Do I need a master’s degree for that?

Do I need a master’s degree for that?

One you’ve looked at possible careers and asked questions of the programs and funding… step back. Take a break and consider your life and situation. Get yourself a drink, a meditative space, and time to reflect.

I’d suggest you let yourself percolate on the ideas below… and even after you’ve committed to a program, give them a chance to re-surface if needed. If you haven’t overhauled your life and taken on massive loans, you may still be able to adjust course mid-stream if it becomes clear this isn’t working for you.

1. Why do you want to get a master’s? 

Have your reasons changed as you’ve done more research?

Knowing the full cost and chance you may not get a job after degree, is it still appealing?

Is this something that you and your family can take on?

What happens if you enjoy the program but never use it in the workplace—do you still feel like it will be worth it?

Are you saddling yourself or a current/future partner with debt that will make it hard to travel, have children, have a house, or pursue a lower-paid calling, craft, or dream?

Do you have other options to make a fair living doing work you enjoy?

Options Without the Degree

Let’s pause and remember that there is interesting work out there which doesn’t require a degree.

Train, by Neil Scottuk

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an Occupation Finder for jobs at various education levels, rate of pay, and likely growth. (But check with someone in the field to see if this is really accurate, and remember that median pay is likely something to aspire to mid-career).

For instance, you could be a butler for a rich person at $70,000 a year. You could design Navy ships for $50,000 a year. You could get stable benefits and a pension from government jobs. You could get a certificate in HVAC, plumbing, or landscaping and possibly have more freedom and do better for yourself than with multiple master’s degrees. You could be paid better as a school janitor than as a trained social worker… and have the chance to mentor at-risk kids just as well.

At times, another degree actually limits your options. As William Deresiewicz notes, if you get that expensive degree, you may feel like you have to do that thing you no longer really want to do:

“How can I be a schoolteacher—wouldn’t that be a waste of my expensive education? Wouldn’t I be squandering the opportunities my parents worked so hard to provide? What will my friends think? …and the question that lies behind all these: Isn’t it beneath me? So a whole universe of possibility closes, and you miss your true calling.”

After all that… enjoying the master’s. 

If after all that, you still have a sense this is for you—you’d enjoy the learning itself, it would set you up for several careers you’d enjoy, and the costs aren’t too high for you and your loved ones—then go for it!

Have fun. You can get a master’s degree in exciting places (sometimes it’s cheaper in Europe or Latin America), studying exciting things. If you’ve asked around and found other attractive careers that don’t need a degree–and still want this one–then you have a better sense that you’re doing this not just because you’re stuck, but because something about the path of taking another degree entices you, and is worth any sacrifices or uncertainties along the way.

If so… congratulations! Best of wishes, and I hope you’ll find good paths based on whatever decisions you’ve made.

If this was helpful, or if you have experiences to share, I’d love to hear what you learned and what decision you made. 

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