Should You Get a Master’s Degree?

“Should I go back to school and get a master’s degree?”

It’s a question many of us — particularly those who have completed a bachelor’s degree — have asked ourselves.

Traditional verticals continue to expand as new technology and innovations create new types of jobs and specialties. With organizations seeking employees with management level skills, it makes sense that students have continued to pursue advanced education.

That said, although the number of master’s degree recipients has increased since 2010, new data suggests that, from now on, that number will begin to plateau.

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graph stats people pursuing masters degrees 2010 to 2030
Source:Number of Master’s degree recipients in the United States from 1879/80 to 2029/30 (Statista)

So what’s the cause of this plateau? Is it an unstable economy, a preference for experience over education, or the establishment of new, trade-specific classes that ultimately provide the same outcome as traditional university study?

It’s likely a combination of these ideas that are worth noting if you find yourself entertaining the idea of grad school. Before you start writing your application, there are some more things to consider:

A few pros and cons of pursuing a master’s degree

Pros

1. Higher wages.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you do (on average) make more money as you take more schooling. Down the line, those earnings will add up, particularly in fields like healthcare and business administration.

When you put that up against the amount of debt you have to take on to pay for said education, it takes a while to make up those earnings. Now that bootcamps and trade schools are right up against traditional secondary education tracks, the earning potential gap is closing, and folks have plenty of new options to consider.

median earnings types of college degrees
Source: Average Salary by Education Level: The Value of a College Degree (Northeastern)

2. Promoted positions.

With a higher salary can come a higher title. Getting a master’s degree could give you a competitive edge if you’re looking to earn a management or senior-level role.

There’s been a “massive decline in middle management jobs and employer training and development programs… making it more difficult for workers to get promoted to the next level” [Live Career] so master’s degrees, in many cases, replace training and give applicants a leg up.

Cons

1. Further student debt.

Student loan debt hit an all-time high in 2020, so those pursuing degrees — especially anything beyond a bachelor’s — are likely to need financial assistance during their studies. 

For many graduate students, that debt can grow well beyond six figures, and unless a master’s or any type of further education is required for your career track, it can often lead to unnecessary financial burden down the line.

students graduating six figure student loan debt line chart graph
Source: Average Student Loan Debt at Graduation (Saving for College)

Sure, there’s earning potential down the line for those with additional schooling (think MBAs or certain roles in the medical field), but is the short-term financial struggle worth paying off loans for years? Consider if the ROI is feasible and how long it will take you to get there.

2. Delayed entry into the workforce.

Average entry-level salaries by state hover around $32k, so it’s not surprising that folks would consider pursuing an advanced degree and enter the workforce with the potential of a higher initial salary. But there’s something to be said for gaining practical, on-job experience over more theoretical learning: :

For instance, employers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all pointed out that learnability — having a hungry mind and being a fast and passionate learner — is more important than having acquired certain expertise in college. Along the same lines, many employers complain that even the best performing graduates will need to learn the most relevant job skills, such as leadership and self-management, after they start their jobs” [Harvard Business Review].

So should you pursue a graduate degree?

Don’t get us wrong — continued education is necessary (or at least, gets you a serious leg up) in some career paths. 

Is it important for your own career? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you apply to a master’s program and pursue a degree. 

When will a master’s degree be helpful?

Consider the healthcare industry right now: global pandemics and rapid advancements in medicine and tech create a wide range of areas to study. For nurses, more schooling could mean becoming a nurse manager, a practitioner, or an anesthetist. Speech pathologists continue their education to diagnose and treat patients. Physician’s assistants can perform many of the same duties as physicians, so earning a master’s degree can expand medical access across all types of communities.

Other careers benefit from post-bachelor degree studies, too. A Master’s in Business Administration, or MBA, is by far the most popular degree because it can span “a wide range of business management areas, including marketing, finance, accounting, supply chain management and sales” [Indeed]. 

So are there times when it’s not worth the extra money, time, and collegiate stress? Let’s consider occasions when it’s not necessary — and what you can do instead.

What are my other options?

The latest data tells us that the average annual tuition for a four-year undergraduate degree is $3,739 for state residents and $11,108 for out-of-state students. Over the course of your study, you’ll be spending anywhere from $14,956 – $44,432 on tuition alone. This doesn’t factor in housing, food, study materials, and other expenses customary of being a student.

To be eligible for a master’s degree, you would have to already earn (and fund) that bachelor’s degree.

FinAid.org states the average cost of a master’s degree for students is between $30,000 and $120,000, depending on the type of school and the area of study. At the end of the day, you could be spending upwards of a quarter of a million dollars on schooling.

That’s a lot of money. It’s not money that everyone has readily available, either.

Luckily, industries such as tech have a unique advantage with programs like trade schools and bootcamps that offer students real-world training that is directly transferable to an actual job. On this track, you can enter the workforce and begin gaining experience that will launch your career quicker.

Coding bootcamps are cheaper, too. The average cost of an immersive coding course in the U.S. is around $13,584, which is less expensive than a single year in tuition at an out-of-state college.

They’re also a better option for those who don’t want to take out a traditional loan or pay for their education upfront. App Academy, for example, has an income share agreement that allows you to pay nothing upfront in order to complete your education.

This infographic from Skills.Fund is helpful in comparing the two options for those considering furthering their coding education.

Bootcamp Versus Masters Degree.png


Source: Bootcamp Versus Master’s Degree (Skills.Fund)

Folks in the tech industry are particularly lucky that the bootcamp option is available to them, because there are many career tracks that do require at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a more advanced degree. 

If intimate class settings and a quicker turnaround time sound appealing, then an immersive bootcamp course is likely going to be the best fit for anyone interested in pursuing a career in coding. It doesn’t hurt that the average salary of our online course graduates hovers somewhere around $85,000 and between $92,000 and $103,000 for graduates of our in-person course. Both are higher than the median salary than the typical graduate degree earner, with less debt to boot.

Conclusion

It all really boils down to what you want to do with your career. Considering the type of salary you’d like to earn and the schooling you’ll need to achieve that is the first step in making the best decision for you. In some cases, a master’s degree is preferred, if not required.

Some industries value experience over traditional education, and the tech industry is one of those. Coding bootcamps allow people to quickly learn a new skill, enter the workforce faster, and earn more money. If software engineering is in your purview, consider an immersive course. App Academy offers two such courses.

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Written by Courtney Grace

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