Is a Masters Degree Worth It? [2024 Ultimate Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on April 19, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
Ready to start your journey?
Is a masters degree worth it? To help you answer that question, we’re comparing the financial cost, the investment in time, and your future job prospects.

If you’re already working or about to finish your undergrad, you may be wondering, “Is a masters degree worth it?” To help you answer that question, we’re comparing the financial cost, the investment in time, and your future job prospects.

Is a Masters Degree Worth It

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, master’s degree holders earn around $240 more per week than bachelor’s degree holders, and the unemployment rate is also considerably less.

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How Much Does a Master’s Degree Cost?

How Much Does a Master's Degree Cost?

The cost of a master’s degree can be anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000. The most common industry estimates are $30,000- 40,000.

Why is there such a big range when it comes to the price of graduate school? Simply put, there are many different factors that can influence tuition, so you might have an entirely different experience from your classmates even if you’re all seeking the same degree.

The biggest influence on your budget is your choice of schools.

Top-rated universities like Harvard and Stanford are typically going to be more expensive than their peers. For comparison’s sake, an MBA at Harvard costs around $73,440 while an MBA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst costs $35,100. They’re in the same state, and they offer students the same degree, but their tuition is quite different.

Speaking of tuition, there are several things that may impact your cost per credit. One of them is residency: Out-of-state students might pay twice as much as in-state. Another potential factor is your course load. Some schools charge flat fees for credits based on whether you’re a full-time or part-time student.

How quickly can you earn your degree? That may affect your budget. If you’re sailing through a dual bachelor’s/master’s program in five years, you’ll likely pay less than a student who is in school for six or seven years.

There are other fees to consider as well. For example, if you’re seeking a medical or science-related degree, there might be lab costs. If you’re getting a master’s degree in education, you might have to pay for special licensing exams before you’re actually qualified to work in your state.

The last expense to think about is whether you plan on earning your degree online or in person.

Online degree programs tend to be cheaper than classroom-based ones, but they don’t always offer the same experiences. They also require you to be more self-motivated since you set your own schedule.

Is a Masters Degree Worth It in Terms of Time?

master's degree student studying in university library

It may take anywhere from 1-3 years to earn a master’s degree. The traditional path typically takes around two years, but various factors may squeeze it into one year, such as taking a one year masters program, or stretch it into three years.

Programs have come a long way. There used to be a lot more rigidity in terms of when and where you earned your credits, but today, you’ll have plenty of options for fitting a master’s degree into your schedule:

  • Dual degree programs allow you to complete your bachelor’s and master’s at the same time.
  • Accelerated programs often let you cram your credits into a single calendar year.
  • Traditional programs spread your credits over several semesters on a two or three-year schedule.
  • Part-time or online programs may let you take classes at your leisure.

A master’s program usually requires between 30 and 60 credits, so you may estimate your own schedule by determining how many credits you’ll need and how many you can comfortably earn in a semester.

For example, a master’s in school administration at the California University of Pennsylvania only requires 30 credits. You may fit those into two fully-loaded, 15-credit semesters, or you could try a more sedate schedule with two 12-credit semesters and a summer semester at the end.

If you want to obtain a master’s in library and information science at the University of Washington, their online program requires 64 quarter credits, so its standard track is six semesters spread over three years. The program is aimed more at part-time students rather than ones who want to speed through a degree program.

If you’re eager to get your degree as quickly as possible, New York University offers several dual degree programs where you may work on your bachelor’s and master’s at the same time. You may finish the entire program in five years instead of six or seven. It works by allowing you to complete a certain number of graduate credits even as an undergraduate.

Another option is enrolling in a master’s program that doesn’t require GRE such as the no GRE master’s in Texas.

The bottom line: Don’t let your schedule be a prohibitive factor in going back to school and getting your master’s degree.

How long it takes to get a master’s degree is ultimately up to you. But remember that you’ll have plenty of options for making it work, and it’s definitely worth the extra 1-3 years of schooling in exchange for a lifetime of increased earning potential.

Is It Easier to Get a Job with a Master’s Degree?

master's degree graduate having an interview in an office

Having a master’s degree may be very good for your job prospects. In fact, there are some jobs that outright require them.

If you’re looking for work as a statistician, political scientist, biomedical engineer, or speech-language pathologist, a master’s degree is often expected. It might be difficult to get a callback without having a master’s degree on your resume.

There are also careers where a master’s degree may open more doors for you. For example, you may become a Registered Nurse (RN) with a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree is required if you want to move up the ladder to Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

You may get an entry-level economics job with a bachelor’s, but if you want to become a full-fledged economist with a government job, you’ll often need a master’s to qualify.

Business fields are another area where a master’s degree might really make a difference. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a common requirement for leadership positions in business, finance, marketing, and human resources.

There are also Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) business degrees that you may obtain for jobs in healthcare or public policy.

Long story short, you should do your research about master’s degrees in your particular field. Are they required? Will they give you a career boost? Which ones will be the best match for your specific line of work?

Does a Master’s Degree Make You More Money?

highest-paying careers and their annual salaries chart

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for master’s degree holders is $1,545. This is higher than both bachelor’s degree holders ($1,305) and associate degree holders ($938).

Another thing worth considering is unemployment rate. People with master’s degrees have a 4.1% unemployment rate compared to those with bachelor’s degrees (5.5%) and associate degrees (7.1%).

If you’re wondering which jobs are the most lucrative for people who hold a master’s degree, here are a few of the highest-paying careers and their annual median salaries:

Careers Annual Median Salary
Nurse Anesthetist $183,580
Dentist $158,940
IT Manager $151,150
Architectural and Engineering Manager $149,530
Marketing Manager $142,170
Political Scientist $125,350
Nurse Practitioner $111,680
Actuary $111,030
Mathematician $110,860
Economist $108,350
General and Operations Manager $103,650
Database Administrator $98,860
Management Analyst $87,660
Occupational Therapist $86,280
Criminologist $86,110
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist $76,340
Emergency Management Director $76,250
Dietitian or Nutritionist $63,090
School and Career Counselor $58,120
Social Worker $51,760

Before you make any decisions, keep in mind that your job title isn’t the only thing that determines your salary. People in cities tend to make more money than people in rural areas, and industry norms can play a role in how much your job is worth, too.

Demand is always important. Career outlooks can rise and fall depending on how many graduates are flooding the market in that particular year.

You should definitely consider salary when you’re thinking about master’s degree programs, but don’t get too focused on base pay.

Can a Master’s Degree Hurt You?

master's degree graduates filling out job application forms

While a master’s degree is usually a good thing in terms of employment opportunities, there are some situations where having one might backfire.

For example, if you’re applying for an entry-level job with a master’s degree, you might get hit with the “overqualified” label.

An employer might assume that you only want the lesser job as a stepping stone for a better one, or they might worry that you’ll just use them for a paycheck while secretly looking for jobs that are better suited to your level of education and expertise.

In these cases, the employer might see you as a short-term hire rather than a long-term one. You may not be considered worth the investment compared to other applicants.

The good news is that you aren’t always required to disclose your educational background while interviewing for a job. Some companies ask for it; others don’t. If you’re worried about being overqualified for a particular position, you might want to sit on that information until you’re already hired.

Accreditation for Master’s Degrees

logos of six regional accreditation boards

Accreditation is when a school or degree program has been officially recognized as meeting certain standards. It’s important for a number of reasons:

  • It shows employers that you attended a good school and not a shady “degree mill” that sells credentials for profit.
  • It may impact financial aid. Certain loans and grants, including federal ones, are only awarded to students in accredited universities.
  • It ensures a certain level of educational quality. A lot depends on the school, of course, but generally speaking, you can expect a better education from an accredited degree program as opposed to a random, untested one that you found online somewhere.

How do you know if your college is accredited? Check with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). They oversee more than 60 accrediting programs in the U.S., including national, regional and faith-based ones. There’s a searchable database on their website that can pull up a school’s accreditation data in no time flat.

Financial Aid for Earning Your Master’s Degree

screenshot of FAFSA website

You may ease some of the financial burden of a master’s degree when you apply for financial aid.

You’ve probably heard of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be applied to both graduate and undergraduate studies. While you won’t qualify for a Pell Grant as a master’s student, you can still seek a Stafford loan or Graduate PLUS loan.

You can also try for scholarships, fellowships, work-study programs and tuition reimbursement programs. If you’re already employed, your company might be willing to pay for your master’s degree as long as you’re learning something relevant to your work.

It’s worth the effort of seeking out whatever financial aid is available to you. Not only will it help lower your expenses while you’re in school, but it may also increase your educational ROI. If you save money now, your total gains might be greater once you’re out of school and earning a salary in the workforce.

Is It Worth Getting a Master’s Degree?

master's degree graduates receiving their diploma

As with any decision, there are both pros and cons to earning a master’s degree. When you look at the whole picture, however, the benefits typically outweigh the risks and the expenses.

You may have more career opportunities with a master’s degree. You may earn more money on average than people from a lower educational bracket. Plus, it may not be as expensive as you might think, especially with the help of financial aid, and you may choose from a variety of degree programs that are suited to your particular budget, schedule, and lifestyle.

Getting a master’s degree is often a worthwhile pursuit. It isn’t a magical guarantee for a high-paying job, but it may be a step in the right direction, and the journey might bring a lot of personal and professional fulfillment along the way.

Ready to start your journey?