What is the Value of a Master’s Degree?

Furthering your education offers numerous benefits, from deepening your knowledge in a field you’re passionate about, to significantly expanding your professional network and opportunities for personal and career growth. But is the value of a master’s degree worth the investment?

To answer this question, it’s important to understand that pursuing advanced education is not just about obtaining additional qualifications. It is a strategic decision that can help elevate your entire career trajectory. A master’s degree is more than just a continuation of higher education—it provides access to specialized knowledge, significantly improved job prospects, and a notable increase in earning potential.

These advantages not only shed light on the immediate benefits but also emphasize the long-term ROI that comes with committing to pursuing a graduate degree.

The Comprehensive Value of a Master’s Degree

As mentioned above, earning a master’s degree represents a significant investment in your future, as it not only opens doors to higher salaries but also unlocks opportunities for leadership positions that are often out of reach without higher education. The journey through graduate studies does more than just enhance your resume; it positions you as an expert in your field, someone capable of contributing transformative insights and innovative solutions to your organization.

The recognition as an expert stems from the rigorous academic and research challenges that are known of graduate studies. These challenges are designed to not only deepen your knowledge but equip you with the ability to add immense value to your chosen field.

In addition, the opportunities for professional growth and development that come with a master’s degree are clear. Graduates find themselves in a unique position to lead teams, and contribute to the strategic direction of their organizations. This elevated role is not just a testament to their advanced education but also to their capacity for leadership. The combination of these professional opportunities, recognition as industry experts, and the rigorous academic journey that produces valuable skills, collectively demonstrate the comprehensive value of a master’s degree. 

If you are still considering whether to pursue a master’s degree, it’s worth exploring the specific benefits that this advanced education can offer in more detail. This will provide you with a clearer understanding of how obtaining a master’s degree can enhance your career and your personal life.

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7 Core Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree

1. Expands Industry Knowledge

A master’s program is a great way to develop skills that complement the expertise you already have. If you were to complete an undergraduate degree in programming or design, for example, you might consider a master’s program that focuses on competencies like project management or leadership. Layering broader knowledge and practices like these on top of a more niche skill set can help professionals excel within their existing field and open up an array of exciting career advancement opportunities down the line.

2. Develops Specialized Expertise

A master’s degree will allow you to develop a level of expertise in a specific field that isn’t available at the undergraduate level. In an industry like regulatory affairs, for example, you might start out with a degree in pharmacy or natural science but could elevate your learning with a further exploration of how laws and product safety play into the marketplace.

This expertise is even more invaluable when pursuing a master’s degree in a subject that you are highly interested in and that is in high demand. With the job market evolving at a fast pace, it is essential to align your education with the latest industry trends. Graduate school can provide the opportunity to gain advanced knowledge and expertise necessary to succeed in the fields that are in high demand. By doing this, you will be better prepared to navigate future industry shifts.

In addition to being able to pursue the study of an in-demand field, many master’s degree programs allow students to choose a specialization or concentration within their already focused area of study. This approach lets them tailor their program to fit their specific interests, career aspirations, and current industry trends.

For Example: A student enrolled in a master’s in project management program may pursue a concentration in program and portfolio management and develop a skill set that is specifically suited to either aspect of work. Similarly, this student may declare a concentration in project management that can set them up to thrive in a specific industry, such as construction, IT, or business. No matter the approach, students who declare a specialization are often better prepared to address the needs of a niche sector of their industry come graduation.

3. Improves Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking

Holding a master’s degree proves to employers that you can move beyond technical knowledge and take on more complex problems, projects, research, synthesis, and analysis. It also demonstrates your commitment to lifelong learning and the development of higher-level skills, which is an attractive quality in an employee.

Employers look for team members who they trust will continue to grow alongside the company or organization. Investing in your education is one indication to potential employers that you are a lifelong learner, which can signal a desire to learn from your mistakes and face challenges head-on when necessary.

4. Provides Real-World Experience

Choosing a university that values experience-based learning inherently allows students to gain real-world experience while earning their degrees. At Northeastern University,  experiential learning opportunities are incorporated into the curriculum in the form of in-class case studies, research, and even full-time co-ops. 

This signature model of learning combines academic theory with professional practice to ensure that graduates are prepared for the workforce upon graduation. By learning through hands-on experience, students develop both the in-depth knowledge and practical skills that employers seek. 

Additionally, this experiential learning model is an effective approach to producing agile and resilient graduates. These graduates can apply critical thinking and innovative solutions to any challenge they may face in various industries.

5. Introduces Professional Networking Opportunities

Graduate school provides the perfect environment for students to build their professional networks—a vital practice, considering 42 percent of professionals found their current jobs through some form of networking. Grad students are constantly exposed to new people who have the potential to make a lasting impact on their careers. Between passionate classmates, industry-leading professors, and an alumni network with 300,000-plus members, students at Northeastern are able to build positive relationships with contacts that can help them conquer every stage of their careers. 

Digging Deeper: During experiential learning, students work with one of the 3,500+ employer partners that make up Northeastern’s global network and are subsequently given the rare chance to develop working relationships with established professionals in their industry. These contacts can have an incredibly positive impact on your career, as they can act as mentors, provide you with a recommendation or reference for a future job, make introductions to others within their network, and even help you land a role within their organization post-graduation.

6. Offers a Competitive Edge in the Job Market

Let’s face it: A college degree isn’t what it used to be. The number of advanced degree holders has risen substantially in the past couple of decades. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, more than 610,000 master’s degrees were conferred in 2007. Just ten years later, the number of conferred degrees reached nearly 805,000. This trend towards higher education is reflected in the job market’s demands as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupations that typically require a master’s degree are projected to average 500,000 job openings per year from 2022 to 2032, a stark increase compared to an average of only 296,300 job openings per year for those with only a bachelor’s degree.

With a larger talent pool to choose from, employers are seeking out candidates with advanced degrees, even in professions that haven’t historically required them. For example, a CareerBuilder study found that 33 percent of surveyed employers were recruiting those who hold master’s degrees for positions that used to only require four-year degrees. 

7. Increases Earning Potential

Though explored above, this key aspect of a graduate degree’s ROI is worth addressing again: A master’s degree holder can expect to earn an average of 25 percent more than someone who has only earned a bachelor’s degree. This is often a vital component in a degree’s ROI, as students often invest a lot of time and money into it. Supporting this, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), advanced degree holders in general earn a much higher annual salary than those with a bachelor’s degree alone. While bachelor’s degree holders make an average of $74,464 per year, the average professional with a master’s degree earns closer to $86,394 annually. Over the course of your career, this percentage increase can lead to significantly greater earnings and financial stability than you might experience with a bachelor’s degree alone.

Remember: While advanced education in general often results in a salary boost, not all master’s degrees will impact your pay in the same way. Some might give you a deeper knowledge of an area of study that you love and a modest salary bump, while others offer skills that are flexible and transferable to multiple industries—such as project management or leadership—and provide a more lasting financial impact.

Overall, however, the financial impact of a master’s degree across industries is quite positive. A degree in the life sciences—such as biotechnology and informatics—can boost your salary by an average of 63 percent, while a degree in computer science can give you a raise of 31 percent. Even the arts—which, at 23 percent, have the lowest ROI for a master’s degree—can boost your salary enough to add hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings over a lifetime.

Long-Term Benefits of Attending Graduate School

As we’ve uncovered, there are various long-term benefits of attending graduate school and obtaining a master’s degree—in particular, personal growth and self-discovery. The challenges and accomplishments that come with pursuing advanced education develop a sense of achievement that goes beyond academic success. Graduates often speak of a newfound sense of purpose and confidence that positively impacts all aspects of their lives.

As you pursue your master’s degree, you will experience a transformative journey that will help you develop a heightened sense of self-awareness, a refined understanding of your capabilities and aspirations, and valuable skills in resilience and creativity. The supportive environment of graduate school, combined with the challenge of meeting high academic and research standards, will encourage you to push your boundaries and discover new strengths. This personal growth journey will enrich your professional life and contribute to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven way of life, highlighting the profound impact of pursuing a master’s degree beyond traditional career advancement.

Another long term benefit of pursuing advanced education is the positive impact on overall job satisfaction. Research has demonstrated a clear link between advanced education and career contentment. Among individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 89 percent reported being moderately to very satisfied with their jobs. This correlation between education and contentment is even more pronounced in certain disciplines; for example, a study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences found that 88 percent of professionals with a terminal master’s degree in the humanities reported a high level of satisfaction in their jobs. These findings reinforce the value of a master’s degree not just in fostering personal growth, but also in enhancing job satisfaction and overall well-being in one’s career.

Choosing a Degree That Works For You

If you’ve decided that attending graduate school is worthwhile and you’re ready to pursue a master’s degree to further your academic journey, it is important to consider certain factors first and find the program that best fits your needs.

To prepare to make this decision, start by evaluating what factors are most important to you in a program and make sure the ones you’re considering offer these features. If you know that you will be balancing work and school, for instance, an online degree or part-time program may be better suited to your needs than a more traditional one. Many of Northeastern’s graduate programs have been specifically designed to afford working professionals the flexibility they need to maintain this balance.

Additionally, the true value of a master’s degree comes down to more than just earning potential. The skills, professional relationships, and hands-on experience that you can gain with the right program can enrich your life and career in ways you never thought possible.

Find the degree program that will take your career to the next level. Explore Northeastern’s 200+ master’s programs today.

This article was originally published in July 2016. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.