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The Value of Earning a Master's Degree Over an Undergraduate Degree

by Van Thompson

A master's degree requires, on average, an additional two years of school. If you rely on student loans, this can mean thousands more dollars in debt. For most master's degree graduates, this cost is well worth it, because a master's can open up more career opportunities, boost your earning power and reduce your risk of unemployment.

Increased Earnings

A master's degree can open up new professional opportunities or make you eligible for a raise or promotion at your current job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that people with master's degrees could expect to earn more than people with an undergraduate degree. People with master's degrees have median weekly earnings that are $234 greater than those with just a bachelor's degree.

More Employment Opportunities

A master's degree can open up professional opportunities. For example, students with a psychology degree must receive a master's degree before they can become therapists. Consequently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is lower for those with a master's degree. People with a bachelor's degree face unemployment rates of 4.5 percent, while the number with a master's degree is 3.5 percent.

Specialized Knowledge

A bachelor's degree provides you with a broad knowledge base in reading, English, math, science and the humanities, along with classes related to your major. A master's degree, by contrast, consists of classes solely devoted to your specialty, and often requires a master's thesis or independent study project. This helps you gain specialized knowledge in your field that can translate into new career opportunities, creative thinking in your current job or the opportunity to continue your education with a Ph.D.

Weighing the Benefits

A master's degree won't boost earning power or job prospects for everyone. You'll need to examine your costs -- including the time spent out of the work force, tuition, childcare and other expenses -- and weigh them against the possibility for employment. Some master's degrees have poor employment outlooks. For example, Forbes.com reports that master's degrees in music, English and education may not boost earnings and the demand for employees with these degrees is not expected to grow.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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