How to Know When the Time is Right to Get a Master’s Degree

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Deciding whether to go back to school for a master’s degree is a major decision because it involves postponing career plans, putting your life on hold, forfeiting a stable income during the time you are in school, and taking the risk that you will find employment after you graduate. When a decision to return to…

Deciding whether to go back to school for a master’s degree is a major decision because it involves postponing career plans, putting your life on hold, forfeiting a stable income during the time you are in school, and taking the risk that you will find employment after you graduate. When a decision to return to school is imminent, it is important to think about a variety of factors.

Will a graduate degree help you advance your career?

First, consider whether or not a graduate degree will help advance your career and if you are doing it for the right reasons. While certain careers definitely require an advanced degree such as becoming a doctor or a lawyer, there are many other jobs for which an undergraduate degree can suffice. Provided you put in the time and effort, one can climb their way up the “corporate ladder.” Graduate school is not the place to go if you are escaping a job in which you are unhappy.  If this is the case, it is prudent to explore other options such as looking for another position within your company or signing up for additional training, either in-house or through outside professional development programs.

A Master’s Degree is an Investment of Time and Money

Second, it is important to remember that graduate school is an investment of time and money. Not only is it likely that you will be giving up a salary to return to school, but you will also have to foot the bill for attending. Annual tuition for master’s degree programs in the United States ranges anywhere from $5,000 to more than $38,000 a year. Although expensive, one has to weigh the cost of graduate school against the potential for a higher salary following completion. According to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau survey of people 25 years old and over, the median income for a bachelor’s degree holder was $55,656 while someone with a master’s degree, had a median income $67,337, an increase of 21%. Additionally, as more and more high school graduates attend college, the bachelor’s degree is becoming a commodity.  Those with graduate degrees are significantly more marketable than those with only bachelor degrees.

Do you have enough experience to go for a Master’s Degree?

Another crucial factor to consider is whether or not your professional experience has been substantive enough to return to school. Although it might be easier returning to school immediately after receiving a bachelor’s degree with a “student” mentality, working for at least a few years is recommended. During this time you can hone in on what type of work you enjoy and better know your career goals. Additionally, most graduate school programs require some work experience. Working for a few years will gives one time to save money and also allows one to mature, therefore, making the graduate school experience entirely different than college.

Choosing the right graduate program

Once the decision has been made to return, it isn’t as simple as matriculating at the first school that accepts you. The decision of where to go to school is huge. In fact, some experts say that your choice of a graduate school is much more important than your choice of an undergraduate school. Certain schools are better known for certain graduate programs. For instance, Harvard and Northwestern are known for their business programs, while Vanderbilt University (Peabody School) is known for its education program, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is known for its engineering program. Make sure to do your research and ensure you attend a program that will give you maximum exposure to your chosen field in terms of faculty, classes, networking opportunities, and classmates.  You may even want to consider some of the best online colleges, as they can provide serious discounts. You should also consider searching the best GI Bill Schools to see if you can use your GI Bill benefits.

Whether returning to school is the right choice depends largely on your specific circumstances and career goals. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly so spend the time to weigh the pros and cons.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes,, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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  1. Romeo says

    In the case of your audience, military members, there are so many opportunities to go to graduate school tuition free (includes the use of TA). For example, TUI in California pretty much pays folks for going to their school. I believe for military folk the most important thing is just acquiring the degree, which is looked at heavily for advancement. Now, if the point is to use the degree outside of the military, then accreditation becomes important. In my case, I choose Webster University, which has many remote locations located near military installations and is relatively inexpensive.

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