Why do a Masters Degree?
A question that anyone thinking of applying for a master's degree, particularly in a different country, is likely to ask themselves is, "what am I going to get out of this?"
Studying a master's degree abroad can be an expensive business, and from beginning your research into programs and institutions to completing the degree itself, it can take up a significant portion of your life.
So what difference will a master's degree really make to you? What guarantee do you have that your personal investment of time and finances will pay off? And can you measure your return on investment?
Of course, the answers to all of these questions are not straightforward. Each graduate, even if studying the same modules and courses at the same university, is very different.
We all have different skills, experiences and personalities and react differently to whatever environment we are in. It's very often these qualities that have the most impact on our ability to secure the best jobs and really make the most of the opportunities that we are presented with.
However, there are some clear and measurable benefits from studying an advanced degree for the majority of those who go through the experience.
Take Maja Nenadovic, a Croatian graduate of the Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy at the oldest university in the Netherlands: "I became a much more confident person while I was at Leiden University. During my studies, I was involved with the founding of the De Leidsche Beck, the university's debating society."
Maja's experience of life outside the classroom is typical of students who have taken the plunge and study away from their home country for a master's degree. Personal development, learning new life skills and adapting to another culture are important elements of the international study experience, especially at master's level, where students tend to be more mature than their undergraduate counterparts.
Maja continues: 'We got to represent Leiden at various competitions, even reaching the finals of the English as a Second Language competition of the European Universities Debating Championship 2004 in Durham, UK, and winning the Koc University 2nd International Debating Tournament in Istanbul, Turkey! In this way, my studies at Leiden also enriched my life by widening my circle of both Dutch and international friends.'
For Trisna Wardhani, an alumna of the Masters in Management and Business Finance at York University in the UK, the experience had more demonstrable results: "After my master's at York I attended a UK alumni job fair in 2007 and the CEO and Director of Shell Indonesia spoke at the event.
"I found his speech about their commitment towards people development was really impressive. I sent my CV the following week, a phone interview was arranged and I was lucky enough to be selected. My skills and the selection of people and companies at the event helped facilitate an open door to my future."
Depending on the academic subject area, graduating from a master's program can also add immense academic, intellectual and work-related skills to those already building a career.
For example, it is common for lawyers to seek additional specialization through one of the growing number of LLM programs dedicated to relatively narrow professional areas, such as intellectual property law, environment risk assessment and telecommunications regulation.
David Socolow had been Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, but in 2004 he decided to enrol at the Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration.
"I had on-the-job management experience, with a sense of what works and what doesn't, but I realized that more specific education and training would serve me well. Rutgers gave me the opportunity to grow, to do my job better and the professors in the program brought a wonderful mix of academic rigor and practical real-world experience to the classroom. They taught not only theory but also what it really takes to get things done."
The development of transferable or complementary skills is also an important benefit of studying at the master's level. Cathy Liu, a graduate of the master's program in Business and Information Technology at Melbourne University, Australia believes that her degree has an important impact on her daily work routine.
"I did my first degree overseas, and came to Australia for my master's degree. The knowledge I obtained from my degree doesn't apply directly to my work; however, there are a couple of key aspects of graduate study that really helped me to develop my career.
"One is being able to apply knowledge to reality, an ability I developed by doing a lot of case studies. The other is team spirit, gained by working on group assignments."
But perhaps the greatest area of debate when it comes to the benefits of a master's degree centres on how much extra money the qualification will add to a candidates salary?
Evidence from the US Census Bureau indicates what every master's applicant, current student or recent graduate has hoped for: there is a significant difference in earning potential between those candidates with a bachelor's degree and those with a master's degree.
With more and more employers using educational qualifications as an important screening measure in the selection process for jobs, the relationship between advanced university education and salary has become more prominent.
In US terms alone, a graduate with a master's degree earns around US$10,000 per year more than a person with only a bachelor's qualification. This difference is compounded over the course of a lifetime, with the potential to secure steeper pay increases and other financial rewards similarly emphasized so that at the point of retirement, a master's graduate will potentially have earned US$400,000 more than a bachelor's graduate and a staggering US$1.5 million more than a person with only a high school leaving qualification.
Whatever your motivations for studying a master's degree, the evidence is there for all to see: graduating with the qualification will make a difference to the rest of your life, whether you choose to measure it in financial terms, career benefits or your own personal development.
With more and more international students exploring the opportunities around grad school can you afford not to make the next step? And of course, there can be some additional surprises. take Hilary Jones and Kushan Naik, both master's students at the UK's University of Warwick in 1974. Next year will see them celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.
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This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in January 2020