Master’s Degrees And Opportunities: Measuring The Value Of An Advanced Degree In Communications

We’ve all seen it, read it— “Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent experience required”— it is the cornerstone of the qualifications section of the majority of job postings. We can clearly see the value of an undergraduate education as we peruse job boards for our next opportunity, that much is undeniable in today’s corporate economy. However for those of us holding a Master’s Degree in one hand and its associated, added debt in the other, we find ourselves in a rather relentless pursuit of validation in a job search, perhaps literally jumping for joy upon the rare read, “Master’s Degree preferred.”

If you are in the communications, or marketing fields and have your Master’s Degree already, or are considering pursuing your advanced degree, how do you measure it’s worth in practice opposed to theory? There are a few different lenses to apply to this question to help decide if getting your Master’s is the right choice for you and whether or not you will see the ‘payout’ for a degree you might already have. These lenses are application, financial measure, and personal growth.

Application evaluates whether or not a Master’s Degree is required for your desired role and conversely how it contributes to a professional profile if not required. Charlie Ball, Deputy Director of Research at the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, argues that a general labor market for Master’s qualifications currently does not exist, there might be one emerging, but it’s not there yet. And as a result, outside of technical, medical, or highly specialized fields, there are not many advertised jobs requiring a Master’s Degree. In the communications and marketing field, this is no different. Not having an advanced degree is not a barrier for entry and often times, especially in early career stages, two candidates separated by an extra level of education, will be evaluated exactly the same. The Guardian posits, “You will likely be looked at the same as someone with a Bachelor’s and need to thoroughly explain why your advanced degree makes you more valuable.”

Though, to that point, there is a strong case to be made. Steff Young, an MA literature student, argues that a Master’s Degree “develops a new form of maturity. You are no longer the student to the teacher. Rather, you are and your peers are fellow researchers working in the field. This creates a whole new dynamic and mode of conversation, and confidence, which would enable you to walk into a workplace as a professional, rather than a graduate or intern.” And Nathan Parcells, CEO of InternMatch.com echoes that sentiment by adding a specific, functional use case “A Master’s Degree in digital marketing examines analytics, social media, and search marketing. While you can clearly learn about these subjects out of the classroom, practical knowledge and studying these principles are the foundation for success.” In some occupations, you’re likely to need a Master’s Degree to qualify for entry-level jobs. In others, a Master’s Degree may not be required, but having one might lead to career advancement or higher pay— leading us to our second lens of evaluation, the finances.

According to U.S. News & World Report and the United States Census Bureau, “U.S. workers between the ages of 21 and 64 with a Master’s Degree or higher earn an average annual salary of $55,242, versus those with a Bachelor’s Degree whose average annual salary is $42,877.” That represents a nearly 30 percent difference in median annual salaries, offering compelling evidence that a graduate degree can make a positive impact on long term financial security. But to be clear, an advanced degree comes at an advanced cost. However, many programs will be paid for in full over the course of your career as a result of your higher earning potential. A 2011 Census report, covered by Fiscal Tiger, revealed that, over a lifetime of 40 working years, the earning potential with a Master’s Degree is about $400,000 more than with a Bachelor’s Degree alone. These statistics, already several years old, are like to be emboldened in the coming years, as the education floor continues to rise. According to Slate, earning an education truly, deeply, and impactfully matters, regardless of the state of the economy. Your education is a recession-proof commodity, though a long-game at best. U.S. News & World Report goes on to say, “An undergraduate degree is increasingly not enough to land the solid, well-paying jobs of the future. What’s needed, experts say, is a graduate degree.” And the National Center For Education Statistics has released similar projections.

At risk of sounding cliché comes the most important lens for evaluating the benefit of a Master’s Degree— money can’t buy happiness— and self-actualization, the shining mountaintop of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs may be a good a reason as any to pursue higher education. Carefully positioned, U.S. News & World Report affirms, “Earning a graduate degree is evidence of persistence, determination, intellectual prowess, and the ability to handle challenging environments—all of which are sought-after qualities for individuals filling manager and director positions.” If you are an avid, forever learner, continuing education and its associated personal growth is as much a weighty accomplishment as being published, promoted, or paid more. The effort put forth during the completion of your studies, will stand as a central character building experience in your life. And, perhaps most importantly, an advanced degree says something about who you are and your commitment to your chosen field.

An advanced degree is not the right path for everyone, but for those who choose to pursue it, a Master’s Degree can enrich your personal and professional life. Higher education is a long-term investment, often one slowly paid out through salaries, opportunities, and bouts of personal pride over the course of a long career. Pursuant to your career aspirations and the ever-changing job market, an advanced degree unquestionably makes a difference on your résumé. To quote B.B. King, “The beautiful thing about learning is no one can take it away from you.”

Lindsay is a 26-year-old digital marketing professional. Lindsay graduated Summa Cum Laude from Binghamton University in 2012 with a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Law. She then continued her studies at Columbia University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2013 with her M.S. in Corporate Communications and Marketing. Upon completing her education, she has worked in various marketing roles both on profit and nonprofit, start-up and legacy brand, and agency and in-house teams. Outside of the office, Lindsay enjoys hiking, the occasional gin and tonic, all types of food, and absolutely anything involving her dog, Sullivan.

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