Master’s plays role in job market, salaries

Going the extra mile and earning a master’s degree isn’t considered “extra” anymore.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, a master’s is the fastest-growing degree in the United States. The number of people working toward earning a master’s has more than doubled since the 1980s. With unemployment at almost 10 percent, many students are considering pursuing higher-level degrees to boost their value as potential hires.

A master’s degree is granted to those that have undergone study that demonstrates a high-order overview of a specific field or area of professional practice. Graduates are thought to possess advanced knowledge of applied topics and advanced skills in analyzing complex problems.

Because more students are graduating than the job market can bear, such degrees are vital to stand out in the crowd. Job prerequisites may read, “Bachelor’s required, master’s preferred.” The degree may even be used to weed out potential employees.

“I felt like I needed to continue studying after my undergraduate years,” first-year graduate student Aubrey Aden-Buie said. “I’m not as marketable with the bachelor’s degree in psychology I have now.”

UM’s annual Graduating Student Survey looks at students’ interest in attending graduate school after completing an undergraduate education at the university. Christian Garcia, executive director of the Toppel Career Center, said that the survey showed a 7 percent increase in students planning to attend graduate school from 2009 to 2010.

“For certain fields, a master’s degree is absolutely necessary to enter or to move up. In this case, I would argue the master’s degree is very valuable,” Garcia said. “If a student chooses to obtain a master’s degree without giving it much thought or to put off entering the workforce, then its value is questionable.”

A master’s degree can also be seen as a reassuring factor that shows that potential hires are comfortable with the knowledge necessary for a particular field.

“It’s very focused,” broadcast journalism graduate student Jennifer Somach said. “You’re here to learn a specific trade and studying for a master’s will teach you every aspect in your field of study.”

Garcia, however, noted that employers have a monetary incentive to hire applicants with bachelor’s degrees.

“In the employer’s eyes, a candidate with a master’s degree will cost them more in terms of salary,” he said. “Therefore, if someone with a bachelor’s degree can do the job, why wouldn’t they just hire that person?”

The role that the level of education plays in an employee’s salary depends on the nature of the job and the relevance of the education. While an actuary with a master’s in mathematics can hit a median midcareer salary of $157,000, a high school teacher with the same degree may earn only $57,800, according to

“The bottom line is that students should make informed decisions that are ultimately in their best interest,” Garcia said. “The staff at the Toppel Career Center can certainly help students with this decision-making process.”