I was a very non-traditional student. By the time I got my bachelor’s degree I had gone to six different two- and four-year colleges in three different states. I was already married with two children in high school. I did well in my career until I tried to apply for a management job in my company and the job posting said, “Degree required.” That prompted me to go back to school one more time and finish up my degree.
I never got that management job since my husband was transferred to the sunny south and we packed up and moved a week after graduation. Job prospects were very different in Augusta, Georgia from Washington, DC, and it wasn’t long after our move that I started my business and began life as a consultant and freelancer. Business was good, and I didn’t have to have a master’s degree to impress clients or land projects. About 10 years later when I decided to get a “real job” in Human Resources, my employer was more impressed with my training experience than my education or degrees.
Fast forward to the recession of 2008. I left one job to take another one closer to home, but it only lasted nine months before the position was eliminated. With my business to fall back on, I went back to training until I found another job in HR. This one was more like a long-term consulting project. About 10 months after I met the 11 objectives my new boss handed to me on my first day, I found myself out of a job again.
It was only a couple of years between jobs, but things changed quickly in this past recession. I was older, competition was tougher and, though I had lots of experience, I was more expensive than new grads or HR professionals with a couple years of experience. Another thing that changed was the new requirement for so many jobs. This time it said, “Master’s degree preferred.” With so many quality applicants with a Master’s degree competing with me for the same jobs, I hit the wall again.
Now requirements vary with career choices, jobs and industries, but the Master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree, especially if you’re 40- or 50-something trying to compete for the next level in your company, changing jobs or careers. A Master’s degree is required if you want to teach continuing education at a college or technical school. It makes it easier to change careers if you have transferrable skills and experience if you have a Master’s degree. A Ph.D. may actually take you out of the running—sort of like being too expensive or overqualified.
So, the answer to the question, I believe is “Yes.” There’s a lot of controversy about whether a college degree is necessary at all. If you want to work in the corporate world or move up in an industrial, healthcare or educational career, take the time and get your Master’s degree. If you are working and your company has tuition reimbursement, enroll in a Master’s program for the next available semester. It’s a nice trump card to have in your hand to use if you need it.