I work as a (not-software) engineer, my degree is from a University of applied science (german title: Dipl. Ing (FH)), translated internationally as Bachelor with honors. I'm thinking about trying to get a masters degree in my field. Things to consider:

  • I'm not terribly young (mid-thirties) and was not a fast student the first time around, my resume screams slacker as it is (said so more or less by the person who hired me for my current job)
  • I have 3-4 years experience since I got my degree
  • I did not get good grades. This could mean that I can't get enrolled in a masters program IF I decide to try, but would also mean that if I do and succeeed I had a chance to improve my most recent grades
  • A lot of positions that sound interesting (R&D among others) explicitly ask for the higher degree - though that might be a soft criterion with some (don't know)
  • I don't have the explicit aim to get into academia
  • I'd prefer to stay on the technical side of my work and avoid management (not that the latter is an imminent threat)

A few questions I have to ask myself or somewhere else - do I have the smarts and dilligence to finish an additional degree, how do I live and support my family while doing that, will I actually get into any program.

What I'm asking here is how to evaluate if it's actually worth it to try, in terms of better futuure options in the workplace.

  • Depending on what better future means to you, did you try searching for similar questions ? Here are two questions discussing benefits workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/11041/… and workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/10343/… Jul 30, 2013 at 16:09
  • 3
    care to explain the downvote/suggest improvements?
    – mart
    Jul 31, 2013 at 7:24
  • @happybuddha I had read both questions and answers before, thanks anyway.
    – mart
    Jul 31, 2013 at 7:25
  • @mart I think if you get rid of a lot of the personal things that are specific to you alone, and leave the question just as asking how to evaluate if a masters degree is worth it or not, there's a chance it might get reopened. I really like Beth's answer below, and I'd like to see this question reopened if possible. Perhaps try to write your question with her answer in mind.
    – Rachel
    Aug 5, 2013 at 21:13
  • As a side note, I wrote a very similar question that had some success. Perhaps check it out as an example of what I mean by trimming out all the personal details, and just leaving basic question: How can I evaluate if an optional certificate will help my career or not?
    – Rachel
    Aug 5, 2013 at 21:13

4 Answers 4


I think that only you can answer the question of what you want to be doing next.

Why do it

Some general points on what a master's can help with:

  • showing a commitment to education and self-improvement - a key to being seen as a go-getter. But a graduate degree isn't the only path - personal projects, boot camps, certifications, participation in professional organizations, writing articles, participating in profesionally-related volunteer work - there's all sortf of ways - and only a few of them require you to struggle with a traditional academic course style formate. The real requirements is that you learn and grow your skills in a way that lets you be successful.

  • rounding out rough edges - while smaller scale projects (boot camps, certifications, small projects) - can teach you a lot, they can also cause a person to play to their strengths and not struggle with the weakest points. A master's degree will typically push your skills in - an area of specific subject matter at a certain significant breadth and depth (more than a 10 week endeavor!), a focus on some hands on skills (labs, research, etc), and a focus on writing and presenting. Because you spend a fairly significant amount of time on it, you'll be forced to work both in your comfort zone and outside of it.

  • showing the commitment to something strenuous and long term and yet balancing it with work, life and family

  • filling in gaps - because it's a complete program, it can be a great way to fill in gaps in a field you've drifted into - for example, my undergrad was math - I programmed, but I wasn't a CS major, and I skipped a few of the fundamental programs in that discipline - the Master's helped fill in stuff that a good CS undergrad knows, and helped me take my skills to a new level.

  • a "brand" - MBAs in particular, but other graduate work can have this too - the pedigree of a given school, a given major or having done advanced degree work brands a person with a pedigree that doesn't relate 1:1 to the value of the education itself. In plain terms - everything you would learn with an MBA from Harvard you can probably learn on your own if you pull in the right resources and really work at it.... but having an MBA from Harvard gets your foot into many doors whether or not any of the information actually stuck in your brain after graduation.

Why NOT to do it

Any big reward also has a big cost. A Master's can be a big deal, but here's some serious cost tradeoffs:

  • The cost of the pedigree - is big and measured in dollars. Schools do a LOT of research on how effective their programs are at getting people more money, and they will happily quote these figures to you... because they use it to justify how expensive the program is. I can't speak for every region, but in the current economic climate the cost of a Master's or MBA in the US has grown hugely in the last few years. I am not so sure that salaries have kept pace. I would check very carefully on what you expect to get in salary growth vs. the financial cost of a given school.

  • The cost of time - to get real value out of the education, you have to expect it to take time. Your employer is unlikely to be happy about you taking time during work, so this becomes the value of balancing life and family with work and school work. I don't know anyone who found graduate school easy. More so if you are a person who found your undergrad difficult - the same issues and study skills you had in undergrad are likely to return, and in most cases, the support structure for an advanced degree is weaker. My undergrad offered tutoring, support for all sorts of disabilities, and lots of other support - my gradate work was nights, weekends, and lots of bootstrapping.

  • Partial work counts... but not so much - a few key classes may help you land the next key position - but not every class is equally helpful. A Master's as a package says "look, I can complete something big" - a handful of classes is worth the value of the knowledge of each class.

  • Grade expectations are higher - Where a C may be considered passing in an undergrad program, a C is not usually acceptable in graduate work. If you have corporate reimbursement, it's possible that only a B or better is covered.

On the value of a Graduate Degree to Industry

There's no one size fits all here. I'll say that there is a real blur between Academia and highly R&D driven firms. The culture can be very similar - folks may drift back and forth between University research and private firm R&D work - and many corporate laboratories feel more like a college campus than a corporate site. That's intentional. The nature of the really unknown is that the academic/R&D style culture tends be the more effective way of coming up and vetting crazy new things. As a result, many R&D areas will require degrees. If there was one place I'd expect degree requirements to be heavy and specific and unavoidable - it would be the academic/R&D community.

The other places that a Master's is important is when having people with either the training or the pedigree is a requirement or advantage to the business. There's no fixed set of industries here, but here's some examples:

  • Jobs with complex skills - that can't be covered in only 4 years, are going to have higher degree requirements. I can think of certain complex product based industries, but the most obvious area to me is healthcare and law - you've simply got to have a LOT of education to be a doctor or a lawyer and you can't cram it in in 4 years.

  • Jobs where having people with the pedigree helps to make the company money - I've seen it both in product development and contracting - being able to say "look our entire X team have advanced degrees in major universities" can be a selling point for a product or a way to sell a contract for manpower. Everyone wants to think that the state of the art product or the high end services they have purchases were made by the best/smartest people money can buy. It varies significantly across industries whether a degree helps to show how smart/great someone is... bigger/more established institutions may take a traditional education more seriously than leaner/meaner/newer industries - particularly where the state of technology is evolving too quickly for colleges to keep up.

This is all incredibly broad - what YOU want to do, what opportunities are available where YOU live and the type of job YOU do will all factor into this equation - but that's where we're into career counseling, which doesn't work so well on a Stack Exchange format.

  • I agree with this. As a programmer you have much more many ways to show your drive than any other jobs. Jun 15, 2015 at 15:54

You say, " I'm thinking about trying to get a masters degree in my field." I would encourage you to get a degree in a different but related field than your undergraduate degree. This is what I did: my Bachelor's degree is in Electrical Engineering, and my Master's is in Computer Science.

The combination of degrees in hardware and software has made me somewhat unique and has directly resulted im my landing several contracts -- many clients have told me this. (I've been self-employed most of my career.)

I got my Master's while working at a full-time job, paid for in full by my employer at the time. It took several years, and I was 30 when I graduated. Now I'm 66 and have no plans of retiring -- I enjoy working too much. I am currently working three simultaneous contracts. Two weeks ago, I spent most of the week designing a new microcontroller circuit. Today I am testing some other new PCB's that just came back from the manufacturer, and tomorrow I will start on optimizing some video routines, plus working on the backend of a web server.

  • Thats a good point.+1
    – zzzzz
    Jul 31, 2013 at 5:50

You say you want to get a position in R&D and that they mostly require higher degrees than what you have. So it sounds like it's worth it from that point of view. If you can be happy without getting one of those jobs, maybe it's not worth it.

How important is it to you to get one of those jobs in R&D? And don't forget that just having the degree is in no way a guarantee that you'll actually get the job you want. If you get the degree, and fail to get the job, would you be OK with that?

Age might not be as important as you think - I know many people who have finished higher degrees in the 30's, 40's, and even 50's. Some of these involve research that just takes time, some of them had to slow down because life was happening and they needed to support themselves in some way.

It sounds like grades are your biggest obstacle to even getting enrolled. So, if you can find a school and supervisor that will take you, and they also think that the program in question will help you get a career doing what you want, then it's worth it.

Of course there's still a lot of details to sort out: finding a program that will move you in the direction of the R&D you eventually want to work in; finding a school that has that program; finding a professor/supervisor and school who will take you.


Do you want a higher degree in order to get a higher paying job, or to satisfy a personal desire?

If it is for a higher paying job, you need to weigh the opportunity cost - you are currently earning an income, but while working toward your advanced degree you will most likely be accumulating debt. Will a potentially higher paying job be enough to offset the unearned income plus the debt acquired? Keep in mind that there is no guarantee of a future job at higher pay.

If you want a degree to satisfy personal desire, find a way to earn it while working. (Perhaps your current employer may provide some assistance? If not, work and take night classes.)

Based on your own misgivings, it doesn't sound like a good choice for you right now.

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