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The value of a master’s degree

Patti Breckenridge

Patti Breckenridge

My last blog provided guidance on how to determine the value of a bachelor’s degree. Let’s go one step further this week and examine the value of a master’s degree.

One thing’s for sure. More people are pursuing master’s degrees than ever before. From 2000 to 2012, the annual number of master’s degrees that were awarded jumped 63 percent, according to federal data. The recession contributed to that surge. Many people who were out of work took that opportunity to further their education, hoping a master’s degree would increase their value in the employment marketplace.

Master’s degree holders earn more money, on average, than those with bachelor’s degrees – an additional $10,000 per year. The gains are even higher for those with master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM fields. The gains are lower for master’s degrees in “softer” fields like art, education and journalism.

Over a lifetime, master’s degree holders will earn an average of $400,000 more than those with bachelor’s degrees and $1.5 million more than those with only a high school diploma.

But as with bachelor’s degrees, some master’s degrees are not necessarily a good investment if you want to recoup the costs of your education. To help you calculate the ROI of a master’s degree, refer to this infographic and this article in US News & World Reports.

Here are other factors to consider:

  • Those who gain some work experience before going back to school for a master’s degree often land better jobs than those who go straight from undergraduate school into a master’s program.
  • Earning a master’s degree in a field in which you have no prior work experience doesn’t guarantee you a job in that field.
  • Not only do graduate degrees in some fields provide greater ROI than graduate degrees in other fields, but graduate degrees from some colleges and universities are more valuable than others. Be sure to check the accreditation of institutions and academic departments before committing to attend.

Improving job and income prospects, however, are not the only factors people use to determine whether to attend graduate school and what major to pursue. Many are motivated by a pure passion for learning. You can’t calculate the ROI on your love for a subject.

This is a lot to digest, but then determining how to spend several years of your life and thousands of dollars is an important decision. Hopefully, I’ve helped speed up your research!

6 Responses

  1. hezha.decker October 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Great article! I am graduating soon with my bachelor’s degree and have been debating whether or not I should get my master in Computer Information System right after. I think I might wait a while.

    • Patti Breckenridge
      Patti Breckenridge October 22, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Thank you for the nice words!

  2. backba07 March 28, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    Hello Patti,
    I am a full-time Deli Clerk in southern Miami region. At currently five months full-time when would the deadline to ROI be?

    • Marcy
      Marcy March 30, 2015 at 1:15 pm #


      This is Marcy – the new Manager of Talent Acquisition for Publix Super Markets – Patti retired. The next registration period begins 4/4/15 and ends 4/17/15. You must meet the experience and service requirement of full time for six months by the ROI cutoff date. So double check the date that you began in your full time position and then determine if you’ll have been in the role for six months by 4/17/15.

      I hope that helps,

  3. backba07 March 31, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    Hello Marcy,
    Unfortunately I will only have almost five months full-time at that time. Unless there are some exceptions I will have to wait to ROI then. When are the next test dates, six months from April?

    • Maura Satchell
      Maura Satchell April 1, 2015 at 8:44 am #

      Hi Brandon, this is Maura responding. To clarify for you, it is not the amount of months, but the amount of hours you’ve invested in your current role that matter at the time you ROI. You have probably reviewed this, but in case you haven’t, you can find the requirements on the orange ROI announcement poster at your workplace. The next test dates are April 4-17 and October 3-16. Best of luck to you!

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