is right for your wellbeing and intellect, then good for you. You’ve already won.

You have to do what is right for you because the situation can always adjust itself to what you’ve decided. Meaning, if you do not get the degree, you find opportunities that don’t require a master’s, which could lead you to walk through wonderful doors of opportunities, find wonderful people, and discover new parts of yourself that you could only find on this path being taken.

If you do get the degree, new doors will open to new paths on this road.

There is truly no wrong answer because life will play out and move forward regardless of which choice you make. Opportunities will arise and fall away, but the paths will adjust to whatever you choose.

Life will find its way, so all you can do is make the best decision for you in your present moment and ask yourself what is right for you.  Good luck and happy educating, with or without grad school!