3 Ways a Master's Degree Can Boost Your Career
Have you ever considered going back to school for a masters degree to get ahead in your job? Let me guess: You’ve never made it past the consideration stage because it’s a lot of work and can be pretty expensive? (See also: 6 Ways to Pay Less For A College Degree)
The prospect of spending all that time and money leaves most of us wondering if we'll get our money's worth out of a master's degree, asking questions like "is an MBA worth it?" While hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars does seem like an awful lot to invest in knowledge, what I’ve found is that the information you absorb is only a portion of the benefit.
The technical knowledge you learn about your trade can make you better at the work you do, but the people you meet and the perspective you gain can really help propel your career forward. Here are three things I noticed as I earned my degree that didn’t show up on the diploma, but can make a big difference in career advancement.
1. Industry Connections
There are some great networking opportunities available when you’re regularly in close contact with 10 to 20 professionals in your field. The relationships you form during the course of your classes can yield benefits for years down the road.
The most obvious benefit is a list of contacts if you ever need a job or are looking to hire good people. For example, two people I met in my classes were mid-level managers with a different company. They weren’t doing the hiring when I applied to that company years later, but I was able to use them as references and got the job.
For those in an online degree program, don’t think that you’re missing out on all the networking opportunities. I was introduced to another software engineer virtually through one of my online courses who has helped me out several times throughout the years. It may take longer to build relationships online, but when you work closely together in a few classes, you get to know people — whether it’s in person or virtually.
2. Experienced Mentors
One of the things to consider when you choose an MBA program or other master's degree is the background and experience of the instructors. One of the things I really liked about my program is that they followed a practitioner-based approach. This meant all the teachers were still working in the field and only taught part-time.
Some of them were entrepreneurs and owned their own companies. One was a CEO of a medium-sized business and several were executives at major companies. For example, many of my project management courses were taught by the head of the Project Management Office at a Fortune 500 corporation. I also had the Chief Security Officer of the same company teaching me courses on information security.
The real world experience they shared with us was extremely helpful, but even if your instructors are no longer actively involved in your industry, they’re still likely full of tricks of the trade. Your teachers probably enjoy helping develop upcoming professionals, otherwise they wouldn’t be there teaching in the first place. They’re perfectly suited to help mentor you and give you guidance in your industry. Having access to experienced professionals like that can give you a definite advantage over your peers at work.
3. Expanded Job Opportunities
When I told my boss that I might be enrolling in an online master's degree in information systems, he asked if there was anything he could do to help me get real-world application out of what I was learning.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that his offer was good for me from a career perspective. Every class at the master's level had some type of big project associated with it ,and I always tried to work through the class project steps using a real-world project from my job.
Since the projects were “extracurricular,” I wasn’t tied down to the standard types of work I did in my day-to-day position. Not only did I learn about parts of the business that I wasn’t normally exposed to, I was also able to help my boss and his manager address issues they’d always had on a wish list but never had time to work on.
These projects put me in contact with higher-level managers in the company and also helped me stand out in my annual reviews — both of which were good for my career.
So when you see the price tag of a graduate degree, keep in mind the potential benefits in addition to the technical knowledge you’ll gain. Be sure to think about things like industry connections, potential mentors, and expanded job opportunities when you’re evaluating graduate programs.