Should you get an advanced degree?

In a word, probably. A weak answer, I know, but it’s not black and white. There are numerous reasons to get a master’s degree, or even a doctorate, and a few very good reasons not to.

The most obvious disadvantage is the cost. A master’s degree will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars, and you may be adding that to existing student loans you’re already repaying.

The most obvious advantage is that an advanced degree will likely enhance your career. US Census figures show that people with master’s degrees earn between 20% and 30% more than those with just bachelor’s degrees. Employers will find you more valuable and your promotion options are greater. Unemployment figures for people with master’s degrees are lower than those with bachelor’s degrees or just high-school equivalents.

In addition, getting an advanced degree can provide you with a very real sense of accomplishment, as well as an excellent opportunity for personal growth. Are you a lifetime learner? You’ll really enjoy getting an advanced degree. While undergraduate degrees have many requirements for more generalized study, an advanced degree allows you to really explore and research your chosen field. There’s real-world value and enjoyment in that.

Speaking of real-world, make sure that an advanced degree will in fact enhance your career. A lot of career paths these days require an advanced degree (higher education administration, public affairs, and social services to name a few). Whereas 20 years ago, a bachelor’s degree would get you an entry level position, these days you must have a master’s degree in certain fields.

However, there are fields where employers will look at experience instead of education. Are you in a technologically-focused field? If so, that advanced degree you got 10 years ago won’t mean much to an employer, but real-world experience will. Continuing education programs might be a better choice to keep on top of quickly-changing trends in a specific field. Are you in sales? Then your track record will be more important than your degree.

Real-world experience also means you have been successfully functioning in today’s business world, not just in the “ivy tower” of higher education. Many employers will give points for that.

So carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages for you personally and your desired career path. Check out the cost — know what it will cost you in money and time. Do an analysis of the cost of the advanced degree(s) and the increase in the amount of money you will likely earn or other possible benefits of an advanced degree.

Make a decision based on the best facts you can assemble. But remember, you can always go back to school. That’s the great thing about school. Learning never has to stop!