A young woman, focused and determined, is studying intently with an open book in class and a notebook in front of her, representing the dedication required for obtaining a master's degree.

If you’re bored with your current job, have hit a career plateau, are looking to gain more specialized skills, or crave an interesting new challenge, you may be considering getting a master’s degree. Pursuing a master’s degree, which people sometimes refer to as ‘going to grad school,’ can open new career pathways and increase your earning potential, not to mention helping you gain valuable skills in your field. But it also comes at a cost, the price tag being a considerable one.

So, is a master’s degree worth it? We’ll break down the nitty-gritty of this post-graduate degree and help you decide whether getting a master’s is right for you. 

What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is a graduate-level educational credential obtained after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Common examples are the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Business Administration (MBA).  

A master’s program usually takes two years to complete, but some can be done in as little as one year. To enter a master’s program, you must have completed a bachelor’s degree and the required prerequisite coursework. Sometimes, you must pass an entrance exam like the LSAT, MCAT, or GRE. A master’s program typically consists of between 30 and 60 hours of coursework plus a thesis or capstone project where you’ll apply what you’ve learned.

A master’s degree program can help you build a deeper understanding of your field, obtain advanced skills that can be applied to your career, and set you up to pursue further education like a doctorate degree. 

Bachelor’s degree vs. master’s degree

A bachelor’s degree comes before a master’s degree in the hierarchy of education levels. Nearly all master’s programs require a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. However, some schools let you obtain a bachelor’s and a master’s simultaneously as part of an accelerated program known as a ‘4+1.’

A bachelor’s degree is completed in an average of four years. It builds general knowledge in areas like English, math, and life sciences, as well as specialized knowledge in the student’s major. A master’s degree is more specialized, focusing mainly on the specialized area of the degree. 

A master’s degree does not require as many courses as a bachelor’s. However, it’s more common for people to pursue a master’s while they’re already working full or part-time, so it’s sometimes completed at a slower pace (i.e., one or two courses per semester versus three or four). 

About 35% of Americans age 25 or older hold a bachelor’s degree. The proportion of people over 25 with a master’s degree is much lower at about 13%. 

Benefits of getting a master’s degree 

Gain advanced knowledge/skills

Master’s programs dive deep into specific subjects, providing you with a more comprehensive understanding of your profession. Your coursework will help you master specialized skills that will empower you to do your job better. Many programs also have a research component, which allows you to contribute to the body of knowledge in your field. 

Increase your earning potential

Salaries vary by field, but on average, people with a master’s degree earn more than those with lower levels of education. In 2024, workers over the age of 25 with advanced degrees like a master’s earn an average of $144,300 per year. That compares with an average of $117,936 for workers with only a bachelor’s degree and $66,768 for people with a high school diploma and no college. 

Over time, this pay disparity can add up to exponentially higher lifetime earnings. This not only facilitates a higher quality of life, but can enable you to support causes you care about, provide assistance to children and grandchildren, and have less stress later in life when you’re ready to retire. 

How much should you be paid?

Browse our salary data tool to know the current market value for your skills and labor!

Open more job opportunities

A master’s degree adds to your qualifications as a job seeker. Once you’ve obtained it, you’ll be eligible for a new selection of jobs that call for an advanced degree. This makes you more competitive and can give you a broader selection of roles to choose from. 

Advance your career 

Many companies reward employees for obtaining higher levels of education through promotions and pay increases. In certain fields, like social work and specific types of education, a master’s is required to obtain the credentials you need to move into more advanced roles and leadership positions. 

Access networking opportunities

Master’s programs are made up of people who are committed to enhancing their skills and expertise. This is generally a dedicated, hardworking group where you will likely make beneficial connections. You’ll also be able to network with professors and successful professionals in your industry. 

Enjoy personal satisfaction 

Pursuing a master’s requires you to hone soft skills like critical thinking and problem-solving, which have benefits that extend to your personal life. Many students feel a strong sense of pride in their work during their master’s program and experience feelings of accomplishment once they’ve completed it. 

Potential downsides of getting a master’s degree


Getting a master’s degree is pricey. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of obtaining a master’s in 2024 is $59,684. The cost varies between public and private schools; a master’s from a public university will run you around $48,690, while one from a private college costs $64,440 on average. It also varies by degree type, with arts degrees ranging on the high end and education degrees falling on the lower end.

Time commitment

Master’s programs require a significant time commitment, typically one to three years of full-time study. It can be tough to juggle academics with work, family obligations, and other responsibilities. Non-essential commitments like social activities and hobbies may need to be put on the back burner. 

Delayed workforce entry

If you pursue your master’s degree immediately after getting your bachelor’s, it could mean you’re in school for six to seven years straight. During this same time, other people will be entering the workforce and building practical experience, which means, in some ways, you’ll come out less qualified than your peers. 


While a master’s degree generally correlates with higher earnings and more advanced roles, there are no guarantees. It’s possible that additional education may not produce the return on investment you had anticipated. In some fields, hands-on experience may be viewed as more valuable–and may result in higher pay–than an advanced degree. 

Limited flexibility

Once you’ve selected a field of study and committed to a master’s program, you may find it challenging to switch courses in the future if you change your mind. You risk pigeonholing yourself into a narrow career path that feels more “locked in” because of the investment you’ve made. 

Alternatives to getting a master’s

Getting a master’s degree isn’t the only path to career advancement. Consider these alternatives, which can strengthen your skills and provide valuable professional development. 

Skills-based certifications

Certifications can help you bolster your skills without the extensive commitment of a full degree program. You can obtain skills training in boot camps, seminars, and workshops that take place over several hours or weeks rather than years. You’ll leave with a new professional certification to add to your resume. 


A growing number of employers have begun to recognize the value of cross-training or cross-skilling, which is the process of developing skills outside an employee’s primary area of expertise. For example, a marketer could improve their campaigns’ performance by learning copywriting techniques. A sales representative could tailor their pitches by shadowing their teammates in customer support. If your employer is aware you’re seeking additional professional development, they may be able to facilitate cross-training opportunities. 


You know about internships, which allow you to gain hands-on experience while connecting with seasoned professionals in your field. However, completing an internship may be unrealistic if you’re over a year or two out of school. That’s where externships come in. An externship is a short-term program that allows you to shadow professionals in a field you’re interested in to learn more about what they do. Externships are typically more informal than internships, so you can participate simply by getting a referral from a friend or colleague.  


An apprenticeship is a formal, highly structured program that prepares you for work in a specific role. They last between one and six years, depending on the field. Apprenticeships are usually associated with skilled trades like electricity and plumbing, but they can be found in all types of industries. Unlike a master’s program, which you pay for, an apprenticeship pays you while you learn. You’ll build skills in a real-world setting alongside pros and emerge ready to start your career. 

Is a master’s degree worth it?

Figuring out if a master’s degree is worth it is a highly personal decision. Where one individual might find that a master’s brings them a rewarding new job, a higher paycheck, and a deep sense of satisfaction, another might decide they can advance their career and find professional fulfillment without the time and financial commitment of a multi-year academic program.  

As you weigh your options, consider how much time you have to commit to a master’s program and whether you’re willing to make sacrifices in other areas of life, like your social life and relationships, and even put your career on hold. Take a realistic look at whether this degree will open new doors in your career and to what extent, and be honest if you’re mainly thinking about it because you’re bored or disengaged at your current job. Make a list of the pros and cons, talk to others in your desired field, meet with a career counselor, and seek out advice from a trusted mentor. 

By carefully considering the weighty decision to pursue a master’s degree, you’ll be able to make a choice that’s best for you and moves you closer to your ultimate career goals. 

Home / Career Advice / Education & Certifications / What Is a Master’s Degree? And Is It Worth It?
Pete Newsome headshot


Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn