Advanced Degrees: Are They Worth It?

advanced degrees

Growing up, many of us were repeatedly told how important getting a college degree would be to our career, and that certainly has proven to be true. In 2019, the employment rate for professionals between 25 and 34 years old with a college degree (or higher) was 87% compared to some colleges at 80%; and a high school diploma at 74%. However, the number of professionals 25 years and older in the market with bachelor’s degrees increased by 5% between 2005 and 2019, and that number is only continuing to grow. So it begs the question, if a bachelor’s degree is no longer enough to set you apart from the competition, would having an advanced degree be?

Many people must be considering this very issue because between 2000 and 2018, the number of professionals with master’s degrees increased from 8.6% to 13.1%. That’s still a relatively small portion of the market, but you risk the degree’s value decreasing as that number grows. Not only that, but you also have to consider the cost of earning that degree and whether or not the return on investment (ROI) is worth it. 

In some cases (and industries), the ROI of an advanced degree is worth it. However, in others, you can still get a leg-up on your competition with continued education in other forms besides a degree, many of which are significantly less expensive. After all, if the entire reason you’re going after an advanced degree is for more earning potential, getting yourself into debt only sets you further back. 

Pros and Cons of Getting an Advanced Degree

There are plenty of circumstances where an advanced degree can benefit you professionally. On average, in 2020, people with master’s degrees had slightly higher salaries than those with bachelor’s degrees, and income continued to increase for those with professional degrees and doctoral degrees. Likewise, the unemployment rate also decreased with every level of an advanced degree. 

However, it is essential to remember that not every industry is equal here. For instance, in many states, teachers who pursue advanced degrees and certificates are offered higher salaries and have more opportunities to grow professionally into leadership and administrator roles than those who stop at a bachelor’s degree. Also, some companies have programs that guarantee a bump in salary to employees who earn their MBAs. Still, another company in the same industry may not value that degree as much, which could impact how much they’re willing to pay you when you’re looking for a new job. 

If you already know you’re in an industry where, across the board, an advanced degree will help you, then yes, of course, it’s worth pursuing. As for the jobs that can go either way, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons. 


  • Higher earning potential 
  • More extensive network through classmates and professors
  • Career advancement potential
  • More in-depth knowledge of your field
  • Competitive edge as a job seeker (for some)
  • Prestige (this is usually a personal pro, not professional)


  • Significant financial investment; the average cost of a graduate program at a public school is around $30,000 a year
  • Increased debt if you’re taking out loans to pay for the program
  • Time investment; especially if you’re pursuing the degree while working full time
  • Risk of seeming overqualified for certain positions, thus getting passed over for jobs
  • Risk of non-completion of the degree

Growing Your Career In Alternative Ways

If the points on that con list are sticking out to you, it’s worth considering other ways to further your career without an advanced degree. As you progress in your career, your real-life experience becomes more and more valuable, your network grows, and you have a better idea of where you want your career to go. All of these things can help you advance your career. No student loans are required. 

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

There are times when your personal life is so chaotic that it takes up most of your energy, so you are okay with coasting in your career until things settle down at home (such as when your kids are in the toddler and preschool years or when you’re caring for a sick loved one). Coasting is fine, but when you get to a point where you’re ready to advance your career, you’re going to have to add some new experience to your resume to show that you can take on the responsibilities of a higher-up role. 

To do this, start leveraging relationships within your office and your network to see if projects you can help with will give you some new experience. For instance, maybe there is a project in another department where your skills could help, and you’d be learning something new that would benefit you professionally. Talk to the supervisor of that project and offer your assistance. If they take you up on the offer, great, you’ve just gained more experience without having to look for a new job, and if they don’t take you up on it this time, keep in touch with them so that the next time something like this comes up, they will be more inclined to take you up on your offer to help. 

You can do something similar with your network outside of your company, but on a contract or freelance basis. If you already have a regular job, you’ll have to put in more hours than usual (it is a second job, after all). Still, you’ll also be getting paid to do the extra work instead of an advanced degree program where you are paying them on top of giving up some of your free time. 

Internships & Apprenticeships

Internships and apprenticeships are a great way to advance your career, especially if you’re trying to reenter the workforce or you’re hoping to make a career pivot. While they don’t usually pay much (if at all), these opportunities allow you to learn the skills needed to work within that industry, company, or role while also giving you real-life experience that you can show on your resume. 

There is a big difference between studying something like marketing for a global organization and doing it. Some job skills just can’t be mastered through research and case studies.

advanced degrees are they worth it

They require you to sit down and actively work through them in an environment where you’ll make mistakes and encounter out-of-the-ordinary situations that you have to navigate. If the career you’re aiming for is full of skills, you’ll be much better off taking an internship or apprenticeship. 

Free & Low-Cost Training Programs

Yes, the real-life experience ultimately becomes invaluable to your career. However, there are still circumstances where continued education or a certificate of some sort will make a big difference in your career growth. For example, technology is constantly evolving, and even if you’re an expert in a program that came out five years ago, a new program or system that works better has come out since then. Still, you don’t know how to use it; you will have a more challenging time landing a job in your field. In this case, investing in a training program that will help you master the technology and award you a certificate that you can add to your resume will put you ahead of another candidate who may have an advanced degree but doesn’t have experience with this technology. 

There are all kinds of continuing education and career development programs, both online and in-person, that cost significantly less than an advanced degree program or are possibly even free. They are a great way to expand your skillset without going into debt.

Do What Makes Sense For Your Goals

There is absolutely value in getting an advanced degree, if for nothing else than simply the joy of learning more about something you love. Still, it is a big-time and financial investment, so you need to decide if the return will be worth it. If you’re not in a position to make those investments right now, you don’t have to feel stuck because there are so many other ways to give you a competitive edge and move your career forward without the hefty price tag. So, take a look at your current situation and consider your long-term goals. From there, come up with a plan that makes sense for you right now. If that plan doesn’t end up working out, don’t worry because you can always change things up down the road. 

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