Graduation is in sight and you need to decide what you are doing next year.
Are you going to interview and find a job?
Alternatively, perhaps continuing on for an MS is the right move.
Many engineers I talk with see this as a guaranteed boost to their career prospects and a no-brainer if they get accepted. However, this is not always the case.
To be honest, whether it is worth it or not is a bit subjective, but I will give you some basis to help you decide. Once you go through the points below, you can see where the answers take you and then make a decision.
Let’s Weigh The Factors
First, what do you get out of the Masters from an educational standpoint? As I see it, there are two primary reasons to continue past your undergraduate degree into a graduate degree program. The first reason is to broaden the scope of your undergraduate degree. This generally means you take courses that are related to your interest, but not necessarily in that topic directly. For example, I took a product development/marketing course in the business school during my Masters in mechanical engineering. The reason I took that class was so I would understand the process that followed my engineering design of a product. The second reason to go for the extra degree is to specialize in an area within your field. This can include very specific courses and/or further research with a professor that works in this area.
Second, what is the cost of getting the Masters? Will you qualify for loans or scholarships? Is there a chance you can get it free with a job on campus? Perhaps you can find a standard job in the field that offers tuition assistance while you are working for them. If you have to start taking out loans or really go into financial hardship, then give this some serious thought. It might make sense to work for a bit and get yourself into a better position financially to take go for it.
Another thing to keep in mind when you consider the cost is the fact that if you do the MS full-time, then you won’t be getting a real salary for two years. This is a hidden cost since it is not money you are paying, but rather money that you just aren’t receiving.
Third, will it help in the job market? Let’s be honest, most people are thinking about the Masters because they want to add to their credentials to help them land a job. Let’s say a hiring agent has two resumes in front of him that are virtually identical with the only difference being that you have a Masters and the other applicant does not. In this case, the additional degree will help. However, it is very rare that you really have two identical resumes. You might have someone with 2 years of on the job experience that they gained while you were getting the Masters. In that case, which is more valuable?
So what should you do?
If the Masters will really help you with specific knowledge to gain a job, then it may very well be worth it. However, if you are getting it just as an extra credential with no specific goal in mind, then it is likely not worthwhile at this time. I think you should treat this in a manner similar to licensing/certifications. Look at the people who are in the position that you eventually want to attain. See what degrees and licensing they have and aim to emulate them to some level.
The one thing that you certainly SHOULD NOT DO is go for the MS just because you don’t know what else to do with your life. Going for an MS should not be the default decision since you are going to be wasting time and money if it is not going to be worthwhile.
Finally, I often tell the engineers I mentor to give it a year or two before you make the decision. In general, it is easier to take the MS sooner rather than later since life starts to get in the way as you get older and you are farther into your career and family situations. However, waiting a year or two to make the decision can certainly be a smart move so you don’t make the wrong decision.
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Deciding whether or not to go for your MS is a decision that can be helped along by those in your network who are in your field of interest and can really tell you the specific factors that will make this worthwhile or not.
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