Friday Question of the Day – Graduate Degrees, Worth It?

American University Sign, originally uploaded by easement.

This week’s FQoTD is gonna be of the purely random variety. I happened to be at a conference earlier this week near American University. I got a Masters in International Affairs at AU and it got me thinking. Obviously as an aspiring full time blogger my graduate degree is not going to be too useful. Even for my “regular” jobs I think learned more from internships and my own reading than I did from class work. Don’t get me wrong I had some great professors, took some interesting classes, met great folks but, as you know, grad school ain’t cheap.

A few of my friends are lawyers who hated their law jobs and are now very content working in different capacities. Many of my younger colleagues are thinking of going to grad school and I’ve been wondering if it’s really worth it. I mean if you know you want to practice law or become a doctor then of course it makes sense. But I’m wondering about your experiences. Do you think your graduate degree was worth the money? Has it helped you in your career?

71 Comment

  • I know a guy who started to drive a cab part time while going to grad school just to pay the bills. He graduated ! 11 years later he is still driving his cab but he tells me that his Masters degree made him a better cab driver.

  • My first master’s was a fellowship that I didn’t pay for, so no debt, depleted accounts or begging from relatives. It was related to my job to an extent but I can’t say it helped me do my job better. But the scholarly atmosphere, the lectures, it was a wonderful ivory tower. That was before both undergraduate and grad school classes changed their teaching style. Now the focus and presentation is on stupid group work and projects, oral presentations, cooperative learning, where the instructor is a facilitator. I still prefer the style of teaching and learning, very much out of fashion, except in law school I guess, where the profession usually in his or her 60s, lectures, we take notes, there’s a mid term, a paper and a final. After my first master’s I got a pay increase and a big boost to my self-esteem. And a desire to get a PhD in my discipline, totally useless, except for the love of learning.

  • Grad school is so last century. Our whole concept of “higher education” is stuck in an obsolete Industrial Age paradigm; accordingly, the return-on-investment for an advanced degree has been steadily dropping.

    Nothing beats real-world experience. If a company has so much cultural inertia that it values spoon-fed classroom time over demonstrated job performance, you don’t want to work for them.

  • Biggest mistake I ever made. That, and buying a yacht.

  • Having gone to grad school for econ, I know that the answer is, it depends.

    In my mind, the key questions are:

    1. Is there consumption value – in other words, like with your degree, do you find this stuff inherently interesting such that you would enjoy your time in school? If so, then maybe it is “worth” it whether you use it in your career or not.

    2. Do you NEED this degree to get the job you have in mind? For example, if you are thinking about getting a PhD in Economics but want to use it to work in government, and have no interest in being a researcher or prof, perhaps a 2-year policy degree (or certain job experiences) would take less time and be more interesting to you while still making you qualified for the job you want.

    3. What would you be doing if you weren’t going to grad school? If I don’t know what your next-best option is, as an economist, I really can’t evaluate 😉

  • I have a grad degree in a field completely different than what I do now for a living, but I don’t regret it at all. It allowed me to focus on something I was completely interested in at the time (in my twenties) and gave me an insight into that arena and contacts that I would not have had otherwise.

  • this question couldnt have come at a better time… with the economy the way it is, i have lots of friends fresh out of college that are going straight to grad school for lack of jobs. i want to go for an mba, but im hesitant to do anything that might jeapordize my focus here in my secure job setting, and i definitely do not want to give this up to go to school full time somewhere. do you think i will reget being in my late 20s with only a bachelors while a good number of people my age are hitting the job market (assuming an upturn, better economy, more available jobs) with brand new masters degrees in a few years?

  • I have a BS in mechanical engineering, and I work in CFD (computational fluid dynamics) for the Navy. That being said, mechanical engineering doesn’t focus nearly enough on CFD, so in my field, yes, a masters in mechE/fluid dynamics will be very crucial. That goes for a lot of mechanical engineering degrees; mechE is such a broad topic that you almost need a graduate degree in the area in which you will focus. On the other hand, most people who are going to work in the industrial setting for mechE, a graduate degree isn’t vital.

    Totally depends on your eduacation.

  • I think it depends; it might be worth it if you’re planning to use it to obtain a job that you otherwise will not have access to. If you’re planning to work in government then you don’t need it. That is unless you are planning to conduct research or perform highly complex work. In the government you can gain experience in one year to be qualified for the same job that a holder with a 2 year masters can be qualified for. I don’t think it’s worth it, really.

  • Some degrees are worthless while other make you rich.
    The key is to get a degree that provides you with a practical APPLIED KNOWLEDGE.

    For example.
    If after your degree you can splice a genome, know the coorect oxygen to fuel mixture to send a 30ton paylod into orbit or synthesize a chemical compound which will inhibit the release of a certain hormone in the human body or can statistically calculate the most profitable cost an insurance company will pay out for ear surgery using a cloud computing platform….. then your degree is WORTH IT!

    On the other hand,
    If you just simply learn about nuances in history or forms of government or the penal code or communication strategies… well your degree is not directly applicable.

    What you need to do to figure out if you are pursuing a worthwhile degree is to be able to answer this question when you graduate:

    so what can you DO now?

    and realize that this one doesnt matter:

    so what do you KNOW now?

    simply becuause if you pay $10,000 to learn the nuances of the Aztec culture or the forms of government in southeast asia you are as usefull as a high school student with google.

  • I got my MBA and it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m light years ahead in my career than I would’ve been without it. Light years.

    But I could see how a graduate degree in something less universally useful could be limiting and may not worth the cost.

  • I am an executive recruiter, working with CEO level types. I also have a master’s degree. My parents pretty much insisted on me getting one straight out of undergrad. They said I would be glad that I had it and not have to work & go to school at the same time.

    While my MS was interesting, I am not doing much with it now. The program was geared towards PhD students more so that master’s students. Ironically, my program was canceled after my class graduated.

    Enough about me… I feel that grad school is worth it after you’ve been out in the “real world” long enough to figure out 1) if you really need another degree to enhance your career (i.e move in to management, read too many job descriptions that call for one, etc.) and 2) have the work experience to apply to those classroom projects, papers, etc. I also think if you wait to go back, that you have a greater desire to do well and a greater interest in your chosen graduate-level program. It’s also a nice perk if your company is willing to “sponsor” you in your pursuit of a graduate degree.

    I think that continuing education is also a good idea, and maybe a cheaper option with less of a time commitment.

    From looking at resumes and having written a job description or 50, I feel that graduate degrees will become more and more necessary. At one point in time, a high school degree was the base line standard. Now it’s an undergraduate degree…do you see what I mean?

    And as for those 20-somethings, a good internship coupled with a graduate degree is the best combination. A classroom is not the same as “real world” experience.

  • I am in a field where most of what we could do could be learned on the job but that many times (especially in the D.C. metro area) having the degree is required.

    While I was familiar with the field before going and getting my Masters, I didn’t know that much and getting the degree helped me. However, there were many in the program that got into the field before it was “required” and were told they had to go back and get it even if they had been in the field 10+ years and didn’t really need much of what was taught. So basically it depends on the field and even the location of the job.

  • I have wrestled with this question since I got my undergraduate diploma; and frankly I’m no closer to a valid answer than I was back then. I think that a graduate degree with a job associated with it has clear financial benefits (Law School = Lawyer, Nursing School = RN, Med School = Doctor, Clown School = Senator).

    That said, I’m dating a girl who is finishing her masters in Art History and has a much better plan laid out for her future than I do at this point. I know I would be suited academically/intellectually for Law School so it’s an option that weighs heavy on my mind and yet I question whether or not an 70hr. work week is worth the paycheck a few years down the road when I havta take the satisfaction of a wife/family into the picture.

    In closing, I have no Idea and I personally suggest we all just throw off the bonds of gainful employment/further education and instead focus our energies on cornering the turnip farming market on a large plot of productive land somewhere in the Andes.

  • It certainly depends on a pile of factors… starting with luck! I agree with general coments of ‘worth’ (what can you DO versus what do you KNOW). However, you cannot know, whether you will be able to apply such knowledge in a future job, since (a) you cannot know who will hire you, or (b) whether your interests will continue to lie in that particular field of study.

    Many sociologists, historians, political scientists, KNOW a big deal abut their fields, yet they may apply their knowledge in terms of changing circumstances within government or the NGO, or company they work for (marketing, etc.) The ability to apply such skill is NOT readily available from high school students, FOR SURE. You have to know WHO are the key players in the relevant liturature as well as WHAT are the dominant debates/issues in those fields. High School does NOT teach this, UNIVERSITY DOES.

  • As many others have said, the short answer is “it depends.” No, do not get a Ph.d in English Lit. You will be qualified for one job with a shrinking/non-existent employment base. However, an MA in SE Asian studies (as someone derided above) could really help you land a job at the State Dept. or CIA (if that’s what you’re looking to do). An MPA, MCP, or MPP can help you land a wide variety of jobs in government – I have several former classmates working in a variety of interesting offices all over the country. I know in the Federal Gov’t at least, those with graduate degrees are hired in at higher levels on the GS scale.

    During my time in school, I learned a lot of quantitative/statistical modeling skills that I don’t think would have been easy to pick up on the fly somewhere. I had access to data sets and software unavailable to the general public or smaller agencies. I also made several connections that I don’t think would have been possible without the school’s alumni network.

    Having said that, I really really really really wish I didn’t owe so much on student loans. Luckily I have a good job (thanks to my degree) and can afford to live comfortably, but I do catch myself thinking what kind of awesome apt. I could rent were I not putting such a substantial chunk of my monthly income towards student loans. Be sure you’re fully aware of your future income stream/payment levels before signing anything on a student loan.

    Anyways, my 2cents.

  • I am just about to finish my MLS, and as far as librarians go, if you plan to move into areas of management or specialization in this field an MLS is a pretty steady requirement. I don’t know that it’s turning out to be the right field for me, but I am glad that I chose to do a graduate program that focuses (mostly) on practical skills; it is a professional degree as opposed to a more scholarly degree. I considered pursuing an MA/PhD in English (my undergraduate degree), but with no real interest to teach or write (hey, I just like to know what I’m reading…) I felt a degree that leads to a definitive career would be more agreeable to my bank account. So far, the worst part of the graduate program is the blank stares/stifled giggles I get when explaining to people what I’m paying to go to school for, and the general unrest in the field as it shifts from the more stereotypical bun-n-glasses stuff to technology and information literacy. Long story short, if you want to be a librarian, yes, go to graduate school, it is worth it and expected.

  • As someone who is about to graduate in 1 week with their MBA (woo hoo), I am not sure I have insight on whether it will actually help my career. However, I started it because I had aspirations to become a freelance entrepreneurship teacher. I had already been teaching quite awhile but felt it would give me the extra qualification to get more jobs.

    For my goals, I didn’t need an expensive degree. I was living in New York at the time so I applied to SUNY. My degree will be about $12,000 and it was all online so I still worked full time. I just paid for it as I went no student loans.

    I did come across a few roadblocks in my former non-profit career because I didn’t have a master’s degree. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get a job my place of employment just wouldn’t give me a decent wage without the graduate degree. At the time, I decided to quit. It didn’t make sense to me to spend a lot of money just so I could make a few more thousand dollars a year at a place I didn’t really love.

    In the end, I am happy that I did it. Will it really help me in terms of career goals? That is yet to be determined.

  • I have a masters in American history. When I began the degree I planned to become a history professor – you need the Ph.D for that. I realized I did not enjoy teaching at all and began looking around for options. I now work at the National Archives and would not have this job without the degree, and the teaching and research experience that came along with the degree.

  • Oh, M! I was just typing that I’m planning to change careers over the course of the next few years from fundraiser to librarian, and as such, graduate school is part of the deal. I worry though because even though I know grad school is different, and I know the degree is more based in practical things than my undergrad ones were (I ended up with 2, in government and politics and business), I HATED undergrad. It all seemed like a stupid waste of time, both when I was going through it and looking back on it now. I resent everything about that degree from having to tolerate professors who were more interested in masturbatory self promotion to the fact that the modern university seems to do nothing more than continue to coddle children who seem to have no desire whatsoever to think for themselves and cut the cord from mommy and daddy – and this was 15 years ago; I can’t imagine what it’s like now.

    So, even though I know intellectually that an MLS program will be different (and I suspect, awesome), I’m a little gun-shy about being back in an academic environment. But, I’ve wanted to make this change for a long time now, and having achieved everything I’ve wanted to do in my current career, it seems like a great time to set out on a new path. So, yay for grad school??!!

  • My grad degree has proved to be very useful. I got my degree in health care management and health policy. Unless you have had your head under a rock, one can see the utility of this advanced degree. No really, it was the best thing I ever did. My salary doubled and then doubled again. And no – I don’t work crazy hours, but when I am at work I work hard (excpet of course when I am reading PoP and making random comments 🙂

  • I got my undergrad degree in 2003, when the economy was still suffering from 9/11. Several classmates went directly to grad school rather than search for a job. I moved to DC to find a job in the art world without a master’s degree and have realized that I don’t want to work in art, I want to be a horticulturist. I’m so glad I waited until I had some real world experience before deciding what to pursue as my life’s career. Definitely wait until you know a little bit more about yourself to sink so much time and money into a second degree!

  • A bachelors is the new GED and thus the masters is the new bachelors. In my field a PhD is standard. This is a consequence of lots of relatively cheap lending for student loans, and desires by students to fleece their parents for as long a college party as possible. My saying is “nothing is dumber than a 23 year old masters, or a 24 year old PhD.” There are exceptions of course, but many of these types get such degrees due to lots of parental support and a fear of the the real world. Then they get hyper education in one area, and a few years later realize they don’t want to do that. Its similar to law degrees I guess, I also know several defunct lawyers who got nice parental deals for their education, then realized they hated law. Especially patent law.

  • Graduate school is it’s own special kind of hell but, for me, it was worth it. I’m an economist and a PhD was essential to getting my job.

  • It helps if you know what you are doing or what job you want. I have two Masters. For the past three years, I’ve needed one of them for the jobs I’ve had. For the 6 years before that, I actually needed both of them to secure the job I had. I don’t regret either, and have actually used that education for things outside of work as well.

  • In my opinion, most grad degrees are worth a LOT—to the school that is. Same professors. More cost per class. Hell of a business model if you ask me. The only grad degrees that comes close to paying for justifying the cost are terminal degrees like business, MED, dentistry, veterinary, and law. If you don’t see any people hiring that specifically want someone with a Masters in Anthropology, it is probably a good idea not to get a masters in it. Just my .02cents.
    By the way, the NYT just had an article on this.

  • In math/the hard sciences a PhD is almost always paid for by the school. A roughly $25k/year stipend is also a given.

  • This depends on what you look for in a job. Is it money, intellectual stimulation, sense of accomplishment, security, or sense of community? Is there some sort of status attached? Visibility? Do you want to work a 9-5 or would you prefer something more flexible?

    If you haven’t started school yet and are trying to decide whether or not to go, look at the requirements for your “dream job” (or something you would be pretty happy with) and then make the determination from there.

    I am very happy I got an advanced degree. I do what I love, with good people and for good people, working reasonable hours (note: not all lawyers have to work insane hours and sell their soul), for good pay. Without the degree I would not have been qualified for this job.

    Then again my brother is also very happy, does what he loves, and makes good money doing it. He has no more than a high school diploma, drives for UPS, makes a ton of money with great benefits and is slated to retire at the age of 42.

    So, figure out what you want to do, then figure out what you need to do it. If you don’t want a job that would tend to require an advanced degree, don’t waste your money.

  • This is essentially the internal argument I have been involved in for the last couple of years. I want some general enough that will help me do bigger and better things…but does it really help that much? I too am afraid that in 10 years I will really regret not going back to school.

  • @Nichole — I would say, Yay grad school, definitely. I don’t think you will encounter the kind of professorial self-importance you wrote about from your undergraduate experience. I would recommend, however, looking at all the schools carefully and also the different librarian career paths–school library media, cataloging, technical services, public services, etc. Also, though DC is probably one of the best places to find employment as a librarian, I’d look at schools outside of the metro area–Michigan, Illinois, Simmons, etc. have better ranks in certain departments. Best!

  • My undergrad degree is in social work, and many jobs require an MSW. Therefore, the graduate degree would definitely be worth it. If I was sure that’s what I really want to do (which I’m not).

  • As many have said, it really depends on your field of study. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, and the only reason someone in my field would ever go for their MFA is if they wanted to teach on the collegiate level. In the design field, real-life experience is MUCH more valuable than your degree or where it came from.

  • I have a master’s in social work and i’m a full time nanny.

  • Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle! Go AU!!! Yes, grad school at the School of International Service was worth it and has afforded me many opportunities.

  • IMHO: Its about competition. If a company is wittling down a stack of 700 resume’s to 10. Will your’s be in the 10? Will you get an offer? If you look at 10 people with simalar experience in their field (equal) you are going to interview the people with the best and most relevant education. I interviewed 70 people last year, education can get your foot in door. So look at the ROI over your entire career.

  • M- I disagree with going outside of DC area for grad school in the library sciences. I have nothing but great things to say about the CIS program at UMCP. But then again I’m a really biased alum.

    I have two grad degrees. MA in History from UMASS-Amherst, mostly paid for by the school and a few loans. MLS (Library Science) from Univ of Maryland, paid for by working part-time and loans to cover the difference. The reason why I think it’s best to stay in the DC area is that you can work and go to school at the same time, at least with the CIS (CLIS) program. You get to build up contacts and relationships while you’re in school and then look for a job in your last semester without the trauma of moving and going into an unfamiliar environment.

    As far as the usefulness of the degrees, the MA in Early Modern European History was completely useless on its own, jobwise. I landed a GS-5 job in a DC museum with it, and got to hang out with other bitter former grad students. It was good for giving me something to do in the early 90s.

    The MLS was great. While going to UMCP I got a student job at the National Archives, and interned at the Library of Congress. There I made contacts, and got involved in the archive field. The internships made the difference and while working at the Archives I was able to apply lessons learned. I’ve been with the Archives for nearly 10 years now and a huge chunk of the credit goes to pursuing my MLS at Maryland.

    My next door neighbor also works at the Archives and has a PhD in History (American U) and I think we are the same GS level. There are other History PhDs where I work, one Harvard PhD, and we are pretty much round the same GS level…. so depending on what you do with it matters. But no one really cares, it matters what have you written/published, what have you done, what projects are you on, etc…. So I really wouldn’t recommend spending gobs of money on a graduate degree, just concentrate on getting the most of the experience (internships, internships, internships) at a decent price.

  • Just whatever you do, don’t do law. Especially right out of college. Most people have no idea what they’re getting themselves into, and end up hating it despite the siren’s song of a high starting salary without necessarily having to work a day in your life up until that point. I would liken law degrees to indentured servitude for many. Only do law if you KNOW you like it, ie after being a paralegal and saying to yourself “hey, I kinda like this stuff”

  • @Mari, that’s exactly the path I’ve been researching. UMD (my undergrad alma mater, which despite what I said before, I do have fond feelings for) also offers the dual MLS/MA in History, which is what I’m leaning toward. Can I hit you up for an internship in a couple of years? 🙂

  • The Law is not what you think it is.
    Even if you work in a law firm now, being an actual lawyer is different.

    If you want to get rich, and by rich I mean own a house, have a retirement fund, send 2 kids to college, and splurge @ 5 Guys every once in a while – law really isn’t the way

    In the best case scenario, you go to a top law school, work at a big law firm, and at the end of the day you sit across from clients with 1/4 of the schooling, 1/2 your intelligence but making 5 times your salary on 1 deal. (true story*)

    15-20 years later when you’re an equity partner still pulling 50 hour weeks (if not more), the disparity will only be greater.

  • saf

    It’s a philosophical question. First, are you going for a trade school style degree or a strictly academic degree?

    My MA is very much a trad school style degree, and has made my current job possible.

    I’m thinking about going back for a philosophy degree, or maybe a theology degree. That would just be for fun.

    Judge the kind of education differently.

  • As a novelist, I’m often asked about MFA writing programs. I’ve never really seen the point. In grad school, you pay someone to tell you that you are a good writer. In real life, people pay you to tell you that you are a good writer. Better to just read a lot and write a lot (then tear it up and write some more.)

    Yet the hard fact is that in a very crowded marketplace the cachet of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop is golden. It might not make you a great writer, but it will make you much more likely to get an agent, publisher, reviews and talk-show spots. So if you are in a field where a degree is going to get you noticed above the crowd, it might not be such a waste of time and money.

  • There are degrees which help your resume stand out and there are degrees which are REQUIRED for the job.

    If you are getting a degree to stand out in the crowd but you acknowledge someone without it can do your job than you will waste your money.

  • My plan is to go back to graduate school in the fall of 10… Will it make me a better teacher? Teaching is something, I think, that you learn the best on the job. But for other things? A bunch of people have already said this, I think, but you need the masters to even get your foot in the door, regardless of what it actually taught you.

  • I think it’s fair to point out that you’re asking a very biased crowd here. The population of the DC area holds graduate degrees at a rate that is far out of proportion with most of the rest of the country, and the young professional population of this part of the city is far more likely either to hold a graduate degree or to intend to hold one than the metro area at large.

    If you’re looking at a competitive terminal degree, then another important question you should be asking yourself is *when* to go to grad school. Applications to grad school tend to rise significantly when the economy is doing poorly, funding at universities tends to decline, and that makes it harder to get into competitive programs. A lot of graduate fields (read: most Ph.D.s) produce more degrees than there are desirable jobs in the field, and going to a lower-ranked school can really make your life harder when you finish. Also, studies have shown that graduating when the economy is doing well tends to have long-run positive effects, so it’s worth thinking about where the business cycle might be 2, 3, or 5 years from now.

    I learned this the hard way. I applied to Economics Ph.D. programs this year, didn’t factor in the rise in applications when choosing my schools, didn’t get into any of the programs I applied to, and will be reapplying next year (and lowering my sights a bit). It sucks, but at least I still have a job!

  • I have a undergrad degree in social work as well and, while I’m not a practicing social worker, I use nearly every skill I learned every day at work. I am quite fortunate to have had a rigorous undergraduate experience (full liberal arts degree with a dollop of social work on top), and was told by my professors and by alumni of my college that I would find graduate school a breeze after college.

    My hesitancy in pursuing one at this point is two-fold. First, even after three years away from college, the idea of writing a research paper still makes me want to run to the hills screaming. I loved the reading, the lectures, the discussions, the learning, and even the research, but I HATED writing the papers. Perhaps it has something to do with the perfectionist in me… Second, I’m not really sure of the direction I’d like to take in my career. I now know that I don’t want to be a social worker, and therefore would not have much use for an MSW. I’ve looked into a nursing degree, an MBA, and an MPP, among others, but I’ve not found anything that has really “clicked” for me.

    All of this said, the one thing I am certain of is that I love living in DC! Therefore, I will continue working here until I find a degree program or another career that suits me!

  • Another executive recruiter here, working on the public policy/non-profit/association side. I think everyone has the right equations going for them, especially pennywise and Anon 8:53.

    The biggest task (and one I’m trained to ferret out of candidates) is deciding what exactly you’d like to do with your life. i thought i had that 100% figured out when i left the business world to get a PhD. Here I am, again in business, but a lot closer to finding my dream job….

    my two bits:

    – grad degrees are excellent for transitioning your career, as it provides an excellent rationale for why you’re looking for work at a particular time.
    – professional degrees are excellent tools for networking your way into a specific community and recruiting process. for example, i’d say that law school is 70% education, 30% networking. MBA is 40% education, 60% networking. if you’re evaluating a degree and a program, you MUST look at where graduates are headed immediately after finishing up and which employers are targeting graduates for recruiting.
    – finally, if you go to law school to work at a firm, you MUST get excellent grades to snag a high-comp, but poor-lifestyle job.

  • Man, I’m glad I’m finishing up a PhD in Neuroscience — some of these comments are just downright depressing. I might never really make that much money, but it was paid for (as someone else pointed out) and I love what I do ! And I’m going to save the world…

    Everyone I talk to with a PhD in the hard sciences/math say it really shaped them and gave them skills way beyond just research. And it kicks your ass. Not for the faint of heart…

  • I have a Master’s in Public Policy and I can honestly say that I regret not getting a more specialized degree (although at the time I was applying to grad schools in 2003, I really thought I wanted to go back to the Hill/policy world so I thought that an MPP would be the right fit). My recommendation is that unless you are transitioning to policy from a very different field (science, art, etc.) there is no need to get an MPP — know what it is you want to do after grad school and get an MBA or a more specialized master’s that will teach you the actual skills you will need.
    Lee, thanks for sharing your experiences — I’ve been kicking myself for not applying to Econ programs this year and I hadn’t thought about the rising tide of applications! I think next year is definitely the year for me though.

  • Quincy St Neighbor

    Getting a graduate degree will get your foot in the door but it’s your actual work experience, and the lessons that came from it, that lands you the job. You could also turn any graduate degree to your advantage even if you end up in field that’s not directly related to what you studied, you just got pull out and sell the skills and abilities you gained from your degree.

    That being said I have 2 graduate degrees. Each one helped propel me into a field I wanted to get into but only had minimal experience. The mix of the two also helps me to further establish my professional niche.

    I suppose my academic journey has been a bit peripatetic but overall I feel I have a big advantage over my colleagues. My first masters was in computer science which I probably could have done without had I received a BA/BS in CS but I majored in English and Biology. So the MS in CS gave me some hard-core tech skills which made me marketable. I landed me a job before I even graduated (ahhh the roaring 90s!). I suppose I could have been just as marketable had I received on-the-job experience in the tech field but I wanted a one-shot fastrack to immerse myself in the field and in a concentrated amount of time. But when you’re on the job, you are there to do your job and it’s hard to look up from what you’re doing, stand back to see what you’re interested in and find the time to dabble.

    Having worked in the tech field for 10 years, I realized I could stay there but I wanted to make myself more valuable with soft skills that would help me ‘talk the talk and walk the walk’ with the C-level folks. For those in tech you really must have those soft skills these days or else you’ll run the risk of getting your job outsourced if you’re simply a tech person with only tech skills. So off I went and got another masters in digital communications strategy.

    Now I can position myself as being a go-to pointperson between the CIO, the CMO and the CCO. As with the first masters, I could have gained the strategy skills on my own but I wanted a focused immersion in it. Not only do I now know tech better than any of the communications folks, I also have the big picture, strategic perspective over the tech folks. I can directly attribute this knowledge to my graduate degrees. The intangible, qualitative benefit of grad school is that it offers you the chance to really talk about the disciplines you’re studying with people who are just as into it, i.e. I was able to full-on geek out on stuff that tmost people could fully grasp nor care to delve into as deeply.

    That rarefied benefit helps in the long run too! My big take aways from both degrees are the ability to know and talk the lingo of the two fields I went to school for and that has helped distinguish me from the rest of the pack.

    Good luck!

  • I think if you’re going to settle in this area, you’ll definitely need a professional degree (ala MBA, MPA, MPP). It seems there are alot of organizations that require it.

    Case in point, I worked for a trade association where I primarily did meeting logistics. To move onto the program development side, the organization wanted people with five years experience and a master’s degrees.

    In a nutshell, the job entailed reading regurgetated proposals from the same people who constantly presented at the organization’s events; getting a half a dozen insanely busy people to find a mutually convenient time for a conference call; and writing catalog/marketing copy.

    Based on the job description above, someone with a high school diploma and three years office experience can do that job.

    In DC, they are hell bent on advanced degrees. Maybe it’s because there are a dearth of JD’s, MPAs, who are trying to break onto The Hill, aid work, and other glam jobs, who ultimately wind up elsewhere, and as a result, raised the minimum education standards in town.

    Perhaps it’s merely the elitism of this place.

    The point it–comparable jobs that I just descrbed above in other major metropolitan markets (ie New York, Chicago, LA, etc), do not require a master’s to do ancillary office work.

  • Nicole – I got my MLS at Catholic years after I got out of undergraduate and going back wasn’t easy. Saying that, if it is a field you love the studying and work isn’t as much of a problem as undergrad where you were taking a bunch of class just because you needed certain credits.

    I can definitely agree with M that different schools have different biases for lack of a better word when it comes to their programs. When I was getting my Masters Catholic seemed a bit more “tradition” library while UMD was seen as a bit more “future” – that has likely changed somewhat. Luckily DC has two schools if you don’t want to leave the area.

    I will say that if you want to be a librarian in any real sense in the DC area or any of the big cities – you will likely need to get the Masters. Smaller cities or rural it may not be as important (see my message above).

  • I think it depends on your motivation and what degree you get. I got my MA and make less now than when I first graduated college, but I also chose to go into non-profit work. That + student loans can be stressful and I wonder why I bothered some days, but ultimately I’m glad I went and am even considering going back.

  • I also feel like a graduate degree (master’s anyway) in DC is like an undergraduate degree elsewhere; lots of folks have them, so if you even a foot in the door you need one.

  • Nothing beats real-world experience. If a company has so much cultural inertia that it values spoon-fed classroom time over demonstrated job performance, you don’t want to work for them.

    as if.

    My graduate school classes in IT were equal to about a year of real world experience each.

  • I am goign back this fall to get my MSW this is a career change and I need a MSW and a LCSW license to get the job I want ultimately (with the VA). I am glad that a took a few years off after college though before I decided because if i had gone straight from undergrad i would have been finishing up a usless masters in religion.

  • If you want to get rich, and by rich I mean own a house, have a retirement fund, send 2 kids to college, and splurge @ 5 Guys every once in a while – law really isn’t the way

    In the best case scenario, you go to a top law school, work at a big law firm, and at the end of the day you sit across from clients with 1/4 of the schooling, 1/2 your intelligence but making 5 times your salary on 1 deal. (true story*)


    The lawyers on my parents block, the ones whose kids I knew, were all making 7 figures per year in M&A. You know, $3.2 million fees for 15 months work. These are people who were corporate lawyers for the Marriotts and beltway bandits when I was a kid.

    My peers, my college friends who have been lawyers for 10-15 years who aren’t very talented have salaries at the $200k level.

    One of my good friends from high school is a partner with [redacted] and [redacted]. I cannot fathom the money he’s made.

    Are you suggesting

  • that $200k isn’t good money or that they were somehow limited by their law degree?

  • I went back to school for a master’s in photojournalism after working for four years as a business reporter. It was the best thing I ever did. Not only did I immerse myself in my new field, I made connections that helped me land internships and then jobs. That said, at least in my field, real-world experience beats a graduate degree any day. I’m certainly not getting paid more just because I have an MA.

  • @ Neener – Lawyers are not making 7 figures out of law school or anything close to that…plus they have loans to worry about. A lot of talented attorneys working at good firms are making 200-300K. Now a days most lawyers are glad to have a job with all the major layoffs. Now is not the best time to think about law school either…most graduating 3Ls will not have jobs in the fall and then they will be competing with ’10 grads next fall. It’s not a pretty picture….

    That being said, I think my MEd in K-12 Admin. was a terrific program and it helped my transition from being a classroom teacher to an administrator.

  • Anyone want to talk about a Masters in Urban Planning? I’m considering bailing on my (unrelated) GS-7-equivalent in December and going for the MUP.

  • Like so many have already said, it depends.. on a lot of factors. I’ve also got to agree with folks who are saying that the Master’s is becoming the new Bachelor’s.

    I spent 3 aimless years in the “real world” after undegrad (English and Illustration), when I finally decided that I needed a job in the information industry — specifically I was hoping to land a sweet job with a company like OCLC or LexisNexis. Of course, they all said, “come back when you have an MLS,” and off to library school I went (hello, all you earlier library school posters!)

    Library school opened up a whole awesome world of digital preservation, and I am so, so, so glad that I made this decision. So glad, that I’m not leaving, but starting a PhD in the fall, because there’s stuff I want to keep researching. For most people in the field, though, I think an MLS is probably enough, as experience is going to be way more valuable than a further advanced degree. Like a lot of folks, though, I have to say that internships and conferences have been some of the most educational experiences — but I wouldn’t have had any of those were I -not- enrolled in a graduate program.

  • This question of the day is flawed. Your income depends on your educational background far less than whether you were friends with Neener in high school or college.

    If you knew him and were part of the “creative class” you could have “clocked in” a minimum of $25,000,000. If you were in the lucky 5% of the creative class you could have accumulated assets in the deep nine figures.

    If you missed him in high school, don’t worry. As a college classmate of Neener your yearly post law school income will surely be at least $200,000. If that’s not enough just stick around a few years in private practice and it will reach seven figures.

  • “In the best case scenario, you go to a top law school, work at a big law firm, and at the end of the day you sit across from clients with 1/4 of the schooling, 1/2 your intelligence but making 5 times your salary on 1 deal. (true story*)”

    Another way to put it is that if you go into corporate law, you will find yourself surrounded by pompous asses who are obsessed about the caliber of their schooling, intelligence, and income, but constantly whine about the schooling, intelligence, and income of others.

    My advice is to do something you give a shit about, and don’t surround yourself with assholes.

  • Sure was NOT worth it. After my experience, I advise to skill the master’s degree. However, the experience you get from internships is helpful when finding a job and said internships are much harder to land if you aren’t actively seeking a degree.

  • Please don’t quit a job to get a masters in international relations. You’ll still only make $30k entry level, and you’ll have twice that in debt. If you don’t believe me and think the degree is important, get a job and do the masters part-time. You’ll probably realize that half the people doing the jobs you want don’t have masters anyway.

  • I have a Masters in Psychology from AU and I don’t think it was worth the money. I did not enjoy the program, it was easier than my undergrad intro to psych courses, and now I have thousands of dollars of debt from it. I now run a fashion consulting business and the only thing I get out of that degree is to be able to say I have it. I advise people not to get a graduate degree unless it is directly essential to your career (or unless you just have a lot of extra time and money).

  • No $hit Cathy Phillips.

    If you get a masters in Psychology and then work as a fashion consultant than its pretty obvious your degree isnt worth it.

    I have a shocking idea… why don’t you work in the field of PSYCHOLOGY?!

    The degree didn’t waste your money. YOU did.

  • to Animal Mother:

    I find that in my experience its assholes who give a shit.

  • In my field (biology) you need a PhD (and a solid publication record) just to be eligible to apply for many jobs, especially the higher-paying ones. So yes, I think it is definitely worth it. Yes it was gruelling in some ways but it was also very satisfying — you carve out your own research niche, become part of a close-knit scientific community and travel. You interact with smart and interesting people to come up with innovative ideas to solve problems. At least in the sciences, grad school itself provides real-world experience by encouraging you to write your own grants, forge your own collaborations, conduct novel research, and even design and teach your own classes if you want to. I spent next to no time taking classes but mostly learned by doing and from one-on-one interactions with my mentors. I think a PhD may well be a good way to sit out the economic crisis for a few (6 in my case) years and have a lot of fun, even if you don’t make much money doing it, at least it pays the bills.

  • The time I spent getting my Ph.D. were some of the best years of my life. You hang out with your friends all day, learn interesting things, and you can still wear your pajamas to work.

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