I recently read an article arguing that getting a Masters was really not worth it if your motivation was financial. Essentially, the author had been studying the question of if a Masters really made a difference or not over the course of a couple of years and his conclusion was that the answer is “No.” It’s not worth it. Don’t do it for the money. Do it for a love of learning, or to be more knowledgeable of your field, or just for the pride of it. But don’t expect it to earn you money.
Unless you are an economist, marketer, chemist, physicist, or… check this out… an engineer.
Curious, I decided to check this out. Mr. Fertik, the author of the piece, hadn’t cited any statistics to back up his claims, and like most engineers, I am all about the numbers. So I started shopping around. Nicely enough, my very first search engine result provided a few numbers for me.
In a response to this question on Reddit Nigel Burberry reported his experiences. He took out $18k in loans. He spent an extra year on the MS, which cost him $65K in lost wages. However, after that he obtained a job at a starting salary of $83k, $18k higher than what he lost in wages that year. He calculated out that he’ll have made up for the costs in lost wages and loans in eight years, then be making a distinct profit afterwards. His final estimate? By retirement he’ll have made an extra half-million.
Those are numbers I can get behind.
This article at Engineerjobs.com was less specific than Burberry, but generally agreed. However, they pointed out that this depended on the specialty within engineering that was pursued.
“Earning a materials engineering graduate degree yields a 39% increase in annual income.” By comparison, “petroleum engineers with Master’s degrees can only expect a 7% increase in mean salary through higher education.”
So financially the answer to the question “is it worth it” would be “it depends.” However, money is not the only factor here. There are additional considerations to examine when looking into getting an MS in Engineering.
In the discussion on Reddit where Burberry responded Kestral Lowing made a very good point. “There are tons upon tons of jobs that aren’t that design heavy and someone 50 years ago figured out a formula that worked, and 10 years ago, someone made a macro in excel or a poorly coded proprietary program that means you don’t even have to work out the formulas,” she pointed out. “I’d say that if you want to be anywhere in R&D, a masters degree is quite valuable.”
EngineerBlogs.org agrees. When answering the question of whether or not grad school is worth it, they had this to say. “If you jump out after a BS, you basically learn how to assess and diagnose existing problems. Grad school is all about learning about future problems.”
Further, there is the simple fact of job security. In the Reddit thread I came across comments like these:
“I wouldn’t have gotten my job if I didn’t have my MS. It was minimum required by my employer.”
“I asked this very question of my co-workers and they said that three or four years ago they’d tell you it doesn’t matter, now they say go get the MS degree, it’s one more thing that might help you not get laid off when the economy hits a rough spot.”
Richard Crowson knows exactly what the value of an MS in Engineering is. The NASA engineer chose to attend a MS program at the age of 55. “With the newly graduated engineers coming up on my tail, I needed to be more current in my education to stay employed,” he reported in an interview with Amy Roach Partridge. “I want to be able to show my employers that I’m capable of handling new technology and new science.”
When it comes to answering the question of whether or not an Masters in Engineering is worth it, the answer is generally “Yes.” Depending on the specifics, it may or may not give you a significant return on your investment financially. This uncertainty is settled by nonfinancial concerns, however. It will help you to secure a place on the cutting edge of research and keep you competitive in the job market. It’s a fairly easy decision to make. After all, as Crowson might tell you, deciding on an MS isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s just plain common sense.
– Guest Post by Jim Hinton
James Hinton hails from Idaho and is an Army Veteran and lifelong learner.