When was the last time you took a smart risk on an investment? Maybe you dabbled in stock trading on Robinhood, purchased a car, or started investing more in your health by buying (and using) a gym membership.
Whatever your investment, chances are you probably weighed the pros and cons first.
Grad school is no different. Earning a master’s or doctoral degree is an investment in your future, plain and simple. When you choose to earn a graduate degree, you’re placing value in your professional, personal, educational, and financial wellbeing.
But, you may be wondering: What are the benefits of a master’s degree? Why is a master’s degree important? And what are some of the pros and cons of going to grad school?
Let’s look at some answers to these important questions, so you can make an informed choice about your investment in grad school.
6 Benefits of a Master’s Degree
There are countless advantages to earning a master’s degree, however, here we are discussing six common benefits you may experience. Keep in mind that the return on your investment in grad school depends on several factors including your professional field, previous work experience, and goals for your future.
We cover the full range of benefits and factors to consider, and provide you with insider advice and a quiz to help you determine if grad school is right for you, in our free resource: Is Getting a Graduate Degree Worth It?
Let’s get started!
You’ll Increase your earning potential.
One of the most common questions we hear from prospective graduate students is: Will a graduate degree help me earn more money? There are a lot of factors to consider, but generally, the short answer is yes!
In 2017 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) analyzed salary and education information and found several important correlations. In short, employees with the highest levels of education experience the greatest salaries and highest levels of job security.
The study showed that higher median incomes correlate with greater educational attainment. Consider the earnings advantage a graduate degree delivers. Compared to a bachelor’s degree holder who earned just under $61,000 per year, those holding advanced degrees enjoy far greater earnings. These figures show that the top three degree holders make $90,636, $95,472, and $72,852, respectively. Actual earnings will surpass those figures due to salary increases over time, promotional increases, and inflation.
A 40-year career easily takes all three advanced degree holders well into the $3 million lifetime earnings range, compared to just $2.4 million for bachelor degree holders.
You’ll experience increased job security.
The pandemic has shown all of us the value of job security when weighed in the balance of a career decision. The great news for graduate degree holders is — employees with the highest levels of education also experience the greatest job security.
A 2019 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment (prior to the pandemic) among master’s degree holders was just two percent, about half the overall rate. And, for those with a professional or doctoral degree, the unemployment rate was even lower (1.6 and 1.1 percent respectively).
Organizations tend to “elevate” those with a graduate degree because they bring expertise and knowledge that benefits the organization. That leads to increased job security, a scarce commodity in today’s fast-paced world that no longer rewards people with decades-long careers as thanks for their loyalty to the company. In today’s professional world, we are all entrepreneurs taking charge of our futures. A graduate degree is a proven way to take charge.
You’ll broaden your professional network.
How will you find your next job or promotion? Who would you turn to if you need professional advice? Where can you go for professional brainstorming or to make connections that advance your company’s goals?
The answer to all of the above is — your professional network.
Graduate programs connect students with leaders and new opportunities in the field. These connections can include faculty members, industry leaders, professional organizations, businesses, conferences, exhibitions, events, and more. Meeting new people, exchanging ideas, and listening to presentations can help you build a network of associates who may lead you to a future career or leadership role. Equally important, classmates can become members of your network — opening even more opportunities.
With a graduate degree, your network of friends and colleagues expands to include those who can help you get invitations to give talks, author articles, or serve on esteemed panels. An advanced degree gives you an edge that will help you connect with others so you can grow in unexpected ways.
When done properly, networking can become an important career accelerator. As a grad student, for instance, networking with your professors and other thought-leaders can bring you valuable connections. In the workforce, networking can build strong, long-term relationships that help you advance in your career.
You can set yourself up for a career change.
If you’re unsatisfied (or unhappy) in your current career or professional field, and want to make a change, a graduate program can be the jumpstart you need to make this transition.
In addition to preparing you for the challenges you will face in your new career, earning a graduate degree opens you to experiences that would otherwise be out of reach. A graduate degree can help you break into an entirely new field, propel you into leadership roles, or provide you with the competitive hiring edge you need to secure your next job.
We developed an entire resource for career changers that covers everything you need to know from signs that you’re ready for a career change to a step-by-step process to beginning a new career. Access the free guide — A Guide to Changing Your Career (And How a Graduate Degree from Sacred Heart Can Help)
You’ll be in line for career advancement opportunities.
Alright, but say you’re already in the right line of work, maybe even working for the right company. Will a graduate degree help you to advance your career or qualify you for promotions? It most certainly can.
Leadership skills are crucial for anyone planning to advance his or her career. Hiring managers look for leadership skills, whether they’re called for in your new career field or not because effective leaders are often in short supply. Graduate programs often give you the opportunity to cultivate these skills through managing groups, delegating responsibility to others, teaching or instructing others, managing conflict, meeting deadlines, and initiating change.
At Sacred Heart, our graduate programs encourage students to step out of their comfort zones and take on roles that help them grow as an individual and a leader.
For example, many of the graduate programs at Sacred Heart, such as the Master of Public Health, offer Applied Practice Experiences where students take the lead researching, designing, and implementing a program that addresses a need within the community and builds their leadership skills. The combination of fine-tuned leadership skills and a graduate degree is the driving force behind long-term success and career advancement.
You’ll hone your advanced and specialized skills.
Those who are already in the workforce sometimes find that their years-old bachelor’s degree, the curriculum, and the material they learned are outdated. A graduate degree means you have the opportunity to upgrade knowledge and skills, catch up with advancements in the field, and learn from faculty and other leaders. Your program will also connect you to the latest, up-to-date methods, tools, and technologies in your respective field.
The graduate programs at Sacred Heart concentrate on building advanced knowledge through a combination of online and in-classroom learning and hands-on experience in the field. The majority of our graduate programs offer experiential learning components for the practical application of classroom knowledge.
For example, students enrolled in the MS in Exercise & Sport Science work and learn at Sacred Heart’s Human Performance Lab, which uses the latest gold-standard technology for baseline fitness testing, preliminary diagnostic screening, and exercise prescription. Working with this cutting-edge technology gives students the hands-on experience they need to join the workforce.
Pro-tip: To learn more about all of our state-of-the-art facilities, check out the 6 Hidden Gems within SHU’s Graduate Programs!
2 Factors to Consider When Beginning a Graduate Program
While there are many benefits to earning a master’s or advanced degree, there are a couple of factors to consider when weighing the balance of pros and cons. However, by considering these factors upfront, you can make a well-informed plan that will keep you on track to accomplish your goals.
Graduate degrees do take 1-2 years (or more) to complete.
Depending on the program and number of credit hours, graduate degrees can typically be completed in 1-2 years (or more for advanced degrees in healthcare or medicine, like a Master in Physician Assistant Studies or Doctor of Physical Therapy).
Other factors that will influence your degree timeline are: whether you are a full or part-time student, whether you choose to work while completing your degree, and any delays you encounter due to taking time off, pausing for internships, or adding additional coursework to your program.
If you’re considering a graduate degree, look ahead to the next 1-2 years of your life and think about how you’ll incorporate a graduate program into your day-to-day. Do you have any big life changes coming up (significant others, kids, moving, career shifts, etc…)? Will you continue to work during your program? How many courses can you handle per semester?
Answer these questions and talk through your plan of action with a trusted friend or family member. With a solid plan, the time required to earn a master’s degree may not present a challenge at all!
Pro-tip: We developed a guide for grad students who plan to work during their degree. Don’t miss these helpful tips, advice, and stories from real SHU students who’ve made it work!
Graduate programs are an investment of money (but don’t worry, you’re on track for a return on your investment).
Yes, graduate programs do require an investment of money upfront. But, the good news is that after earning your degree, you’ll be in a position to earn more in your career — making your financial investment a smart move.
Across most degree fields, those with bachelor’s degrees earn far less than those who have completed their master’s degree. Weekly earnings increase from $1,248 ($64,896 annually) for bachelor’s degree holders to $1,497 weekly ($77,844 annually) for those with a master’s degree — a difference of $12,948.
Similarly, those with a professional degree earn an average of $1,861 per week ($96,772 annually) and doctoral degree holders earn $1,883 per week ($97,916 annually).
It may take a few years to break even on your investment in grad school, but long term, you’ll be poised to earn significantly more over your lifetime.
Take the first step toward a master's today!
Wherever you are in your journey toward a graduate degree, the admissions professionals at Sacred Heart are here to help! If you are just starting out and want to learn more about graduate school in general, explore our resource: Pursuing a Graduate Degree from Start to Finish!
Or, if you're ready to select a graduate program, but need some help deciding, we have a resource for that too! Access: The Ultimate Guide to Grad Programs at Sacred Heart University.