Should you get a master’s degree? This is an age-old question that seems to never go away. What are the benefits? What are the downsides? Will that extra piece of paper on your wall result in more paper in your pocket? The answers to these questions vary depending on the industry and the company you work for.
With that in mind, here are ten things to consider before going for a Master’s of Science related to your engineering field.
1. Higher Starting Salary
Most of the time, graduates with master’s degrees are going to get slightly higher starting salaries than their bachelor-holding counterparts. There are some industries where this isn’t true, but the majority of the time it is. Sometimes the difference isn’t all that much, but you will probably make more coin out of the gate with more education under your belt.
This is especially true with materials and biomedical engineering. Materials engineers with master's degrees earn an around 39 percent more than folks with their B.S. Biomedical engineers earn even more, with 48 percent higher salaries on average. Both biomedical and materials engineering are considered good examples of the “general case”, which is to say that engineers with master's degrees earn more money across the discipline.
2. Brains Over Brawn
On average, master's graduates have more access to research and design jobs, while bachelor’s grads usually end up on the floor building what the R&D guys dream up. Again, this depends on your employer and field of expertise.
3. Chill Office Work
The benefit to doing “brainy” work is sitting behind a desk. For some, this is a nightmare. For others, chill office work helps them keep their sanity. There is no question that sitting behind a desk is safer than working on the floor, especially if you are working as a power engineer. On the other hand, some feel that working on the floor is more “authentic” and B.S.-level work is where things actually get done. It depends on what you are looking to get out of your career.
4. More Work
With more money and responsibility comes more work, a lot more. Not only will getting your master’s be a ton of additional school work (you can’t write a thesis overnight), but high-level positions in any company generally mean burning the midnight oil more often. If you are not comfortable becoming a workaholic then you probably shouldn’t get your master’s either.
5. Massive Student Debt
Some companies will pay your tuition if you decide to get your master’s degree after getting a job – it’s nice for them to say “we have ‘x’ number of master’s grads here.” However, if you don’t have a job and are putting yourself through school, expect a bunch of student debt. Master’s programs don’t come cheap, and sometimes the extra salary you make out of the gate will be gobbled up by loan payments anyway.
A good example of this is with petroleum engineering. Those with graduate degrees only earn about 7 percent more than people without. B.S. holders still earn about $103,000 US per year, and delaying your employment by two years leaves you with $206,000 plus tuition in lost earnings. Even with a 7 percent salary bump, it will take you a little over 15 years to make that money back. All of this isn't taking into account two years of missed work experience, either.
6. Climb the R&D Ladder
Not only is it easier to get research and design jobs with a master’s degree, but climbing the ladder within your company is generally easier with more education. Like most of the things on this list, this varies depending on the industry.
7. Fewer Lay Offs
In general, the least educated members of a company get laid off first, because they are the easiest people to replace in mass numbers. If you have a master’s you are more likely to avoid the chopping block when your company is feeling the pinch financially. Obviously your level of experience plays a major role as well, but when everything else is equal the higher degree usually wins.
8. Equal Experience
In a lot of fields, a few years of experience are just as good as the extra education. In many cases a couple of high-quality internships can do more for your career than a master’s degree.
9. Pricing Yourself Out of Jobs
Over qualification is a real thing in engineering. Depending on the job you are looking for, some employers will pass you over with a master’s degree. More education usually means a company will need to pay you more, and why would they do that when they can pay someone with a B.S. to do the same work for less?
The thing to remember here is to check with your superiors or people within your industry before deciding to get your master's. Yes, you can argue that any kind of education has intrinsic benefits, but those change depending on your field and the company you work for. Do your research and you will maximize your earning potential.