Is a Master's Degree Worth It? Find The Master's Degrees Worth the Money

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Last updated on May 25, 2019 Comments: 20

I’ll be honest: I often wonder just how valuable my undergraduate degree really is. I went to an amazing university where I learned invaluable lessons and made lifelong connections–but I do question whether that $140,000 piece of paper on my office wall was really worth it. After all, I work in a field unrelated to my major, and I remember each month (as I write that student loan repayment check) that I could have very easily gone to a more affordable school.

That’s why it amuses me when, every few months or so, I toss around the idea of getting a master’s degree. Really… just how much different would my career be if I put the time and money into getting a graduate-level education? Plus, are there master’s degrees that are more valuable than others?

The answer really depends on a few factors, namely the industry that you’re in and where you’re at in your career. Today, let’s take some time to talk about whether or not going back to school for a master’s is really worth the time and money. Then we will cover seven graduate degrees that are almost always worth the expense.

Master’s Degree: Worth It or Worthless?

Once upon a time, holding a bachelor’s degree meant that you were at the top of the candidate pool. This level of education gave you a leg-up in most industries, opening both career doors and salary potential.

Then, it seems like everyone went to college. Rather than splitting off after high school–with some young adults opting to start work right away and others going off to trade and vocational schools–getting a college degree became commonplace. The market became saturated to the point that today, an undergraduate degree is expected, if not required, in most career fields.

When this began to happen, the master’s degree became the new bachelor’s degree. MBAs started popping up everywhere, along with other advanced degrees, to the point that the market is now saturated with them, too. In fact, the majority of grad students say that an advanced degree is the new minimum for any profession!

So, how do you know if getting an advanced degree is worthwhile for your career? It’s often a significant expense, as well as a huge time commitment, and it’s not a decision you want to make lightly.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when it comes to determining how worthwhile a master’s degree is to you personally.

What are your goals?

When it comes to MBAs, it’s safe to say that most people pursue an advanced degree in order to increase their salary. In this case, the only measurement that matters is the same one you’ll focus on in an MBA financial class: a cost-benefit analysis based purely on the numbers.

But this is not the only reason people decide to attend graduate school. Some people decide to get a master’s degree, particularly in an economy with high unemployment, to kill time while they’re waiting for better job offers to come around. Others choose to pursue a graduate education because they have a thirst for knowledge and feel comfortable in an academic setting.

There are many career paths that require a graduate degree, as well. If your goal is to succeed as a doctor or a lawyer, a graduate degree is not just worthwhile… it’s required.

How Important Is the Title/Prestige?

Perception is reality. It’s quite possible that you can get a better graduate education at a state university than you can at an Ivy League school. If the people you want to work for generally have Ivy League degrees, though, you may want to emulate your future bosses and mentors.

However, if the purpose of pursuing further education is to broaden your knowledge, then all you need to worry about is finding the best education for the best price.

Will You Recover the Cost of Tuition?

If you’re working for a company that’s willing to pay for most or all of your education, go wild. There is no reason (aside from your time restrictions) to pass up a free advanced degree, and it can only help in the long run.

However, what if your employer restricts a tuition benefit to those who stay with the company for a certain amount of years? If they require you to reimburse the company for tuition if you leave too soon, consider whether the company will really provide the opportunities you’d be interested in with your new degree. Sometimes the best offers only come when you move from one company to another.

If you aren’t receiving any tuition assistance, and particularly if you have to take out loans, finances must be at least one of your considerations. Is it likely your income will increase with this new degree? How long will it take for your salary differential to cover the cost of tuition and interest on the loans? How long will you have to continue paying off those loans?

Also consider whether taking on a master’s degree will require you to take classes full-time and cut back or eliminate the time you spend working, as that could drastically reduce your income over that period of time. A break in income can have long-term detrimental effects to your wealth accumulation as well as future salaries.

Are There Other Options?

While the decision to pursue a graduate degree must consider finances, money isn’t the only factor. It’s dangerous to take on a program that would put your financial situation in jeopardy. Decide if the benefits you could receive from a graduate degree, financial and otherwise, outweigh the costs.

Choose the graduate program that is best for you and your goals. Perhaps you can reach your goals through continuing education outside of a master’s degree, too. There are many options for certifications that could still give you a leg up, without taking up the same time and money as a graduate degree.

Which Degrees Are Worth the Money?

Now, with all of that said, there are some advanced degrees that are typically well-worth the investment. Keep in mind that they are an investment, requiring you to put in some serious time and money (or at least take out years’ worth of loans) in order to obtain them. In the end, though, your career advancement and salary potential should easily make up the cost.

Let’s take a look at some of the master’s degrees that tend to be the most worthwhile.

1. Medical Degrees

If you want to be a doctor–from a psychiatrist to a podiatrist, anesthesiologist to allergist–you will absolutely need a graduate degree. Medical school isn’t your run-of-the-mill graduate degree, either, and has acceptance requirements such as a competitive score on the MCAT in order to attend.

While the average medical school graduate carries more than $200,000 in medical school student loan debt, their salary potential makes this degree a worthwhile investment.

2. Juris Doctorate

Want to practice law? Then you’ll need to go to graduate school to obtain your JD. This advanced degree often leaves graduating lawyers with student loan debt approaching $200,000 (and beyond), making this one career path that you should think long and hard about.

However, considering that the median starting salary for a freshly-graduated lawyer is about $135,000, it’s easy to see how this degree could be well worth your while. Plus, there are many opportunities for loan forgiveness in the legal field, making this graduate degree an even bigger bargain.

3. Software Engineer

If you dream of becoming a software engineer, you probably know that the field has serious potential for earnings. In order to get there, though, you will need an advanced degree.

The average educational cost for someone who has reached a senior software engineering role is approximately $176,000. However, the median base salary is also an impressive $155,000, with the potential to earn a lot more depending on where you live and the company for whom you work.

Those student loans don’t look quite as daunting when you could pay them back almost entirely with a single year’s salary. Tip: a good gauge for the cost-vs-value analysis is how small the ratio is when comparing education costs to entry-level salaries.

4. Finance

The world of finance is a broad one, but the preference for a graduate degree–in the form of an MBA–runs strong throughout. Whether you want to go into corporate finance, financial management, or anything in between, you should seriously consider getting a master’s degree. This, in addition to specialized certifications, can ensure that you make the most out of your career ladder.

The median salary for those in Corporate Finance who hold an MBA shows just how lucrative an advanced degree can be. After only 10 years’ experience, you can expect to make somewhere around $142,900 a year.

5. Business

Yet another broad field is the world of business. No matter your specialty, though–ranging from international business to “general business”–you can expect that getting your MBA will be lucrative. After all, MBA does stand for Master’s of Business Administration.

More than helping you boost your career, though, you may find than an MBA is all-but-required if you want to go into a business-related field. It will make you competitive among colleagues, and help you open doors that a bachelor’s degree may not.

6. Management

If you plan to go into restaurant or hospitality management, don’t bother with your master’s degree. In fact, this is traditionally one of the worst returns on investment when it comes to advanced education. However, if you plan to go into some form of business or hospital management, you should probably consider getting a graduate degree.

For example, someone going into a General and Strategic Management career would see an initial median salary of about $84,800. However, with a few years’ experience and an MBA under their belt, this median quickly jumps to $154,400. Get your advanced degree from a public university, and you’ll see an even greater ROI.

7. Information Technology (IT)

This field is one of the fasted-growing in our society today, and it’s easy to see why. IT specialists are responsible for any number of technology-based systems, which essentially run both our work and home lives these days.

If you’re in the general field of “Information Technology,” your average entry-level salary would be around $68,800–after earning a master’s, though, and gaining a few years’ experience, this median income would jump to $104,500. A Computer Information Systems specialist would earn a median income of $111,500 after getting their CIS master’s degree, compared to an entry-level median of $70,600. And someone with a Computer Science degree would find that their income likelihood jumps from $86,500 to $125,900 a year after getting a graduate degree.

Should I Get My Master’s?

Determining whether or not to spend the time and money required to earn a graduate degree depends on many personal factors. You need to determine just how necessary a master’s is in that position or, as in the hospitality management field mentioned above, whether it’s a waste of money. You should also look at specific job titles and even companies, to see how common graduate degrees are; you may find that it’s either imperative or not as useful as you originally thought.

If you do decide to go back to school for an advanced degree, try to make it as affordable as possible. See if your company offers tuition reimbursement, look into grants or scholarships, and consider online or public university classes. That way, you can maximize your degree’s ROI.

Going back to school is a very personal question. Be sure to research your field and educational expenses thoroughly before making your decision; after all, an education is just another type of investment.

Article comments

Dean Weller says:

No, The MBA is useless. Classes are just eight weeks where as the undergrad version is 16 weeks, meet more than one time per week, and go further in depth than most graduate programs. Its important to note this is not a BBA. The BBA degree lacks quantitative classes where as the BSBA requires business calculus, statistics and math based decision making theory classes. I was half way through my MBA and dropped to an MSDS – Master of Data Science. The classes were f-ing hard and I had to really lock down and study. Had to swallow my pride and re-take College Algebra, Trigonometry and calculus 1,2, and 3. I make 110k a year. Zero regrets.

Anonymous says:

I got my MBA from the University of San Francisco, which is nowhere near the top rankings for MBA programs. It has never opened any doors for me or made me eligible for anything except entry-level jobs. Fellow alumni have even shut me out of their networks because they consider my military background to be worthless. Prospective MBA students should only bother applying to the top MBA schools; othwerwise, forget the MBA and just keep working.

DanB says:

I agree. Unless you have a MBA from top rated school – the Degree is Worthless. However, if your company is paying for it as part of your benefit package and you enjoy the course work and challenge, then by all means – go for it. I got mine years ago from a no name state school. The piece of paper is practically worthless. I did like most of the classes as I majored in Econ/Finance, however, I paid for it myself (no company reimbursement) . If you really want to learn something today – it is on YouTube or somewhere else on the internet. There is a big difference between being educated and getting a so called education. If you feel you need a piece of paper, then sure, go pay a university to rip you off.

Anonymous says:

Is not any education good in some or any aspect? Man we have understand peoples reasons and situations for what schooling they have and get!

Anonymous says:

Getting more education is definitely very important… depending on what you’re looking for. I have 2 degrees which aren’t worth much in the work place and I have been encouraged to continue my education since these as BA’s don’t mean a great deal. However, between the 2 of them, it makes a great impression on an employer when I advise how I managed to get 2 separate degress in 4 years.

Anonymous says:

Hi- I loved reading this post & the comments! You raised a very important question and it relates not only to your MBA, but also other experiences. Return on investment is directly related to your reasons for obtaining the degree. When I got my MBA in Finance several years ago, it had been a personal goal for many years. There were so many benefits; knowledge, stimulation, relationships, opportunities, prestige, that I consider my MBA a total success. Whatever the dollar for dollar return, I don’t have a moments regret about the decision.

Anonymous says:

Hey Flexo,

For some reason I completely missed the University of Phoenix series you wrote about a few years ago. Did you ever finish part 6 and 7 or the series? It’s very fascinating.


Anonymous says:


I think it’s great you persued your MBA, even if it was online. It shows you have a passion for learning and self improvement. Also, you are under no illusion that an online degree has the same worth as a FT degree, which is good.

It’s about networking and pedigree frankly. Firms HAVE mentioned that so and so has the right pedigree, and hence are being recruiting.

Learning and utlizing what you learned is the end game!



Anonymous says:

“I would argue that an undergraduate degree is always worthwhile”

I will happily take the other side of that argument 🙂


Anonymous says:

I would like to get a graduate degree, but now that I have 2 kids it’s too hard.

People put off getting these sometimes, and life just happens! I’d like to advise your readers to get the advanced degree while they are young, because once kids come into the equation, they will find that the opportunity cost dramatically increases!

My place of employement even has a program to pay a most of the cost (depending on the college choosen), but still, at this time it’s not worth it for me.

After all, your kids are only kids once, and you only get 1 shot to raise them well…

Oh, I don’t think I would go into deep debt to get an advanced degree either, not today anyway…

Anonymous says:

Someday I would like to get my master’s degree but that’s a personal goal (and because I like school). I’m not rushing to spend the money on it because I don’t see it making any difference in my career.

Anonymous says:

I had a similiar experience with my online master’s classes in terms of undedicated students. I think that the value of a graduate degree lies more in what you take away from it (including contacts) than merely having the “M.S.” after your name. I ended up switching schools just to get away from people who used things like “:)” or “lol” in their classroom posts.

Anonymous says:

Did your parents pay for all of your college including your master’s degree as you indicated was their duty on another site?

Anonymous says:

Thanks for your interest (however irrelevant to this conversation). I was actually able to find scholarships for my master’s. So between my parents assistance and my own merit, I was able to emerge from higher education unscathed by debt.

Anonymous says:

Related to “prestige” is networking. One of the big advantages of an Ivy League or other top-caliber degree isn’t just being able to boast you went to Harvard, it’s the connections you make while you’re there and the job placement services they have. Smaller and less prestigious schools can’t match it.

I would love to hear more about whether an online degree actually has added anything to your income potential. I don’t doubt that you (and others in an online degree program) actually learned something, but did it make any difference when applying for a job, etc.?

Anonymous says:

I’m thinking about perusing a master degree sometime in the near future, just because I love to learn and want to be challenged more. The added benefits of having a higher education stop there for me.

Anonymous says:

I am considering getting a graduate degree some day for two reasons. 1) I enjoyed classes in college (for the most part.) 2) My wife has a master’s degree, and a marriage should be between equals, right? That said, there is no financial justification for such a degree in my field. So I might not get around to it until I am retired or nearly so.

A friend quit a mediocre job (working at a collection agency with her bachelor’s degree in economics or something like that) to pursue her MBA. She finished the MBA a couple years ago, but hasn’t been able to find a job since then.

Anonymous says:

I received my master’s in financial planning in December of 2008. Well, today I am not in that field. You could call it bad timing (market decline) or limiting myself to one area, but I just couldn’t find a job in the area.

In my current job working for the Department of the Treasury, the master’s degree qualified me for higher pay which was nice, but I don’t think it officially “paid” for my degree. Maybe it will pay for itself in the future but as of now, no.

Anonymous says:

As a person that works in higher education, I see a lot of value in extending your education beyond the undergraduate level. However, I think the value factor is not necessarily representative in your salary or career ambitions. I think the value is found in making you a better, well-rounded, educated person that successfully contributes to whatever project or opportunity crosses your path.

All that being said, I am still contemplating my own MBA but for now I would much rather spend my free time on personal projects and with the family. Sooner or later, my MBA aspirations will win out though.

Anonymous says:

Probably not worthless but worth less (than people expect).