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7 Ways a Master’s Degree Can Help You Get Ahead

Furthering your education carries a host of benefits—from deepening your knowledge in a field of study you’re passionate about, to greatly expanding your professional network and opportunities for personal and career growth. But is the value of a master’s degree worth the investment?

Overall, the numbers say yes. With an advanced degree, you could have:

  • A substantially higher salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), advanced degree holders in general earn a much higher annual salary than those with a bachelor’s degree alone. While bachelor’s degree holders make an average of $60,996 per year, the average professional with a master’s degree earns closer to $72,852 annually—a roughly 20 percent increase.
  • More job options: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations that typically require a master’s degree are projected to grow at a rate of 16.7 percent through 2026, compared to 7.4 percent projected growth rate for all other occupations.
  • Increased job satisfaction: Research has found that education can have a significant and positive effect on overall job satisfaction. Among individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 89 percent reported being moderately to very satisfied with their jobs. This correlation between education and contentedness continues across certain disciplines, as well: A study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, for instance, found that 88 percent of professionals with a terminal master’s degree in the humanities reported a high level of satisfaction in their jobs.

Alongside these data-based facts, there are several other ways a master’s degree can provide a great ROI for professionals. Here are seven additional benefits to consider if you are thinking about pursuing advanced education.


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7 Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree

1. You’ll expand your knowlege and skill set.

A master’s degree program is a great way to develop skills that complement the expertise you already have. If you were to complete an undergraduate degree in programming or design, for example, you might consider a master’s program that focuses on competencies like project management or leadership. Layering broader knowledge and practices like these on top of a more niche skill set can help professionals excel within their existing field, and open up an array of exciting career advancement opportunities down the line.

2. You’ll gain specialized expertise.

A master’s degree will allow you to develop a level of expertise in a specific field that isn’t available at the undergraduate level. In an industry like regulatory affairs, for example, you might start out with a degree in pharmacy or natural science, but could elevate your learning with a further exploration of how laws and product safety play into the marketplace.

In addition, many master’s degree programs allow students to choose a specialization or concentration within their already focused area of study. This approach lets them tailor their program to fit their specific interests and career aspirations.

For Example: A student enrolled in a master’s in project management program may pursue a concentration in program and portfolio management, and develop a skill set that is specifically suited to either aspect of work. Similarly, this student may declare a concentration in project management that can set them up to thrive in a specific industry, such as construction, IT, or business. No matter the approach, students who declare a specialization are often better prepared to assist with the needs of a niche sector of their industry come graduation.

3. You’ll demonstrate your ability to tackle complex problems. 

Holding a master’s degree proves to employers that you can move beyond technical knowledge and solve more complex problems, projects, research, synthesis, and analysis. It demonstrates your commitment to lifelong learning and the development of higher-level skills, which is an attractive quality in an employee.

Employers look for team members who they trust will continue to grow alongside the company or organization. Investing in your education is one indication to potential employers that you are a lifelong learner—a quality which also signals a desire to learn from your mistakes and face challenges hand-on when necessary.

4. You can gain real-world experience.

Choosing a university that values experiential learning inherently allows students to gain real-world experience while earning their degrees. At Northeastern University, for example,  experiential learning opportunities are incorporated into the curriculum in the form of in-class case studies, research, and even full-time co-op opportunities. 

This signature model combines academic theory with professional practice to ensure that graduates are prepared for the workforce upon graduation. By learning through hands-on experience, students are able to develop both the in-depth knowledge and practical skills that employers seek. 

5. You’ll grow your professional network.

Graduate school provides the perfect environment for students to build their professional networks—a vital practice considering 85 percent of all roles today are filled through networking. During this time, students are constantly exposed to new people who have the potential to make a lasting impact on their careers. Between passionate classmates, industry-leading professors, and a 230,000-plus alumni network, students at Northeastern are able to build positive relationships with contacts that can help them conquer every stage of their career. 

Digging In Deeper: During experiential learning, students work with one of the 3,000+ employer partners that make up Northeastern’s global network, and are subsequently given the rare chance to develop working relationships with established professionals in their industry. These contacts can have an incredibly positive impact on your career, as they can act as mentors, provide you with a recommendation or reference for a future job, make introductions to others within their network, and even help you land a role within their organization post-graduation.

6. You’ll have a competitive advantage.

Let’s face it: a college degree isn’t what it used to be. As Forbes puts it, the college degree is the new high school diploma. The number of advanced degree holders has risen substantially in the past couple of decades. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, more than 610,000 master’s degrees were conferred in 2007. Just ten years later, the number of conferred degrees reached nearly 805,000.

With a larger talent pool to choose from, employers are seeking out those candidates with advanced degrees, even in professions that haven’t historically required them. For example, a CareerBuilder study found that 33 percent of surveyed employers today are recruiting those who hold master’s degrees for positions that used to only require four-year degrees. 

7. You’ll earn more.

Though explored above, this key aspect of a graduate degree’s ROI is worth mentioning again: A master’s degree holder can expect to earn an average of 20 percent more than someone who has only earned their bachelor’s degree. This is often a vital component in a degree’s ROI, as students often invest a lot of time and money into it.

Remember: While advanced education in general often results in a salary boost, not all master’s degrees will impact your pay in the same way. Some might give you a deeper knowledge of an area of study that you love and a modest salary bump, while others offer skills that are flexible and transferable to multiple industries—such as project management or leadership—and provide a more lasting financial impact.

Overall, however, the financial impact of a master’s degree across industries is quite positive. A degree in the life sciences—such as biotechnology and informatics—can boost your salary by an average of 63 percent, while a degree in computer science can give you a raise of 31 percent. Even the arts—which, at 23 percent, have the lowest ROI for a master’s degree—can boost your salary enough to add hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings over a lifetime.

Choosing a Degree That Works For You

There are many factors to consider if you’re deciding whether a master’s degree is worth it, but, most importantly, you should work to find the program that best fits your needs

To prepare to make this decision, start by evaluating what factors are most important to you in a program, and make sure the ones you’re considering offer these features. If you know that you will be balancing work and school, for instance, an online degree or part-time program may be better suited to your needs than a more traditional one. Many of Northeastern’s graduate programs have been specifically designed to afford working professionals the flexibility they need to maintain this balance.

Additionally, the true value of a master’s degree comes down to more than just earning potential. The skills, professional relationships, and hands-on experience that you can gain with the right program can enrich your life and career in ways you never thought possible.

Find the degree program that will take your career to the next level. Explore Northeastern’s 200+ master’s programs today.


Value of Master's Degree


This article was originally published in July 2016. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.