Are you wondering whether a graduate degree might be for you?
Let’s look at how it fits with your professional goals.
Who can benefit from a graduate degree?
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics repeatedly shows that it’s beneficial to pursue higher education. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the May 2020 report demonstrates that those with graduate degrees have lower unemployment and higher wages. The report also says a graduate degree can help you develop skills that employers value: industry specific skills, planning, meeting deadlines, solving problems, and completing tasks. A recent CareerBuilder survey says that 38% of employers have increased their educational requirements over the past five years and that raising the requirements had a positive impact such as higher quality work, improved productivity, and enhanced communication and innovation.
The data shows graduate education is beneficial, but is it right for you?
Do your research to see if most people in your field have a graduate degree or certification. This will let you know if an additional credential will help set you apart, earn you a raise, or broaden your career opportunities.
An MBA would be a good choice for engineers promoted to management or entrepreneurs who want to open their own businesses. You may be considering a career transition into high demand fields such as cybersecurity and national security.
Maybe you earned a graduate degree years ago and you need to update your education in your field of study. There are several graduate certificates in specialized areas that can be valuable and add to your knowledge. An IT professional might want to earn a graduate certificate in cybersecurity threat detection, or someone in manufacturing could choose one in government contracting that has Defense Acquisition University (DAU) recognition.
As a working professional, there are more opportunities to pursue a graduate education while you are still working than there were previously. There are full-time and part-time programs, some in accelerated formats where you might have class one night a week, online, or as a hybrid.
Some students choose online classes for convenience, but to be successful learning in this format, self-discipline is necessary. If you do choose an online program, check to see if they have any attendance requirements where you are required to come to campus for a specific period of time.
As a working adult, you also want to look at the flexibility of the programs. Some schools do not let you switch from an online to an on-ground student once you start the program. If you travel for business, how could that affect your studies? Make sure to ask those questions in advance. At Webster University, we utilize our videoconference equipment so students don’t have to miss class if they have an important business trip.
While there are many benefits to a graduate degree, be aware that it is a major investment of time and money. It helps to set clear goals and have the support of your family and friends. Remember the sacrifices you make now are only temporary.
To help with the financial cost, many employers offer tuition reimbursement benefits, especially if they are related to your current job. Check with your Human Resources Department for your organization’s policies. There are also loans, grants, and scholarships.
In the end, you need to weigh the cost against the benefits. Will the investment you make for the next year or two be worth it? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, you’ll earn 20% more and gain leadership skills and career satisfaction.
When students share their regrets with me, it’s usually that they wish they hadn’t waited so long to come back to school. Investing in yourself is the greatest investment you can make, and it’s the only one no one can take away. •