Any student weighing schooling options should consider whether a master's degree should be part of the long-term plan. Although these degree programs aren't always required, some careers require an advanced education. For others, a master's degree can mean more earning potential, the opportunity for advancement or the chance to receive professional or government certifications.

The basics of master's degree programs

A master's degree program provides additional, specialized education to people who have already earned a bachelor's degree. Often, students will go into a master's degree program that it is related to their undergraduate studies. If a student chooses to go into a field that requires a master's degree, and that career is different from their undergraduate major, keep in mind that while it's very possible to get admitted into a program, there might be some additional curriculum requirements or prerequisite coursework.

Typically, a master's degree program takes two to three years to complete, depending on the time students can devote to it. Some institutions may require students finish their studies within a certain period of time, such as five years, from when they initially register for the program, which is important for part-time students and those who might be balancing other responsibilities along with their education to note.

For those who want to potentially decrease the time of their education, some schools with master's degree programs allow students to complete both bachelor's and master's degree programs at the same time. These combined programs allow students to use some classes to fill both undergraduate and graduate requirements, and they can potentially decrease the overall time it takes to complete both degree programs.

A look at careers with a master's degree

Some careers require a master's degree while others simply benefit from having one. For example, most states require a Certified Public Accountant to have a a master's degree or equivalent coursework. On the other hand, social workers might be able to prepare for a career with only a bachelor's degree but can't become licensed in some states without a master's degree.

According to an analysis conducted by Forbes, these master's degree programs are the most likely to offer increased earning potential:

  • Physician assistant studies
  • Computer science
  • Electrical engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Information systems

Other popular master's degree programs include the master of business administration (MBA), master of education and master of psychology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. professionals with a master's degree had median weekly earnings of $1,329 (more than $69,000 annually) in 2013. For comparison, bachelor degree holders had median incomes of $1,108 per week (around $57,000 annually) nationally during that year. However, actual incomes may vary significantly depending on the field, an individual's experience and professional credentials.

Finding the right master's degree programs

Students should start thinking about master's degree programs early in their education. Rather than graduating and wondering what to do with a psychology degree, individuals should have a clear understanding of potential career opportunities and whether an advanced degree is necessary to meet those career goals.

Admissions officers at schools that offer master's degree programs should be able to assist students as they research careers and education requirements. To find out more about a master's degree program that fits your needs, request additional information from several schools to compare curriculum requirements, graduation rates and alumni employment statistics. You can also talk to the school where you received or are working on your bachelor's degree to find out about pursuing an advanced degree.

Article Sources
Article Sources
  • Combined Bachelors/Masters Degree Programs, The Graduate School at Florida State University,
  • "The Best and Worst Master's Degrees for Jobs," Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes, June 8, 2012,
  • Social Work License Requirements,,
  • Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, March 24, 2014,
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