Will obtaining a master’s degree increase earning potential?

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When it comes to pinpointing the necessity and potential of a master's degree, the analysis tends to vary greatly based on the specific degree being sought. While some professionals will greatly benefit over the course of their careers by seeking a higher degree, many others will find that their incomes increase only modestly while the overall cost of such a degree adds a significant financial burden. Before pursuing such a degree simply for the prospect of future earnings, consider its most likely impact.

The Biggest Benefits: Science, Technology, and Business Fields

When it comes to maximizing earning potential with a master's degree, those who work in business, technology or science-related professions are the most likely to experience a significant benefit over the course of their careers. In fact, a recent study performed by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce shows that individuals in these fields can expect to earn about 70 percent more over the course of their careers than those professionals with only a bachelors.

For those who work in the social science industry, average incomes after earning a master's degree increased by about 55 percent on average. Both of these pay raises can more than pay for the average cost of graduate-level education, making it a no-brainer for most people in a related field. Even so, other professions don't benefit nearly as well.

Communications and the Arts: Lower Average Compensation Benefits

Those who pursue a master's degree to benefit their career in communications, journalism, or the arts, do typically get a pay raise for their efforts. It's worth noting, however, that raises in these professions typically average between 19 and 25 percent compared to those who have only a bachelor's degree. Objectively, these raises are still pretty healthy and, over the course of a long career, likely worth pursuing. One thing to consider, however, is that the average graduate degree costs just north of $40,000. A smaller overall raise means that the degree will take a bit longer to pay for itself.

The smaller compensation granted to those in communications and arts-related fields helps to balance out the much larger raises given in science, technology, and business. All told, the average pay raise for all professionals who hold a master's degree is about 38 percent nationwide. That's a respectable bump in pay no matter the industry.

No Substitute for Experience, Master's Degree or Not

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that most employers were willing to give raises to existing workers who pursued graduate education, but that they weren't likely to take on new workers with little to no professional experience in a similar or related field. Overall, most employers confess that master's degrees are nice, but they'd simply prefer to hire a candidate with a larger overall professional background than one that is deeper in educational pursuits.

Generally, a master's degree should be considered in instances where a candidate has decided on a given profession, worked at their existing job for several years, and has the ability to combine their experience with enhanced education. The combination of further education and great prior experience is the single best way to ensure a respectable pay bump after graduation from a graduate-level program.