Is a master’s degree really worth it in the long run? It depends on your career goals.
by Brad Hilderbrand
Like so many of my colleagues in these hard times, I have found myself “downsized” and once more out on the street looking for work. While I definitely wasn’t getting rich at my old job, between my wife and me, our household income was enough that I could afford to be complacent and talk about things like grad school or looking at new jobs the same way I talk about buying a yacht or traveling the world. Oh sure, I could do it, by why would I want to devote the time or resources when I’m happy where I am right now? So I put it off, and now I’m in a pickle, and suddenly the question of grad school rears its head once more.
Of course, it didn’t help that just a few days ago I saw the New York Times run an article on just this topic and we’ve even broached the subject here at Brazen Careerist, with Andy Drish asking back in November if he should start his MBA. All the practical wisdom says that right now is as good a time as any to go back to school, but there’s an important factor missing…
I’m not even remotely interested in an MBA; I want to be a journalist.
When my wife went to grad school, it was a simple decision: she wanted a job in a certain sector, and that job required a master’s degree. Two years of study later, she graduated and promptly got a great job which will pay back her student loans and then some. You see, she got a practical degree; what I’m gunning for isn’t so clear-cut.
Those who have read my work back when I was a regular at Employee Evolution, or seen the rest of my stuff around the Web, know that my passion lies in writing, particularly in writing about video games. The thing about that industry is that almost no one in it has a master’s in journalism or anything else; it’s not considered to be important for the job. Sure, it helps, but it’s an industry that truly is all about connections, and some of the best in the biz started working when they were 14 years old because they happened to know the right people and were mentored and groomed to be downright terrific at what they do. I don’t have that kind of network, and even with a master’s degree under my belt, I still don’t know if I’ll simply have more contacts, or the right contacts.
Still, the whole concept is tempting. A local university has a program which emphasizes online journalism, which would give me all kinds of much-needed help in dealing with the guts of websites, all the lovely behind-the-scenes HTML and CSS stuff that makes all those pretty pictures and neat articles function as they should. Also, I could really do with some formal training, as like most others in my field, I’ve just learned as I went, picking up tips and tricks here and there that I’ve cobbled together into my own style.
The downsides are also significant, as school is obviously not cheap, and my need to go full-time so as to minimize the amount the number of days I spend without a job means that I’ll miss out on at least a year of real experience. Oh, sure, we could probably make due if I hustle to get through the program and find a part-time job that doesn’t kill me, but then there’s the threat of what’s waiting on the other side…
What if I graduate and still can’t get a job?
That means I’ll have another useless slip of paper to hang right next to my college degree (mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to major in Poli/Sci) as well as a hefty student loan to pay back just as soon as those nice people at the federal offices file my paperwork.
So, what do you think? Is it worth it to jump back into school in the hopes that in 12 months, the economy will be booming once more and I’ll be more marketable with an advanced degree? Or should I just buckle down, keep my wits sharp and stay on my toes to jump at the next opportunity that may present itself? I don’t know where I go from here, and the application deadline looms at the end of the month.
Obi-Wan Kenobi Brazen Careerist community; you’re my only hope.