I have been pondering how a graduate education has helped me in my life and career. The catalyst was an article I read recently titled “In Defense of the Master’s Degree.” To be fair, the article was written by the chief strategy officer at Northeastern University, so it may have been a bit biased. His thoughts, however, echo my own experience and the benefits I have enjoyed since completing my master’s degree.
As the article points out, up until recently the master’s degree was primarily a stepping stone to a PhD, though it sometimes became a final stopping place for those who did not make it to the finish. In the 1970s the trend shifted towards specialized graduate degrees in business, science, engineering, and computer science. The master’s degree became not a step to the PhD, but a destination in and of itself. At the same time, the number of advanced degrees in liberal arts has trended down.
Is it worth it?
With rising student debt and a proliferation of professional certificate programs, some are asking whether a graduate degree is still valuable. It is obviously important in medicine and law and in sciences such as chemistry, but is it important in computer science or information systems or business? Are employers looking for evidence of hands-on experience via certifications, or are they looking for evidence of the reasoning skills, critical thinking, and specialized knowledge that can only be developed through graduate-level study? I believe that the answer is both.
Beyond the obvious advantages of education and knowledge, there are benefits I did not expect:
– The opportunity to do focused research. I was able to dive into the area of using computer simulation to solve business problems. This helped me to focus my interests and had real-world applications for my employer.
– Increased confidence. Not only was I able to apply for positions that required an advanced degree, but I was confident that I could compete for and excel in these jobs.
– Increased networking opportunities. A graduate cohort is generally small enough to give you the opportunity to engage the fellow students, and the faculty, both personally and professionally. This expanded network has helped me immensely in my career.
– Becoming qualified to teach. When I pursued my master’s degree, it was strictly for the increased knowledge and professional opportunities. To my surprise it also opened doors for me in the academic world. This was unexpected and has been a great source of personal growth for me.
When weighing the costs and benefits of an advanced degree, I encourage you to look not only at the extrinsic values of professional advancement but also at the intrinsic value of increased knowledge, confidence, and peripheral opportunities. My degree has opened doors for me and allowed me to network with talented individuals who took me to places that I never would have considered.
If you have an advanced degree or if you are contemplating starting one, I would love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.