How A Master’s Degree Can Change Your Life

Over the past few months, I had the chance to spend quality time with my family in New Jersey. As I often do, I used the opportunity to grill my younger sister about her career and her next steps.

She’s nearing 30, and is on a great career path. But like all of us, she thinks about her future. And this time she turned the table on me, offering an interrogation of her own. While I was inquiring about when she would be going back to school to get her master’s degree, she wanted to know why I thought a master’s degree was important and how it would impact her life—whether the investment of her time and money would yield significant enough results.

Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree

For me the answer was easy. I told her: a master’s degree has the potential to significantly and dramatically transform her life, professionally and personally. I told her that completing a master’s degree helps to:

Hone Your Critical Thinking Skills:

Education at all levels teaches you important skills, but a master’s degree requires you to think more deeply. At the graduate level, you learn to be comfortable with ambiguity, which requires you to become a better evaluator of ideas and information. This often means developing an ability to ask good questions—sometimes even questioning experts or prevailing views within your field of study. To do this, graduate students are required to seek new evidence, draw inferences based on evidence, and arrive at logical conclusions. No matter what, these are the kinds of skills that employers are looking for and need at all levels in an organization. They need people who are problem solvers and who seek to improve the organization. Beyond that, these are skills that help you in life more generally; they make you a better citizen, a better consumer of information, and a better decision-maker.

Develop a Deeper and More Specialized Knowledge of a Field:

While most colleges and universities require undergraduate students to major or specialize in a field, a significant portion of an undergraduate degree is focused on a broad education, and in the United States this is often with a strong liberal arts orientation. A master’s-level education is typically more specialized. You can make a choice to dive deeper into a field of study that you are really interested in or passionate about, and you can focus your study on that discipline. For example, my sister works in marketing, but her organization is primarily operating in the field of finance. She might pursue an MBA and focus her coursework on the field of finance and accounting, which would enable her to understand the operations of her organization and the market she is addressing at a deeper level. Or perhaps her next step within the organization will require her to manage people for the first time, so an MBA might help her develop her skills in management, leadership, and team-building.

Network with Other Professionals:

No matter what field you pursue at the master’s level, there are tons of opportunities to expand your network of relationships. You will be taught by experts in your field who have the highest academic and professional qualifications. You will be surrounded by students who come from a variety of industries and backgrounds, and who have significant professional experience. You will be learning with other professionals, who come to the courses with real-world knowledge and experience to share with you, thereby exposing you to the contexts of other industries. You can create professional relationships, and often friendships with people. These professional relationships come in handy when you are looking for a new job, a reference, or even just a sounding board.

Advance in Your Career—Both Promotion and Pay:

While I think education does way more than prepare you for a job, I can’t deny the importance of education to career potential and advancement. Jobs increasingly require a college degree as the minimal qualification and there is plenty of evidence that increasing levels of education are important. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median earnings for someone with a master’s degree are worth nearly $10,000 per year and unemployment rates for people with a master’s degree sit at 2.4 percent. Only 12 percent of adults over 25 hold advanced degrees, compared to nearly 37 percent of the population who have bachelor’s degrees.

Provide You with Challenge, Leading to Accomplishment:

Let’s face it, we are living and working longer. Over time, the security of employer-provided pensions has all but disappeared, and while 401Ks are common, they operate at the mercy of the market. With a dynamic, and rapidly changing job market, we must remain nimble and flexible. We must continue our learning throughout life and so by going back to school, we can signal to future employers that we are able to stay current and succeed at work while taking on new challenges. We show prospective hiring managers that we are seeking to grow, learn, and advance. It shows the world that you are willing to invest in yourself, set a goal, and accomplish it.

While my sister is used to my routine—and can still give a good eye roll—I know she was listening and that she considered many of the points I made. Like many of you, she is a busy professional, who needs to balance family, work, and time for herself. But she likes a challenge and is up for it. So, you can imagine the proud smile on my face when she reached out by phone to discuss a few of the schools she was considering for her MBA.