Earning a master’s degree is more than delaying the inevitability of a crappy job market—it’s an opportunity to gain an advantage over everyone else in your field.
And though disputing the value of a degree is “in” right now, here’s a counterargument for you: it’s not a waste of your time or money; it’s an investment in your future earning power.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. It’s a gap well spent
If you’re unsuccessfully looking for work, you might end up with a long employment gap on your resume. A master’s degree can fill that gap. An advanced degree can also be seen as a reset button.
Young people often get pigeonholed in crappy careers after their first jobs. A master’s degree allows you a chance to get your stuff together and figure out what you really want to do. One friend of mine even transitioned from sports marketing to energy management, a change that would have been almost impossible without the master’s he earned.
By obtaining your master’s, you become part of a killer community. You get to meet smart, like-minded peers while earning your degree. Not only can you cultivate a network that will help with future career development; you also build lifelong friendships. (And maybe some other relationships as well!)
2. You’ll make progress toward your goal, even if you’re still figuring out what that goal is
Here are three recommendations for working professionals, based on my experience as a consulting associate who pursued an MBA partway through my career:
1. First, think about your five-year plan. (If you don’t have one, for Pete’s sake, get off your lazy a**and make one.) Where do you want to be in five years? Are you working in an industry that makes you happy? Based on your answers to these questions, you can start thinking about which master’s program makes sense for you.
Often, it’s difficult for working professionals to leave the comfort and security of a paycheck. But if you realize you’re not making progress toward your ultimate goals, a change can be a swift kick in the pants.
I used this system of thinking to leave my consulting job before going to business school. I knew I wanted to work in the consumer Internet field and wouldn’t be able to if I stayed in consulting, so I decided to go to a business school located near one of the country’s biggest Internet hubs.
2. Talk to current students. Once you identify the program you’re interested in, talk to current students about their experiences. Existing students will prove that many others are in the same situation and that it’s not that difficult to transition from the working world to a master’s program.
3. Don’t forget about evening or weekend options. Many top schools offer these programs. You can keep your day job and sometimes get your company to pay for school while earning an advanced degree. Use the job you hate for everything you can!
3. It allows you to better brand yourself
A master’s degree gives you instant credibility. Use this to your advantage.
When I was a student, I found potential employers and business partners were much more likely to return my emails because I had a “.edu” email address. Those conversations built my network and helped me brand myself as an expert in my field.
Let connections know you are serious about the field and are continuing your education to keep yourself ahead of the competition. I have a friend with an advanced degree in computer science who became a testifying expert while he was in school. Don’t let them figure out how good you are—show them.
4. It will help you find your way to the top
Master’s programs are excellent networking forums, as well as great places to gain experience—whether you’re in the job market or not.
Participate in group projects and take leadership roles in clubs and organizations. You can then draw on stories from your master’s experience for specific examples of hard work, dedication and perseverance.
In addition, recognize the power of the alumni network. In a job search, anything that connects you to a recruiter or future employer can get your resume to the top of the pile. Alumni typically have a soft spot for other alums, as they know what it takes to make it through a program at that college or university. Sometimes it’s true that it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.
Your master’s program isn’t just for passing time during a down job market. You can gain the degree like a bum or push yourself to make sure you come out ahead. Make those two years and thousands of dollars count—your personal job market doesn’t have to stay crappy forever.
What do you think? Is it worth earning an advanced degree?
Bhavin Parikh is the CEO and Co-Founder of Magoosh, an online test prep company that aims to make education more affordable by providing students with access to the best instructors and content with the convenience and accessibility of a book.