APU Business

Does it Pay to Earn a Graduate Degree?

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By Patricia Campbell, Ph.D.
Dean of Graduate Studies, Associate Vice President at American Public University

Did you know that only “about 9 percent of individuals 25 years of age and older in the United States have a master’s or doctoral degree”? Getting an advanced degree not only puts you in an elite group of people who have pursued their passion for intellectual growth and development but it can possibly position you well for the future.

In 2012, the Council of Graduate Schools published Pathways through Graduate School and into Careers, which provides some excellent insights into why students should consider attending graduate school. Here are some of their important findings.

According to the report, “[t]he expected lifetime earnings for someone without a high school degree is $973,000; with a high school diploma, $1.3; with a bachelor’s degree, $2.3 million; with a master’s degree, $2.7 million; and with a doctoral degree (excluding professional degrees), $3.3 million”. In addition to the increased earnings, those with advanced degrees have substantially lower unemployment rates in general. Moreover, during times of high unemployment, advanced degree holders are less likely to be impacted.

What do employers want from you?

  1. Professionalism and a good work ethic
  2. Excellent oral and written communication skills
  3. The ability to work in teams and collaboratively
  4. Problem solving and critical thinking skills
  5. Social responsibility and sound ethics (Pathways report)

Additionally, employers have expressed interest in hiring employees who can work in multidisciplinary teams—you need to be able to apply knowledge from one area to others. While content knowledge or your specific area of study is important, a broad-based knowledge of other disciplines is also seen as critical to your future success.

[Learn more about offerings in online master’s degrees at American Public University.]

Who is hiring advanced degree holders? (Survey of 1,500 students with one MA degree)

  • Business and private corporations, 30%
  • Teaching or faculty positions, 22%
  • Nonprofits, 12%
  • Community/public service, 11%
  • Government, 11%
  • Research organizations, 9%  (Pathways report)

Not sure what to study? Take heart, 39 percent of current graduate students change “their career goals after entering graduate school” and these students say that the changes were mainly because they identified new goals or expanded existing ones.

In short, pursuing a graduate degree is for those of you who want to expand your knowledge, increase you earning potential, and weather difficult economic times more easily. Lots of career paths exist for advanced degree holders, but being successful in your career requires so much more than simply content knowledge from a discipline.

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