Thinking of Pursuing a Graduate Degree?

By Ashleigh Viveiros

So you’re an undergraduate student nearing the end of your studies and you’re wondering: what next?

Or you’re a working stiff, whose undergraduate degree got you in the door, but now you’re banging your head on a promotional glass ceiling. What next?

As the economy circles the drain and jobs become scarcer, the best ‘what next’ may be heading right back to the hallowed halls of learning to upgrade your educational chops.

Master’s degrees and doctorates are no longer the sole domain of doctors, lawyers, and scientists. These days, an increasing number of other fields are placing a higher value on advanced levels of education.

Here are a few ways having a graduate degree can help you in the years ahead:

It’ll give you an edge

The number of Canadians with a bachelor’s degree under their belts has risen dramatically in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, the 2006 census revealed that nearly four million Canadians have a university degree. That’s up 24 per cent from 2001.

Obviously, an undergraduate education is becoming less of a rarity than it once was. Which means, today, having graduate studies on your resume is a great way to differentiate yourself in a highly competitive working world.

Assuming all other things are equal, who do you think employers are more likely to hire: someone with an undergraduate degree, or someone who demonstrates a strong work ethic, long-term dedication, and specialized knowledge by earning a master’s degree or a PhD in a given field?

Employers will also take into account some of the other transferable skills a graduate degree gets a person, including project management, critical thinking, communication, research ability, and so on.

It all adds up to make you a much more attractive hire, or, in the midst of downsizing and layoffs, a valuable employee to keep around.

It will open the door to more jobs and future promotions

These days, it’s not unusual to see job postings listing a master’s degree or above as the minimum educational requirement. Obviously, having the appropriate level of education opens those jobs up to you, and gives you a few more options.

But higher education also has an impact as you continue your career. Without an advanced degree, in some fields (but, note, not necessarily all – do the research to ensure this is the case with your own career path), you could eventually hit a career plateau: a point where you’ve gotten as far up the ladder as you can with the education you have.

Suddenly, positions with more responsibilities and higher pay (supervisory positions, say, or upper level management) will be frustratingly beyond your reach.

For example, a basic degree in education is great if you want to be a teacher, and stay a teacher, for your entire career. But what if you want to become a principal? Or even a superintendent? You’re likely going to need more than a B.Ed.

Basically, a graduate degree gives you a much better chance to not only start your career off at a higher level, but also to advance further and faster than you might be able to with a bachelor’s degree alone.

You’ll make more money

Study after study has shown that the more education you have, the more money you make. Generally, each step up in educational credentials – bachelor’s, master’s degree, doctorate – comes with a pay raise right out of the starting gate. Namely, you’ll make a higher starting salary in your entry-level job than someone one rung below you on the academic ladder.

Looking again at the last Canadian census, young men between the ages of 25-34 with a bachelor’s degree had a median earning of $50,506. In contrast, those with a post-bachelor’s degree of some kind earned $54,686. The increase was similar for women, as well.

A few thousand dollars difference may not sound like a lot, but it does add up. When you factor in likely promotions and pay raises beyond those first few years of a person’s career, someone with a master’s degree or doctorate has the potential to earn hundreds of thousands – even millions – of dollars more over the course of their career than someone with just an undergraduate education.

Your program will help you network

As you work your way through your graduate studies, you’ll meet people who could one day lead you to a post-graduation job. Considering the high percentage of jobs that are filled solely through word-of-mouth and the fact that it seems like there’s more people than jobs these days, those contacts are invaluable, and certainly worth cultivating.

You can ride out the economic storm from inside the ivory tower

This shouldn’t be your only reason for wanting to pursue further academic credentials (a true interest in and dedication to your field is key, after all), but there are worse ways to ride out a recession.

Keep your head down, work your butt off, and by the time you graduate not only will things hopefully have improved, but, either way, you’ll be an imminently more employable person.

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