Time on your hands? Now’s a good time to get that master’s degree

With so many people laid off from the COVID-19 pandemic, some may be considering continuing education to make themselves more essential on the job, or to go after a totally new career.

But those seeking master’s degrees will find a great difference in how that degree impacts salaries depending on the field they’re pursuing, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

“The MBA business degree is probably in the most demand, and it has the highest employment rate of any program,” said Edwin Koc, NACE’s Director of Research, Public Policy, and Legislative Affairs.

In general, having an MBA helps with employability and starting salary no matter what the niche. Starting salary for an individual with an MBA is generally 38% higher than that of someone with a bachelor’s in business, he said, making it a good investment.

But not all MBAs are equal, either. If you’re looking to specialize, an MBA in finance tends to have the highest salaries, while those with a marketing MBA tend to earn lower salaries, he said. But the bottom line may be this: MBAs have an employment rate of 89%, which is very good.

The next highest is a master’s in computer science, which Koc said has a more than 80% employment rate. The jump in salary, however, isn’t as significant, mostly because the starting salary for a bachelor’s degree in computer science is already high. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in computer science can start at around $70,000, Koc said. At that level, the jump to $90,000 they may earn with a master’s degree isn’t that big of a jump.

“It’s the no. 1 undergraduate degree for starting salary,” he said.

The biggest jump in starting salaries is in fields such as philosophy and biology, Koc said, mainly because of the extremely low job prospects for those with a bachelor’s degree. There simply aren’t many entry level jobs in such areas. “By getting a master’s you improve your job prospects enormously. It improves starting salary by about 66% for biology and 40% for philosophy and [social work,]” he said.

Overall, the MBA is a good pick for someone looking to build on an existing career path. In fact, he said, most MBA programs in the region require some work experience before an individual can be admitted, which is one of the things that makes those with MBAs most employable.

Whatever the concentration, Koc said NACE is expecting to see a jump in the number of people seeking out advanced degrees.

“Generally when the economy goes bad the number of students going for an advanced degree goes up,” he said. “If the job climate is not good, by investing in an advance degree your opportunities when you do come out for a job and salary are better.”