Will a Masters Degree Improve Your Employment Prospects?
While it is generally accepted that there’s a correlation between higher levels of education and better career opportunities, how much of an advantage does a master’s degree provide compared to an undergraduate qualification? In short, will getting a master’s improve your employment prospects?
With the costs of higher education a hot topic in many countries worldwide, the debate around whether or not further study is worthwhile is difficult to avoid. The answer is of course not a simple one, depending on a combination of individual and external factors, such as professional sector, subject specialization and job market demand.
In a survey of more than 4,000 students preparing to apply for postgraduate degrees, conducted by QS in 2012-13, an average of 75% of applicants across different world regions said they believed a graduate degree would boost their employment prospects. Is this belief justified? Read on to see what employers and statistics say.
Growing global demand for STEM skills at master’s level and above
The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education is an independent global organization that conducts research into cross-border higher education programs. Its newsletter for January 2013 highlights a growing demand for STEM skills (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, mathematics) in the US and Europe, saying this has prompted talk of making US visas available to immigrants who hold PhD or master’s degrees in STEM subjects.
The Observatory says: “imported talent [to the US] is necessary… The number of STEM graduates will have to increase by 20-30% by 2016 to meet the projected growth of the US economy. Overall, STEM employment grew three times more than non-STEM employment over the last twelve years, and is expected to grow twice as fast by 2018.”
This position is echoed by others, such as The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a business lobbying organization that represents employers and publishes a wide range of data based on surveys. A CBI release called ‘Tomorrow’s Growth’ dated July 2013 speaks of increased employment prospects in highly skilled roles, saying “anticipated changes to occupational structure mean that by 2020 nearly half of all employment will be for highly-skilled roles”.
In fact, demand is already high, according to Katja Hall, CBI Policy Director. “Businesses already report major skills shortages in areas like manufacturing and engineering – a situation expected to become more acute as the economy picks up… In short, we need many more people to achieve appropriate higher-level qualifications.”
The UK’s House of Lords agrees, publishing a report last July that acknowledges the “significant” role STEM postgraduates play “in driving innovation, undertaking research and development, and providing leadership and entrepreneurship”, and saying the government needs “to articulate how they intend to convey to students the benefits of STEM postgraduate study”.
Similar situations are reported in many other countries worldwide. For instance, a recent report from The Times of India quotes the head of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Mr Shekhar Sanyal: “MTech [Master of Technology] graduates are in high demand and much sought-after by technical industries, not just in India but worldwide… If you are good and technically sound, MTech can open up various opportunities for you.”
Growing demand for MBA graduates and other Business Masters
According to the annual Corporate Recruitment Survey for 2013 from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which surveyed employers in 50 countries around the world, 75% of surveyed employers intend to hire MBA graduates this year, an increase on the 71% who hired MBA graduates the previous year.
Another 2013 GMAC survey of MBA and other Business Masters students in 33 countries worldwide found that a majority of 60% had already received a job offer before graduating. This percentage has been growing steadily over the last five years in almost all Business Masters programs. The highest percentage of job offers was found in China (75%), and the lowest in Europe (55%), but even the European figure shows a clear majority.
Better employment prospects overall for master’s graduates
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has published a chart of ‘Earnings and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment’ for the year 2012. This shows a median unemployment rate of 3.5% for master’s degree holders, in contrast to unemployment rates for bachelor and associate degree holders of 4.5% and 6.2% respectively. Furthermore, it shows median weekly earnings for master’s degree holders in 2012 to be significantly higher – US$1,300, compared to bachelor and associate degree holders’ earnings of $1,066 and $785.
UK-based figures published in June 2013 by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that 74% of those who completed master’s degrees in the academic year 2011/12 found employment within six months: 56% at home, 13% overseas, and a further 5% combining work and study. This is in comparison to 72% of first-degree students, where the breakdown in the same order is 63%, 3% and 6%.
So, with the two most popular destinations for higher education, the US and UK, both showing better employment prospects overall for master’s graduates, the evidence in favor of doing a master’s degree certainly looks encouraging.
Finally, it should be remembered that it’s not just the degree itself – it’s what you do with it, and how effectively you use it to convince future employers you have the knowledge and skills they’re looking for. In other words, a master’s degree should do a lot more for you than just add an extra line to your CV.
This article was originally published in August 2013 . It was last updated in January 2020