Is It Worth It to Get a Master’s Degree?

With the job market sluggish, many are choosing to go back to school.

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Lindsay Olson
Have you wondered if it would be worth it to go back to school for a master's degree to help you get a boost in salary or a promotion? With the job market still sluggish, many professionals are going back to school. But will it really get you where you want to go?

It depends on whom you ask. Here, experts weigh in on both sides.

A master's degree will help you get ahead. Many say higher education absolutely would help you move up in your career. "Many entry level jobs today now require a master's and virtually all senior management and senior professional positions require a master's," says Brian D. Kelley, chief information officer at Portage County Information Technology Services. "Having a master's degree can increase your annual earning potential beyond your annual compensation without a master's. Other ways to get the same raise would be to obtain professional certifications related to your career field or through years of additional experience."

But don't underestimate experience. A master's may impress potential employers, but so will your experience, says Rosemary Guzman Hook, a certified career coach and executive recruiter at Hook The Talent, Inc. Combining the two can make you all the more appealing as a job candidate. "Master's degrees in general are not enough to move the needle for anyone charting a new path in life," Guzman Hook says. "There must be experience, practicums, internships or something that demonstrates the individual has more than just theoretical knowledge."

Guzman Hook says that once a person has experience, the master's degree will open more doors than a bachelor's.

On the other hand, master's degrees are overrated Others say that having a master's degree won't necessarily be worth the investment, and that may be the case if you work in an industry that values experience over educational background. For example, an advanced degree doesn't make a graphic designer more talented. Most companies would hire him or her based on a portfolio.

If you look at professionals in your industry and see few with advanced degrees, consider investing the time you would spend furthering your education into developing your skillset. That might mean signing up for continuing education courses, attending workshops and, of course, building your experience. This way, you save the money you would have spent on another degree, and you add to your resume with specific skills employers are looking for.

Entrepreneurship is another option. In looking at the price of an MBA, perhaps other ventures are worth considering for that chunk of change. If you've dreamed of starting your own business, consider doing that instead, says Alan Corey, author of "The Subversive Job Search: How to Overcome a Lousy Job, Sluggish Economy, and Useless Degree to Create a Six-Figure Career."

"Anyone in business world would agree that actively running your own company is a better education than reading about how to do work within one," Corey says. "Plus your entrepreneurship adventure can make you money fairly quickly, rather than an MBA which may help you land a job two years down the road."

How to get ahead. You don't have to cut back to part time at work to go back to school. "With many accredited colleges and universities offering online master's programs and accelerated master's programs, getting a master's degree is easier than ever before for those working a 40-hour job and trying to manage work-life balance," Kelley says.

Make sure it's worth it, though, because programs can come with a hefty price tag. Guzman Hook says the only time you should be willing to go into debt for an advanced degree is if it's with a top-10 school with a high track record of job placement. You want to be assured that the job you get after graduation will help you advance quickly, she says. Also, keep in mind that the connections you make – especially in business school – will also carry value and make that investment worthwhile.

And in a perfect world, your employer would offer education reimbursement to help you finance your higher education. Check with your human resources department to see if it's possible to get some or all of your education costs paid for by your employer.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.