The Benefits of Higher Education “Money. It’s why I went after a post-graduate degree,” smiles Dawn Vieira, a junior high English teacher. “Yes it was challenging paying back the loans, but thanks to my masters’ degree, I make more money—plus it feels good to mark the “post graduate degree” box on credit applications. A post-graduate degree offers plenty of reasons to smile and making more money probably ranks near the top for most graduate students. Whether it comes in the form of new opportunities, overcoming obstacles to career advancement, or instantaneous higher pay, a post-graduate degree is a mark of distinction that offers both personal fulfillment and a hope of financial security. Go Green! (Greenbacks, That Is) One year after earning a graduate degree, my own salary shot up by about 12% because of an incentive to earn an advanced degree. Sure, the loan payment is challenging, but the increased income more than makes up for extra monthly expenses. In a few years that expense will be gone, and I’ll be reaping pure, unadulterated financial gains from my post-graduate studies—not to mention the open doors that come with that fancy piece of paper. It’s tough to say exactly how much a graduate degree can increase personal income, since so much depends on the field of study, industry, years of experience, and length of employment. But it’s a safe bet that financial benefits are in the forecast for those with advanced degrees. Consider these yearly averages from a recent population survey by the US Census: If those numbers hold up, I can look forward to lifetime earnings boosting by close to half a million over the course of my working life. But who wants to be average? Hopefully my Master’s degree puts me on the path to making even more. A Degree of Opportunity Five years ago I was at a workshop, working on a resume during the break. The presenter peeked over my shoulder. “Are you looking for a new job?” “Not really, I just need to make an extra bit of money.” “Man, there’s a spot opening up, and you’d be great. You have your master’s degree, right?” Wrong. Whether or not I would have gone for the position was irrelevant—I was disqualified before I even started, because I didn’t have the Master’s degree. Four years later I have the degree in hand but of course the opportunity is long gone. I refused to let a similar opportunity catch me unprepared, so I immediately set out to get the education. I still see that presenter several times a year, and each meeting is a fresh reminder: graduate degrees lead to opportunity. Banging Down Doors In many industries advanced degrees are gatekeepers to career advancement. For better or worse, even qualified individuals hit a ceiling if they don’t have the necessary credentials. Teachers, for example, can’t advance beyond a certain level of income without a graduate degree. For those who want to make the leap into administration or management, a graduate degree is the ticket in. Kristy Eudy,who holds a master’s degree in Journalism, recently landed a marketing job with the help of her degree. “Honestly, I don’t even think I have seen the full effects of how my degree has changed my life. Having it will be helpful for the future, for sure. It’s providing more opportunities—I was able to teach at a university, I have more experience in the industry, and I have a strong knowledge base in a particular area.” When it comes down to it, all degree-seekers want a job, and while an advanced degree is not a guarantee, it definitely shifts the employment odds in your favor. Unemployment in 2010 for those holding a Master’s degree was 4%. That’s half the rate of those with just a high school diploma (10.3%), and even better than those with a Bachelor’s degree (5.4%). “It was a combination of factors,” Kristy said of landing her latest job. “The Master’s degree was important, and I also had internship experience as part of my studies that helped it all come along. When I first finished my Bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t have been ready. But now my previous experience combined with grad school has really helped put me in this position.” Not only do people with advanced degrees have higher rates of employment, they also have higher rates of full-time employment. Average earnings for full-time workers are significantly higher than those of part-time workers, and that in itself can be a perk associated with higher education. Can’t Touch This This is where it gets emotional. I think we can agree that landing a fulfilling job with good compensation is the ultimate payoff for a graduate degree. But there are benefits to post-graduate studies that go beyond a literal “payoff.” Even though you can’t physically put your hands on them, they’re valuable, and they will most likely lead to financial gains anyway. Go Boldly 12 years ago I was a scared freshman walking to my first class across a huge campus, a place so big students were taking a courtesy trolley across the parking lot into campus! I made that 30 minute walk, and I eventually made it through my first year. I wasn’t even thinking about a graduate degree—getting to graduation was daunting enough. The walk across the stage four years later was much different: for one, it was a lot shorter than 30 minutes, and more importantly, it was a walk of confidence. Six years after graduation, I willed myself to go back and get the graduate degree, and two years later I had a diploma in hand. Now, what once seemed impossible—a Ph.D—doesn’t seem so far out of reach. Each step in my educational journey led to confidence, and each bit of confidence led to another step. I’m still stepping. Making an Impact While money was definitely a concern for Kristy when she began her graduate studies, she confesses that making more cash wasn’t her primary motivation. “I’m trusting that the decision will payoff, even if it takes time to grow into my degree. But I also wanted to do it for my own betterment. It just feels gratifying to keep learning, and to know that you are relied on to be an expert in that area. Eventually you’ll be called on to teach others, and you realize, wow, I’m really mastering and exploring the subject, and I’m going to get to pass that on to other people.” No, you can’t touch confidence, hope, or the satisfaction that comes with making a meaningful personal impact the same way you can handle a paycheck. But you probably won’t get your hands on a rewarding career without intangibles like these. Kristy is working past 8PM on her first week on the job, but she couldn’t sound more positive. “I’m exhausted, but I’m really excited, too. When you pursue a post-graduate degree, be sure it’s the area you want to go into—it’s definitely a life investment.” For many, like Kristy, Dawn, and myself, it’s a life-changing investment. Are you ready to move up the career ladder and get better pay? Master’s Degrees are ready for you!