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Will I Earn More With a Masters Degree?

Ahh, this old chestnut. The dilemma is real. Completing your Master’s def comes with a certain level of respect and prestige. You get to add the word “Master’s” every time you reference your education while speaking or on paper; it proves you weren’t part of the “Ps get degrees” crew; it basically shows that you have a brain and actually gave a damn about your studies.

And more Australians are studying Master’s degrees now than ever before. To give you an idea, in 2016, there were 5272 students enrolled in a Master’s Program at the Australian National University. That is almost 10 times, or 900% higher than the figure in 2005! Crazy!

But then there’s the down side. You’ve done your time and earned your Bachelor’s. A Master’s is going to mean a lot more classes. Heaps more readings. More essays and exams, but best of all, more group work – aarrggh. Not to mention the extra cost in terms of the course itself and potential loss of earnings.

Unless you’ve got your heart set on academia (in which case, you’re probably in love with the whole system and are quite excited about doing your Master’s), it’s going to be a question of “will this get me a better job and more money”?

Well, we’ve done the hard work for you and looked at a few recent Australian studies to find a definitive answer to this question. Let’s take a look at the latest info and stats, and then we shall provide you with our final verdict…

Bruce Guthrie (Graduate Careers Australia policy advisor for 26 years), publishes an annual report of national graduate outcomes and salaries. His 2016 report found that people who hold Master’s degrees are more likely to have full-time employment than those with just a Bachelor’s Degree. Of people with Research Master’s, 24.1% had no full time job four months after graduating, and for new course work Master’s the figure was 18.3%. Both figures were lower than the 31.9% of Bachelor’s degree holders who were still looking for full-time work. We should note that the majority of all of those people had casual or part-time work, they’re not all just sitting at home wondering why they ever bothered with further education.

But it’s important to note that the figures were impacted by the fact that many people who had completed a Master’s already had a career, and without that on-the-job experience, the Master’s actually gave no clear benefit. This is very telling.
Mr Guthrie said:

“It wouldn’t be accurate to say a Master’s degree helps people get a job quicker than would a Bachelor’s degree, and some data suggests those people who go direct to postgraduate study after a Bachelor’s degree don’t have superior employment figures to [those with] a Bachelor’s degree only.”

Mr Guthrie’s most recent survey showed that the value attributed to a Master’s was around an extra $7000 a year compared to the median salary for a graduate with only a Bachelor’s degree. But then you need to factor in the costs involved, including study costs, missed salary and the time sacrifice.
Ultimately, he inferred that the extra degree could make the difference in a competitive field for many occupations, but for careers that don’t require a Master’s straight up (like psychologist), he would recommend not going directly from a Bachelor’s into a Master’s degree, saying “I’d keep that up your sleeve for a few years down the track.”

We also looked at a recent study by the University of Canberra’s Professor Anne Daly, who also found that wider circumstances had a significant bearing on the outcome.

“The summary answer is that it’s not a good investment for a full-time student, but if the student studies part-time and continues to work it’s worthwhile”, she said, echoing the findings of Mr Guthrie.

Then there’s recruitment specialist Jim Roy, ACT Regional Director for Hays. He recently said that “a Master’s could narrow career directions, but over the entire work force they were more valuable than not”.

“We see it in Canberra with people who study a Master’s in public policy, that can lead to a trade-off in the ability to take your career in a different direction [but] If you are looking to advance to a senior executive it’s a benefit”, he said.

We’ve also looked internationally for trends. Sean Gallagher from Northeastern University recently told Forbes Magazine that “employers are placing a growing emphasis on the critical thinking skills developed through postgraduate study”. He said that in the USA, further education at the graduate level is becoming an increasingly common requirement in job vacancies. It’s likely that as more people complete post graduate education in Australia, that trend will take hold here.

Aside from the data above, there are other factors to consider when contemplating a Master’s degree. For example, undertaking your Master’s can create excellent networking opportunities, and while it may not be a prerequisite for starting your career, it may be an important factor in your career advancement.

At the end of the day, the verdict seems quite clear. Will you earn more with a Master’s degree? The experts say “yes, but with conditions”.