You may have been asking yourself this question for a while.
If you have been away from school for a few years or are working full time, it’s a difficult question to answer. Generally, when individuals decide to pursue a graduate degree it’s because they want to change their profession or want to gain additional skills and knowledge which will prepare them for career advancement. Knowing why you want to earn another degree is important as it will help you in deciding which type of master’s program and degree you wish to pursue.
Trying to navigate the alphabet soup of degrees can be difficult. If you are unsure which program you should consider, talk to colleagues to see what degrees they hold or look at job listings of positions in which you would like to be considered and determine if a specific degree is required.
Although public sector employees can earn master’s in various disciplines, they tend to gravitate towards two type of programs: Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) and Master’s of Public Policy (MPP). The MPA degree is useful if you are pursuing a career in public sector or nonprofit management. In this type of program you will develop competencies that will help you as a manager to implement policies, projects, and programs that resolve public issues.
If you pursue the MPP degree, you will be prepared for for analyzing, evaluating, and solving all aspects of public policy. As public policy analysts and managers, MPP graduates work with data to develop alternative approaches to emergent issues in society.
But, is getting a master’s degree worth it? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) the median annual salary of individuals holding a master’s degree (all fields) was $69,700 — $10,600 higher than for individuals with only a bachelor’s degree. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration projects that the return on investment for a master’s degree is strong and can result in consideration for a range of public sector management jobs. Finally, with the ‘silver tsunami’ affecting the government workforce, the demand for leaders in all sectors will increase in the coming years.
If with this good news you do decide that it’s worth it to get a master’s degree, there are still four questions that you should seek answers to before enrolling in a program.
Do I Have Time? You need to consider the time to attend classes–whether online or in person–and the work associated with each one. Graduate-level courses require a substantial amount of reading and writing, so you must determine if you can keep up with the work. Look at your schedule now and see if you have 12 free hours in your week. If you take 2 classes a semester — at a minimum — that’s how much time you will need to dedicate weekly to your studies.
Do I Have a Support Network? If you plan to juggle work, school, family, and other responsibilities, you need to have friends and family that can provide support when things get hectic (and they will). Determine if there are others who can help you with family or work obligations or be your personal cheerleader when you are tight on time and under stress.
Do I Have Employer Support? If you intend to continue working while pursuing a graduate degree, you need to ascertain how much flexibility you will have when it comes to your work schedule. When classes are held (late afternoon, weekends, evenings) may impede upon your regular schedule. Major projects, research, group activities, comprehensive exams — these are all things that may require time during your traditional work day. Talk to your immediate supervisor to discuss your plans and determine support.
Do I Have The Financial Means? Explore all options for financial support including employer and veteran benefits, scholarships, grants for adult learners, and other forms of financial aid. When researching master’s programs, talk to program directors about tuition, fees, book costs, and other expenses and the types of financial support available.
Pursuing a master’s degree can be a rewarding and life-changing experience, but you need to be clear on the type of degree you wish to pursue and that you are ready for the demands. Being focused on your personal and professional goals as well as support available will help you determine if it’s time for you to get your master’s degree.
Tricia S. Nolfi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.