Should I Get a Master’s Degree? The Complete 2023 Guide

Getting a master’s degree is a serious commitment. You need to go into a master’s program understanding the time, energy and financial resources you need to succeed. Balancing the short-term costs and demands of a master’s program with the long-term gains will help you determine if a masters degree is worth it. It’s a decision that shouldnt be taken lightly.

Use this guide as a gut-check to determine if you should pursue that master’s degree you’ve been thinking about.

So you’re considering getting a master’s degree? Maybe you’ve just finished your bachelor’s degree, or perhaps you’ve been in the workforce for a few years and are looking to advance your career. Whatever the reason, deciding if graduate school is the right move can be tough.

I get it – I’ve been there myself. After finishing my bachelor’s, I debated whether to go straight into a master’s program or take a break from academics. It was a big decision that required weighing the costs and benefits.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to decide if getting a master’s degree is truly worth it for you.

Here’s what we’ll cover

  • The pros and cons of getting a master’s degree
  • How much a master’s degree costs
  • If getting a master’s degree will increase your salary
  • What careers benefit most from a master’s degree
  • How long it takes to complete a master’s program
  • Whether you should get a master’s degree online or in-person
  • Tips for choosing the right master’s degree program

I’ll also share my own experience earning a master’s degree and provide lots of real-world examples along the way. My goal is to give you unbiased information to help make this big decision. Let’s dive in!

The Pros and Cons of Getting a Master’s Degree

Like most major life decisions, getting a master’s degree comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at the key pros and cons:


  • Career advancement: Many fields require a master’s degree for leadership roles or to practice independently. A master’s can help you switch careers or specialize in a particular area.

  • Higher salary potential On average, employees with a master’s degree earn over $1500 more per month compared to those with just a bachelor’s degree according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, this varies by field.

  • Personal growth: You’ll deepen your knowledge in a subject you’re passionate about and hone critical thinking and communication skills. It’s incredibly rewarding!

  • More job opportunities: A master’s degree makes you more competitive and opens doors to jobs that require an advanced degree.

  • Networking opportunities: You’ll build strong connections with professors, classmates, and alumni that can benefit your career for years to come.


  • It’s expensive: The total cost for a master’s degree ranges from $30,000 to over $120,000. Very few students receive grants or scholarships.

  • Significant time commitment: It takes 1-3 years to complete a full-time master’s program. This requires a major time investment.

  • No guarantee of job or salary boost: While a master’s degree can improve job prospects and salary potential, nothing is guaranteed. Success depends on your experience, skills, and field/role.

  • Taking a break from work: If you enroll full-time, you’ll need to leave your job which can pose challenges. Many students balance work and school.

  • Stress and pressure: Graduate school is demanding. You’ll need to juggle coursework, research, internships, and possibly a job. It’s a lot to manage!

As you weigh the pros and cons, think carefully about your career goals and motivations for graduate school. This will help you determine if getting a master’s degree is the best choice for you.

How Much Does a Master’s Degree Cost?

Let’s talk numbers. Tuition and fees vary greatly depending on the school, program, and whether it’s public or private.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost for a master’s degree in 2019-2020 was:

  • Public, in-state schools: $11,617 per year
  • Public, out-of-state schools: $26,804 per year
  • Private, nonprofit schools: $37,356 per year

However, total costs at private or top-ranked institutions often exceed $60,000 per year. Programs like business, medicine, and engineering are among the most expensive.

Bottom line – expect to spend anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000+ for your master’s education.

Here are some tips to reduce costs:

  • Attend an in-state public university
  • Apply for fellowships, grants, or assistantships
  • Consider an accelerated 1-year master’s program
  • Work full-time to pay as you go
  • Choose an affordable online master’s degree

My master’s in accounting cost $32,000 in total. I attended a public university and worked 30 hours per week to pay tuition and minimize loans. It was tight, but worth it!

Will a Master’s Degree Increase Your Salary?

In most fields, employees with a master’s degree earn more on average compared to those with just a bachelor’s degree. However, the increase depends on your area of study and industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here’s the average difference in median weekly earnings:

  • Business master’s degree: $1,836 vs. $1,317 (39% increase)
  • STEM master’s degree: $1,836 vs. $1,325 (39% increase)
  • Education master’s degree: $1,522 vs. $1,173 (30% increase)
  • Humanities/liberal arts master’s degree: $1,317 vs. $1,198 (10% increase)

Keep in mind that work experience, talent, company, and location also impact salary. A master’s degree may open up higher pay opportunities, but it’s not guaranteed.

My master’s degree helped me move from an entry-level accounting role at $48,000 to a financial analyst job at $65,000. It was the right move for my field and goals.

Which Careers Benefit Most From a Master’s Degree?

Certain fields see much higher returns from a master’s degree while others are more variable.

Here are some careers where a master’s degree is highly valued and strongly boosts earning potential:

  • MBA: $100,000+ median starting salary
  • Engineering: Electrical, systems, software, etc.
  • Computer Science: Reported salary boost of $12,000-20,000+
  • Economics: Average early career pay $60,000-85,000
  • Physics/Chemistry: Specialized research roles
  • Accounting: CPA license requirements
  • Healthcare: Nurse practitioner, physician assistant
  • Education: Administration and leadership roles
  • Social Work: Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)

However, many fields are more split regarding the value and pay boost of a master’s degree. Careful research is required to determine if it’s worth the investment for:

  • Arts and humanities: Music, literature, philosophy, etc.
  • Social sciences: Psychology, political science, sociology
  • Sciences: Biology, physics, earth sciences, etc.
  • Communications/Journalism

Bottom line – examine average salaries and job prospects for those with vs. without a master’s degree in your specific field. This will give you a clear sense of the potential return on investment.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?

Another factor to consider is the time commitment. Master’s programs vary in length:

  • 1 year: Accelerated programs for those focused solely on academics
  • 2 years: The standard full-time program length
  • 3+ years: Allows for part-time study while working

I would budget 2-3 years if attending full-time. This gives flexibility in case you need or want to work part-time.

Here are tips to accelerate your time to completion:

  • Take summer courses to supplement fall and spring semesters
  • Prioritize school over outside jobs or activities
  • Choose a 1-year condensed program
  • Petition to overload on credit hours if permitted
  • Bring in credits from prior graduate certificate programs
  • Start research for your thesis early

The right timeline depends on your financial situation and career goals. For many students, balancing school with professional work is optimal.

Should You Get an Online Master’s Degree?

Online master’s degrees offer incredible flexibility and affordability.

Here are the key benefits of online vs. in-person master’s programs:

Online Master’s Programs In-Person Master’s Programs
Cost savings from no room/board expenses Access to campus facilities like labs, equipment
Maintain work schedule and income Immersive campus experience
Learn on your schedule and from anywhere In-person events, collaborations, and networking
Self-paced courses Hands-on research opportunities
Less travel time and expenses Face-to-face office hours with professors

There are exceptional online programs available across fields like business, computer science, engineering, and more. Many even offer opportunities to connect in-person when beneficial.

An online program was the perfect fit for me. I could keep working my full-time job while taking classes flexibly in the evenings. The cost savings were also a major benefit.


should i get a master's degree

What’s the Value of a Master’s Degree Today?

The value of a master’s degree shouldn’t be measured solely in monetary terms. However, for most professionals, increasing earning potential is one of the primary reasons for pursuing a master’s degree. It’s proven there is a correlation between level of education and earnings.

A master’s degree can increase your weekly earning potential by nearly 20% compared to a bachelor’s degree. Over the course of a year that equates to $12,948 in additional earnings when comparing median earnings of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Even at an average cost of $30,000 to $40,000 (according to Peterson’s, a leading educational services company), a master’s degree can pay for itself in approximately 2–3 years if you see income increases in line with the median earnings for all professionals. That’s also without considering financial aid like scholarships or employer tuition reimbursement programs.

Over the course of your career, the investment in your education can certainly pay off. But, as we said, salary is only one consideration when determining if you should get a master’s degree.

Pros: 5 Popular Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree

Outside of monetary gains, there are many other positive aspects of earning your master’s degree. A master’s degree provides you with the tools to strategically solve business challenges at the highest levels in an organization.

Here are five of the top benefits that should motivate you to get your master’s degree:

  • Prepare for a new career field. Whether you’re seeking new challenges or want to increase job stability, a master’s degree is a great way to prove expertise to a new employer if you’re light on practical experience in your new field.
  • Stand out for advancement opportunities. In some industries, you hit a ceiling on advancement if you don’t get a master’s degree. If you want to get ahead at your current company, convince them of the value you’ll bring with advanced education. If you’re ready to move on, a master’s degree can increase your upward mobility.
  • Gain specialized knowledge or broaden your skill set. Broadly, there are two types of master’s degrees—generalist and specialist. A generalist degree, like an MBA, can prepare you to lead cross-functional teams at the management and executive level. On the other hand, a specialized master’s degree can deepen your skill set and expertise, making you a subject matter expert.
  • Maintain cutting-edge industry skills and learn new technology. Businesses are changing faster than ever. A master’s degree can help you stay ahead of the learning curve on new technology and upgrade your data-driven decision making skills.
  • Expand your strategic and leadership capabilities. A master’s degree also prepares you with crucial soft skills like critical thinking, problem solving and communication. These skills will help you in developing comprehensive business solutions (and persuading their adoption).

While the benefits of a master’s program are compelling, you also need to go into your program with your eyes wide open to challenges you may face. It will help you be better prepared to navigate and persevere through difficulties.

Should You Get a Master’s Degree? | Kathleen Jasper

Should I get a master’s degree?

Whether you’ve already graduated or are about to graduate from college, if you’re asking yourself, “Should I get a master’s degree?” it’s time to dig deep and find the answer. A master’s degree can be useful for particular careers—but it’s also expensive and time-consuming.

Is a Master’s Degree worth it?

Try to pay as little as you can for a master’s degree. Often the cost simply isn’t worth it, especially if you’re planning to get an academic degree and not a professional degree (which is typically more likely to ensure you a steady career). Remember that master’s programs in the US range significantly in how much they cost.

What should I consider before choosing a master’s degree program?

Before you choose a master’s degree program, consider what you studied to earn your bachelor’s degree. If you wish to continue learning in the same field, your master’s degree can become an extension of your undergraduate education. If you’re ready to pursue new opportunities, you can start a master’s in a new field.

Should you pay for a master’s degree?

Some people are perfectly content to pay for part or even all of their master’s degrees, especially if the degree is essentially guaranteed to help with their careers. Others, however, are adamantly against taking out loans and forking out thousands of dollars for a degree that might not actually help their careers or raise their earning potential.

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