The popularity of baccalaureate degrees has steadily increased in the past 15 years, a trend seen for all ethnic and racial groups. In 2020, about 35% of Americans 25 years old and above earned bachelor’s degrees, a significant increase from the 7.7% rate in 1960.
Such popularity isn’t surprising considering the numerous benefits of a bachelor’s degree in the workplace. Nearly everything that matters in the American Dream becomes possible with a bachelor’s degree – better career advancement opportunities, compensation package, and access to services, among others.
With these benefits, you’re likely to ask, “Why go to graduate school anyway?” Your undergraduate education has given you the foundational knowledge in your field of choice and brought numerous benefits into your life already.
Getting into graduate school means considerable investment of your time, energy and money, too. With your current personal and professional responsibilities, pursuing a graduate degree may well be the straw that broke the camel’s back!
But it cannot also be denied that you’re seeing many individuals pursue graduate studies and you’re curious. The main attraction appears to be the promise of equal opportunity and social mobility that comes with a graduate degree. The decentralized and rigorous curriculum is also part of the attraction, particularly among high-achieving individuals.
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Then again, the expensive cost of attendance, extensive demands on time and energy, and the disruption of a “normal life” aren’t deterrents for graduate students. The numbers are proof of it – graduate school applications increased by 2.5% on average every year during the 2010-2020 period. During the Fall 2020 term, applications increase by 7.3% from the previous year.
There’s a good reason for it, too – between education and experience, employers are more likely to favor educational attainment in their hiring decisions. Nowadays, the bachelor’s degree has its merits but it’s best to earn a master’s degree to get the plum positions. There are also numerous jobs where a master’s degree is required to even be considered for an interview.
Despite these challenges, higher education is still considered an essential element to success in the personal and professional spheres of life, if not the key to it.
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Aside from the big paycheck that the completion of graduate study promises, graduate students say it’s about passion. Some see graduate studies as the most practical path towards securing a place in their career. While others see higher education as leverage, especially for those looking for a career change, your love for learning and research, cultural motivation, and tradition play a key role in making this decision.
It is easy to understand why. Regardless of your motivation, going to graduate school is never a bad idea. You will gain advanced learning to a degree of your choosing, and become an expert in that field. You can also get paid while still in school.
Here are more reasons to consider graduate study:
You will Become an Expert
Compared to an undergraduate degree, graduate education provides you with a more in-depth understanding of your chosen specialty. Graduate students gain advanced learning in a specialized field. In most graduate schools, students are free to choose a sub-discipline – giving you a glimpse of multiple disciplines.
Choosing a specialization is a challenge on its own, too, particularly for fields with a wide range of specializations. Foremost of these specializations are education, engineering and health sciences including nursing and medicine. There’s also the fact that graduate specializations can either be sub-specializations of major fields of study or interdisciplinary tracks with different departments contributing to the curriculum.
How then to make the right choice in a graduate specialization? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Consider your specific personal interests and professional goals. When these aspects are aligned with the curriculum, learning objectives and student outcomes of a graduate program, it may well be your best fit.
- Take an inventory of your technical skill set, usually gained through formal education, internships and extracurricular activities. Look for graduate programs that will take your technical skill sets to the next level and, thus, make your resume more attractive.
- Look at the career advancement opportunities or career path that you want to take advantage of or follow, respectively. Your graduate degree should ideally open the doors to these opportunities! For example, if you’re considering a master’s degree in education, your specialization will be partly influenced by your choice between an educator or an administrator role.
Furthermore, going to graduate school will provide you with opportunities to engage in a more hands-on learning experience, as well as experiential training. This is especially true in research-oriented programs. You will also hone your problem-solving, analytical, writing, intrapersonal, and mathematical skills, and expand your knowledge of technology.
Because you are a grad student, you will be expected to be a leader in innovation, taking the pilot seat in research and development. And as trained leaders in your industry, you are presumed to carry out the role of a leader. As the workforce evolves, earning a graduate degree is a manifestation of your commitment to gaining the expertise that your industry needs.
With an advanced degree, you are treated with respect and credibility. Becoming an expert through graduate studies is the most efficient, albeit, not the most economical way to success.
Increase Your Earning Potential
A graduate degree is often synonymous with higher earning potential, which is true. We know for a fact that those who have completed graduate school are generally paid more than those who only have an undergraduate diploma, more so, a high school degree.
A graduate degree is an investment towards a stable financial future. According to the BLS, graduate education truly pays! In 2020, individuals with doctorate degrees enjoyed the highest median weekly wages at $1,885 while those with master’s degrees earned $1,545 per week. These cohorts were also less likely to be unemployed aside from having the lowest unemployment rate.
The bottom line: Graduate degrees are a good investment in your career advancement and employment prospects.
There are also graduate degrees that are more sought after by employers and, thus, provide higher return on investment. Among the highest-paying master’s degrees is a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) because of the broad array of concentrations within the field. Also, people who have earned an MBA from the country’s top programs see a significant 60 to 150% increase in their salary while a master’s degree will give you an average of 25% increase in your future earnings.
But the benefits extend beyond the monetary aspect, too! In a Lumina Foundation study, a more educated workforce means higher rate of return not just for the individuals and industries but also for society. The return comes in a wide range of forms, too, from higher tax revenues and greater community involvement and a stronger democracy.
People with higher education are more engaged citizens whose robust civic engagement includes higher voter turnout and community volunteerism. Their empathy, intellectual curiosity and communication skills are among their drivers toward civic engagement.
There’s also a significant degree of correlation between higher education and better overall health. Apparently, people have more awareness, willingness and resources to maintain good health with at least a college degree.
Think of it as a graduate degree not only bringing in the quantity in dollars but also the quality of life that makes life worth living!
Land Top Positions
It is believed that a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s. In a competitive workforce environment, particularly in the United States, some positions require a master’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professions in community and social service, legal, education, and medical sectors typically require a graduate education for an entry-level position. Most of the jobs in the field require an internship or other supervised training experience. In the medical field, employers prefer those who have completed clinical training on top of a graduate degree.
A graduate degree reflects your expertise and credibility, which gives you more freedom to choose your career projection. Now that you are an expert, your specialized knowledge increases your proficiency in the discipline. This will provide you with a competitive advantage, especially now that employers are raising their entry-level academic requirements.
Among the well-paying positions – annual salaries are $100,000 and above – where a master’s degree is the minimum educational achievement are the following:
- General managers and operations managers acquired their skills through a combination of formal education and work experience. As the key decision-makers in their organizations, their management expertise are ever-evolving, too. Many have MBAs from prestigious universities, too.
- Financial managers usually have a master’s degree in economics, finance or accounting, perhaps an MBA. The advanced degree is valuable considering the ever-evolving complexities of the modern finance industry.
- Aerospace engineers engaged in research and development or in the academe as professors typically must have a master’s or a doctorate degree. The more demanding challenges associated with these positions require advanced education.
- Engineering or architectural managers usually have graduate degrees, too, due to the management and technical demands of their jobs. Work experience may be insufficient to enable them to perform their jobs well.
- Computer and information research scientists put their sophisticated skills into creating new technologies and innovating on existing ones. The fast obsolescence in the technology industry demands that its practitioners have a strong theoretical and practical foundation, usually from a combination of advanced formal education and work experience.
There is No Deadline
You are free to go to graduate school whenever you decide to. Graduate school is open for anyone who has the drive to pursue higher education; you can enroll in a master’s or doctorate at any age or stage of your life. The majority of graduate students are fresh college graduates. They go to graduate school directly after finishing their undergraduate degree. However, most graduate programs require applicants to have at least a few years of work experience.
To qualify for a top-tier graduate school, you must have an impressive resumé. One way of projecting competence is to approach your weaknesses with the will to correct them. For example, even if you have a competitive GPA, you need to solidify your application with a rock-solid essay. Complacency has no place in your graduate school application.
You should go to graduate school when you are ready. After all, the purpose of graduate studies is to learn new knowledge and skills that you can use in your professional life.
How will you know when you’re ready for the rigors of graduate school?
- You have a clear idea of your area of study including your specialization, if any, perhaps even a general idea of your dissertation topic. You also have a keen interest in your field of study, a must so you don’t become bored by discussing it ad infinitum or overwhelmed by its scope.
- You are financially prepared, preferably with the financial resources to sustain your education for the entirety of the program. While most graduate programs offer a wide range of financial aid options, you must be prepared for incidental expenses and emergencies. You should ideally have a list of financial aid options including their requirements, coverage and deadlines, perhaps even consulted with the university’s financial aid officers.
- You have healthy coping mechanisms when it comes to stress and anxiety, perhaps even the blues. You will likely experience impostor syndrome, scramble to meet tight deadlines, and adopt unhealthy lifestyle habits. The high attrition rate in graduate school is due to these myriad of challenges, and only the fittest in mind and body will survive.
- You have realistic expectations about your career prospects after earning your graduate degree. You’re confident that it will be a useful credential in your career advancement or change. You’ve done your research, too, and the 10-year prospects are good.
- You have a solid post-graduation plan based on your research as well as your unique set of education, work experiences and skills.
While a graduate degree brings pride, prestige and position, the road toward earning it isn’t easy! You must be ready physically and mentally for its rigors, even ask for support from family and friends during your journey.
Develop New Skills
Students who go to graduate school develop new skills that will set them up for life. The most impressive are transferable skills. These are talents and abilities which you can apply to most, if not all, jobs and industries. In a consumer-facing industry, customer service, for example, you must be familiar with the intricacies of the technology and software you use every day.
Among the many skills you get to develop while in graduate school are leadership, time management, analytical, budgeting, interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills. These are all transferable skills that can be easily translated into every possible employment setting.
Practical leadership skills will enable you to engage with your colleagues, set goals within the team, and delegate responsibilities. This skill is vital in building a confident and efficient team. Moreover, while industries undergo data migration, moving towards digitalization, data analysts have become in high demand.
Follow Your Passion
Before the societal pressure of securing a high-paying job while pursuing job security, graduate studies are pursued by passionate academics. Fascination and passion are the two driving forces why people choose to go towards a specialized area of study. Exploring a subject in graduate school means participating in academic discourse while surrounded by a community of esteemed scholars. You will be in the company of experts – faculty mentors, advisers, and colleagues – towards publishing scholarly research.
If you ever feel stuck doing the same job every day, exploring higher education may bring your passion back. Landing the wrong job may be due to weak career guidance, financial problems, or even lack of self-awareness. All these may lead to low levels of engagement, productivity, stress, alienation – leading to burnout. Pursuing your passion for learning through graduate studies may be the best decision you will ever make.
But you have to ensure that your studies align with your personal values! This is important because their alignment results in improved work relationships including camaraderie and cooperation; increased work commitment and productivity; and greater success in your personal and professional lives.
You can start aligning your graduate studies with your values by determining who you are including your personal and professional aspirations. If you believe that there’s a gap, then you may want to reconsider your reasons for getting a particular graduate degree!
In conclusion, a graduate degree is a remarkable achievement that not everyone gets to complete. There may be no exact formula to quantify the importance of education, but receiving a master’s or doctorate will give you a greater sense of personal accomplishment. It is synonymous with added value and credibility.