Have you been thinking about getting a master’s degree but have been put off by the high cost? Or maybe you’re worried about how you’ll manage the coursework on top of your job, family and other responsibilities?

These are valid concerns, and they’re pressing enough to stop many professionals from pursuing higher education.

However, continuing education is a cornerstone of professional development. And master’s degrees are getting more and more popular among professionals who want more career options or a different career altogether.

If you’re considering a master’s, you probably don’t want to take the leap without knowing whether the cost, hard work and stress of completing graduate school will pay off.

You’ll need to think carefully about what a master’s can do for your career in terms of job prospects, salary increases and furthering your professional goals.

Consider the Impact on Your Job Prospects

Will earning an advanced degree improve your job prospects? Will it qualify you for more or better positions or help you stand out in a competitive field?

Before enrolling in a master’s program, consider how the degree will affect your prospects.

In many fields, a master’s degree will qualify you for more senior roles, with higher salaries, than you might be able to get without one.

A master’s degree could make you qualified for more jobs than you previously were, but it’s not just what you learn in the classroom that boosts your prospects.

It’s also the network you form as you take classes and learn from a group of other professionals in your field.

Later, when you’re on the job market or need to hire a few good people for your new organization, you’ll have a solid network to call on.

Compare Your Potential Salary Increase to the Cost of the Program

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Of course, if you’re like most people considering a master’s you’re most interested in what the degree can do for your wallet.

The financial ROI of a master’s varies widely depending on your field.

An MBA from a top 10 or even top 15 school can net you a starting salary of $146,000 or more, while a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry will land you a job as an adjunct professor making $25,000 a year, if you’re lucky. 

The higher the salary increase, the more tempting the degree can be. But degrees that bring high salaries after graduation tend to come with large price tag.

The aforementioned MBAs cost about $60,000 a year in tuition. So if you’re going for a large salary, make sure it’ll be large enough to offset the cost of your tuition.

And remember that, in some fields, the brand recognition of going to a top school is a big part of what entices employers to offer you a larger salary.

Tuition isn’t the only expense you’ll need to consider, either. If you’re going to a traditional master’s program, you’ll have to quit your job, move to a new city, rent an apartment and commute to classes; all of that adds up.

When you consider the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce for two years, the cost of a graduate degree can easily exceed $200,000. 

That’s why many students these days are pursuing master’s degrees online, especially for lower-paying fields.

Working while you earn your degree can eliminate the opportunity cost and can even offset the cost of tuition, if you’re able to take advantage of employer reimbursement for tuition costs.

For example, if you’re a teacher who wants to move into education administration, you can earn an online master’s degree in educational administration while working full-time and get your district to pay for it.

Remember Your Professional Goals

Sometimes, the decision to get a master’s degree is easy to make because it’s the only path to reaching your professional goals. In some fields, a master’s degree is a required barrier to entry. 

For example, if you want to be a counselor or psychotherapist, you need a Master of Social Work or some other master’s in counseling.

If you want to reach the C-suite, you’re going to need an MBA.

If you want to work as a nurse practitioner, you’ll need at least a Master of Science in Nursing, if not a Doctor of Nursing.

If you need a master’s degree to reach your professional goals, then there’s no question that earning the degree will benefit your career

A master’s degree requires a large outlay of time and money, so you should always consider whether the potential benefits of the degree are worth it.

For many professionals in many fields, a master’s degree can be a springboard to a better career. What can it do for you?