Master’s degrees provide graduates with a level of expertise within their respective fields of study that bachelor’s and associate’s level programs do not. For example, all master’s-level program require applicants to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, often preferring students to have internship or work experience. The higher requirements provides employers with confidence that master’s degree holders have had adequate training for the positions they are applying for.
Today, popularity of master’s degrees is increasing due to the excess of bachelor’s degree holders competing for a fixed number of jobs and the lack of alternatives for many graduates in today’s economy. Not only has the dismal economic situation shifted students towards pursuing master’s degrees, but it has also changed the distribution of majors among master’s degree holders. An overview of master’s degree holders conducted by CBS Money Watch in 2010 found that the Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) continues to be the most popular degree program for both men and women. Other popular programs for men included engineering, education, and computer science, while women preferred to major in fields such as education, social work, and nursing.
Although a master’s degree does offer improved employment opportunities across the board, some degrees provide higher earning opportunities than others. According to Forbes, compensation varies tremendously over the 30 concentrations the publication looked at. For example, a mathematics master’s degree holder can make $157,000 annually, while a high school teacher with a master’s degree will only make $57,800.
Having said that, balancing the financial and emotional benefits of a master’s degree is one of the most important aspects of completing an overall rewarding master’s degree. The same Forbes article points out that master’s degrees in education or social work continue to rank towards the bottom of financial returns on educational investments, so it will be worth considering if your interests in the subjects are worth the increasing costs out of the respective master’s programs. Another article found in the Chronicle for Higher Education points out the lack of marketable skills graduate students in the humanities have to be employed in today’s economy. Despite “waiting out” the economic recession, students inadvertently shelter themselves from the rigors of the global economy today and will be disappointed with their employment opportunities upon graduation.
Luckily, there remains several ways for students to combat the tough job market today. One of the most important preparations you can make is to complete a degree which provides you with marketable skills. This aspect may be easier for accounting, computer science, and engineering master’s degree holders, whose programs are geared towards teaching its students specific skills used in their fields of work.
Social science students, on the other time, will have a harder time in developing marketable skills. The social sciences, however, do offer several opportunities for students to develop hard skills used in today’s job market. For example, most master’s programs in economics and sociology require students to learn at least intermediate-level statistics in order to understand and produce effective research papers. Furthermore, the field of economics today heavily emphasizes the use of econometrics to produce and analyze time-series data, quantifying data which used to be unmeasurable.
Finally, students in the humanities (such as English and social work majors) will also have a harder time developing hard skills. For students in the humanities, adapting their skills to industry-standard tools will be the most effective way of staying relevant in today’s job market. For example, an English major can use his/her mastery of the English language to write marketing material for a wide range of organizations. Virtually all companies today require copywriters and/or technical writers to communicate with their consumers and produce marketing materials for investors, providing English majors with the opportunities to hold reputable positions in respected companies.
Online master’s programs have become increasingly popular given the efficiencies that Internet services bring to students and universities. A blog entry found on USNews by a professional considering attending an online master’s program provides a good overview of basic costs and benefits of completing an online master’s degree.
If an outright online master’s degree is a daunting task for you, consider one of the many quasi-online programs available to students today. For example, Dartmouth’s new healthcare delivery program pioneered the combination of nationally-recognized programs with online curriculums, with other programs following suit. As an elite college, Dartmouth has the financial resources to offer a recognized master’s degree to students not living close to the Hanover, N.H. campus.