Part-time Master’s degree or not?

I’ve been thinking since undergrad on whether or not I should pursue a Master’s degree. There are several concerns here:

  1. Cost – Can I afford it? Will I go broke trying to get a Master’s degree?
  2. Career – Will it help my career to get a Master’s degree?
  3. Time – Will I be able to maintain any semblance of a social life while doing obtaining my Master’s degree? How long will it take?

I found a specific program that interests me and calculated the total costs. It would take me three years of taking about one course per academic timeframe, can be done online or in person, and would cost less than I expect to net in bonuses each year.

I calculated that I can afford it. I would not go broke, even if I was buying a condo. (This is a good reason to buy a condo that I can easily afford!) Pursuing the Master’s degree would use up *most* of my discretionary income (bonuses and non-budgeted monthly cash flow – vacations are budgeted) for the three years the degree would take me (but not quite all – raises and more bonuses would be mine).

Since I would only be taking one course per academic timeframe, I would drop to one night of sports per week and would probably still have 1-2 nights of a social life, which isn’t bad.

So the remaining factor to consider is my career. Would it help my career? From talking to my manager and coworkers, the answer is no. My long-term career goal is senior management and getting a technical Master’s degree will not help me with that – growing my soft skills will. I think it would also hinder my career in the sense that I would have less free time to devote to working extra here and there when necessary and possible.

And honestly, I don’t think that a MBA would help my career growth either since a) I already make six figures with just my Bachelor’s degree, b) they are really expensive, and c) through career development within my current company, I could easily move into the business side of things with significantly less time and financial cost than pursuing a MBA.

Conclusion? I’m not going to pursue a Master’s degree – I’m going to keep playing sports and growing my career without it.

Readers, do you have advanced degrees? Did it help or hinder your career? Or did it have a neutral effect? Obviously it was a requirement to get a TT job, but in other fields (such as industry for my field), it’s different.

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13 thoughts on “Part-time Master’s degree or not?

  1. Leigh, a very thoughtful post. It’s nice to see people making decisions based on actual impact, opposed to false social mores.

    One consideration is if one has semi-retirement aspirations that require an advanced degree (e.g. teaching at a community college). It’s probably better to wrap up the advanced degree now, before they get married, have kids, etc (not saying everyone will want to do the married or kid thing).

    • That’s a good point, Con-Man. I’m not sure that I am interested in teaching at a community college at any point in the future, but I haven’t really thought about my semi-retirement options at this point either. That’s an interesting idea, though I’m not entirely convinced that I would want to teach as a semi-retirement option.

  2. My sister is in the same situation– 6 figures without anything but a BS. My parents have finally gotten used to the idea that it would be silly for her to get a law degree or MBA (and if her company wants her to get one, they will pay for it).

    I have a PhD and I make less than my sister who is 6 years younger!

    • Neither of my parents have degrees and my dad has been quite successful without one! So I’m not quite sure why they were so convinced that I was making the wrong decision to go into industry instead of getting a Master’s degree. Perhaps because I would never do it later?

      I’m now watching my friends who did Master’s degrees start working full-time two years after I did, for a comparable base salary to my original one, but I made that amount for two years, plus bonuses, and now have a significantly higher base salary. In my industry, a Master’s degree just really doesn’t help you since it’s not very practical. PhDs are even worse since they are generally so far removed from the practicalities of our industry.

      That said, if I wanted to spend the time learning, doing a Master’s degree could be interesting. But I don’t really see the point in paying someone else to help me learn at this point…

  3. I go back and forth. I think that right now, it would hinder my career. But as I gain more experience in my field, it would help I think. It’s hard to be sure, but I guess it just depends on where you want to end up!

    • I go back and forth on whether I want to invest the time in learning something more specialized in my degree’s area because the subject area of this particular program absolutely fascinates me and it wasn’t something I was exposed to much at my undergrad university. On the other hand, it would be irrelevant to my job since it’st not really practical and would take a lot of time and money. I think it’s just not worth it to me, even though it would be SO fascinating.

        • That’s true. It is just a tad expensive per course and I have some activities that run throughout the academic year that I would have to cut out entirely to take a course in *one* academic period. If it wasn’t for having to cut back entirely on the activity for the entire season, I would have already taken a course for the fun of it! I even bought the textbook for the course I thought was the most interesting and spent some time with a highlighter and working through the exercises until life got busier :D

  4. I think this is a great framework to use when thinking about whether to pursue more education. The other thing you might consider is personal enjoyment/life experience. I was also making six figures with only a BA but I had always wanted to go to grad school. I wanted the additional education, but I also just loved being in school and wanted to have that experience one more time.

    Now that I am several years out, I never regret having gone. I was able to save up enough before school to pay for almost all of my MBA and I would not trade my grad school experience for anything. The opportunity cost of going to business school was huge for me. However, I’m a big believer in spending my money on life experiences and that’s what helped me make the decision.

    In reading your post it does sound like grad school may not be quite the right thing for your right now. But I wouldn’t rule out taking a class or two to test the waters, maybe you’ll find it’s something you really enjoy!

    • Sometimes, I think about going to grad school as a side track in my career, when I get bored of the corporate ladder and working in industry.

      So far, I’m enjoying working a lot more than I enjoyed the last couple of years of my undergrad. I didn’t really enjoy the upper year courses in my major very much, but I knew that I wanted to work in the industry, so I stuck with it. I’m not really sure if I would want to go to grad school – research is so very different from working in industry that I have zero idea of what it’s like.

      I agree with you on life experiences and at this point, I’m choosing travel (money) and sports (time) over grad school. I’m definitely not ruling it out completely, but right now? Not the right fit for me.

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