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It can be hard to find a high-paying job in education, social work, medical fields, science and engineering without an advanced degree. Even 15 years of experience may not bump your job application over someone younger and less experienced who holds a master's degree in your field.

You may be feeling anxious about returning to grad school. Will it be worth the two or three years of intense work? Do you have to quit your current job and move to another city? Can you be happy with earning less money over your lifetime, just to avoid graduate school?

The Value of a Master's Degree

Value can be looked at in terms of money. If you enter a master's program right out of an undergraduate school, you'll work approximately 40 years before retirement. Masters degree holders in all careers earn between $35,000 and $50,000 more per year than their less-educated counterparts. There's less of a difference at the beginning of your career and more toward the end. Do the math: at the lowest salary differential, you'll earn at least  $1.4 million more than someone with just a bachelor's degree. That puts the cost of getting a master's degree into perspective, doesn't it?

Value can also be looked at in terms of advancement. If you're satisfied with remaining in the lower or middle career track, getting a master's degree will do you little good. If you'll want opportunities for advancement and promotion—all the way to CEO in some cases—a masters degree gets your career started right. You'll still have to work to prove yourself, but if you start out with a leg up it's less work in the end.

Getting the Right Masters Degree

Just having a master's degree does NOT immediately make you more appealing to potential employers. You need a specific skill-set to set you apart from other applicants—a specialization. This shows employers that you've put some thought into your career and are looking ahead to the future with passion and focus.

Spending two or three years studying your chosen field intensely prepares you for all kinds of work situations, and you build a very nice resume of field work, internships, work study opportunities, special projects, and so on. Not to mention the excellent career connections you make in grad school—you might graduate with job offers already on the table.

If you're still hesitant to get into a master's degree program, try this exercise. Call four companies that you'd work for if you had complete freedom to choose. Think big: Call NASA, IBM, Monsanto, etc. Ask the human resources person what kinds of jobs are typical for someone with a master's-level education. Then ask about starting pay and promotions. The answers will be very enlightening.

Read about getting a masters degree after being in the workforce, or find out how the masters degree is a steppingstone to PhD programs [MD10].

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