Recently, the New York Times’ blog Room for Debate published opinions on this question: “What is a Master’s Degree Worth?” Four experts weighed in on this topic, each with his or her own spin on the return on investment of a graduate degree. A few days later, the editors posted a summary of even more opinions on this question written by readers who shared their stories and ideas in the comments of the original post.
(Ah Glorious Technology!)
In this economy, it makes a lot of sense to ask this question; to seek a sense of the costs and the benefits; to consider job markets, labor trends, and projected industry needs; to consider what you, with a degree, as a commodity, will be worth to a current or potential employer; and to weigh the benefits and challenges of furthering your education. It probably makes sense to do so in any economy. I vociferously preach this kind of analysis to students who take my Preparing for Graduate School course. I believe in the exercise.
Yet the thought of doing this analysis also makes my stomach knot up and what is left of my non-gray hair turn gray. I’ve been giving a lot of thought about why my skin crawls every time I suggest doing this analysis to a student, and here’s my hesitation with it, based solely on my own experience:
Had I tried to do this calculation when I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I surely would not have ended up doing what I do now, which I really love. LOVE! L.O.V.E.!!!
For me, it was only by doing my Master’s (and associated activities that came along with it, such as being a graduate teaching and research assistant, working with neat people who became mentors, and discovering what mattered to me) that I came to have clarification of what I wanted to do with my Master’s. At no time did I question earning potential or job market needs; I simply wanted to continue my learning, and from that passion came clarification, and from that clarification came employment possibilities.
For me, it was that simple. And, alas, it was that complex.
What will it be for you?