Tips for Choosing the Right Master’s Degree Program

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 3, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated February 3, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

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Earning an advanced degree after completing your bachelor’s degree in a specialized field can be a great professional and personal accomplishment that has many benefits. However, there are many programs to choose from that can benefit you and possibly help you secure a high-paying job after graduation.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of master’s degrees, which degrees are the best to master in and how to choose the right master’s degree for you.

Related: Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree

Types of master’s degrees

There are several types of master’s degrees that you can pursue based on your personal interests and professional career goals. Here are the most common types of master’s degrees:

  • Master of Science (M.S.): An M.S. typically takes about one or two years to complete depending on the program. Students can choose between a variety of science-related subjects, such as engineering, earth science, information technology and marketing.

  • Master of Arts (M.A.): An M.A. program typically takes about one or two years to complete. Most M.A. programs are related to humanities subjects like philosophy and history. However, students may also get their M.A. in subjects like marketing or finance where the educational approach differs from that of these programs in an M.Sc. program.

  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): An MFA program typically takes two to three years of graduate coursework, often in disciplines such as creative writing, theatre arts, performance and film. In the U.S., these degrees are terminal, meaning it is the highest level of fine arts graduate education available.

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): An MBA is a flexible degree program that teaches a variety of business disciplines. A student may opt to get a general MBA or concentrate in finance, marketing, human resources or entrepreneurship.

  • Master of Education (M.Ed.): An M.Ed. is an advanced degree that emphasizes the theoretical and practical study of the education system instead of teaching in a classroom. The subjects a student can concentrate on are curriculum instruction, educational psychology, educational leadership and policy or special education. This program typically takes two years to complete.

Best master's degrees

These degrees may help you obtain jobs in related career fields that offer higher salaries compared to the average salary for an individual with a bachelor’s degree. Here are the highest-paying master’s degrees to pursue:

  • M.S. in Computer Science

  • M.S. in Software Engineering

  • MBA in Finance

  • Master of Business Administration

  • M.S. in Statistics

  • M.S. in Nursing

  • M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies

  • M.S. in Marketing

M.S. in Computer Science

Higher demand for technology innovation makes an M.S. in Computer Science a good degree to get. With this degree, you will have the skills to improve the technology infrastructure in companies or businesses. You may consider this degree to secure positions, such as:

  • Computer scientist, with a salary of $99,805 per year

  • Senior database administrator, with a salary of $102,405 per year

  • Security engineer, with a salary of $104,840 per year

M.S. in Software Engineering

Several companies today work with coding and software development and pursuing an advanced degree in software engineering will help you innovate and lead more effectively. With this degree, you will learn how to produce functional software and overcome the challenges of writing code. This degree may help you secure positions, such as:

  • Web developer, with a salary of $92,631 per year

  • Mobile developer, with a salary of $112,646 per year

  • Software development engineer, with a salary of $104,912 per year

MBA in Finance

A degree in finance will provide you with a detailed understanding of the procedures and standards of finance. You will learn about financial modeling, global economics and investment management. With this degree, you should be prepared to advance your career to senior level and management jobs in the finance industry, such as:

  • Senior financial analyst, with a salary of $87,304 per year

  • Senior financial reporting manager, with a salary of $125,716 per year

  • Investment banking analyst, with a salary of $135,711 per year

Master of Business Administration

An MBA will provide you with a detailed and all-encompassing understanding of the way businesses work, sustain and develop. Getting this advanced degree will help you network with business professionals from a variety of industries and you will learn skills and knowledge that can help you with your own business or a business you are hired to run. This generalized yet advanced business degree can help you find roles such as:

  • Information technology manager, with a salary of $87,549 per year

  • Director of business development, with a salary of $106,889 per year

  • Chief technology officer, with a salary of $122,085 per year

M.S. in Statistics

This advanced degree in mathematics is relevant in many different businesses and industries such as government, academia, management consulting and finance/insurance. Professionals who pursue this degree will learn about data analysis and interpretation that applies to real-world issues in business and economics. This degree can lead you to careers in:

  • Mathematician, with a salary of $94,622 per year

  • Biostatitician, with a salary of $109,008 per year

  • Senior data scientist, with a salary of $141,622 per year

M.S. in Nursing

An advanced degree in nursing will assist you with an increase of knowledge in the changing dynamics of the medical field. With an M.S.N., you will likely be able to attain a leadership position or run clinical research. This advanced nursing degree is best for roles such as:

  • Research nurse, with a salary of $71,689 per year

  • Nurse consultant, with a salary of $83,369 per year

  • Nurse practitioner, with a salary of $108,836 per year

M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies

This degree will help you be prepared for a career in medicine, as you support doctors or surgeons in a supervised clinical setting throughout your graduate program. This degree is required for all entry-level physician’s assistants. Some PA roles include:

  • Senior physician assistant, with a salary of $104,506 per year

  • Physician assistant, with a salary of $105,131 per year

  • Pain management physician assistant, with a salary of $132,343 per year

M.S. in Marketing

In this degree program, you will learn comprehensive information about marketing theories, strategies and analysis. The skills you will learn in this program will help you conduct your own marketing research to enhance the outcomes of the businesses you market for. Pursue this degree to secure employment in roles like:

  • Product development manager, with a salary of $93,369 per year

  • Senior marketing manager, with a salary of $100,294 per year

  • Brand manager, with a salary of $128,330 per year

Related: Highest-Paying Master’s Degrees

How to choose a master’s degree

Choosing a master’s degree program that works for you is essential to your future professional career success. Here are some tips that may help you assess which graduate program is right for you:

  1. Ask yourself why.

  2. Conduct thorough research.

  3. Consider the course lengths and requirements.

  4. Do a cost vs. benefit analysis.

  5. Think about the learning environment.

1. Ask yourself why

Think about your priorities and why you would like to get an advanced degree. You should keep your educational goals in line with your personal career goals. Try not to think about what anyone else would do or what looks good on your cover letter or resume. For instance, you may write your goals, what things interest you about advancing your career and what drawbacks you may have about enrolling in a graduate degree program.

2. Conduct thorough research

Research potential programs you might be interested in and collect data on various aspects of the degree program. For instance, you could check the information about these key items:

  • Curriculum

  • Student reviews and testimonies

  • University and department reputation

3. Consider the course lengths and requirements

If you would like to pursue an advanced degree, it is important to think about the time demands and the requirements. Sometimes, master’s degrees require specific courses to be completed in undergraduate programs before you can be admitted to the program. If you are admitted without the required undergraduate courses, you may be required to take them. This may increase your time demands and you will not be on track to finish within the allotted time. Try setting a timeline for your personal life and professional life and you will likely get a better idea of what schooling you can make time for.

4. Do a cost vs. benefit analysis

Graduate degree programs come with a price tag and each professional will have to determine if it is worth it for them to attend. Try creating a budget based on the top five schools and programs you would like to attend. Once you create that budget, check the projected income and job growth for the careers you hope to attain using your professional degree.

5. Think about the learning environment

Many graduate programs are now offered online or they are offered as in-person/online hybrids. When you conduct your thorough research on master’s programs you may want to note the environments you will learn in. Asses your current needs based on personal and professional demands in your life. For example, you may want to check:

  • Class sizes

  • Distance from where you live

  • Flexibility and schedule

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