Is doing a master’s degree course abroad really worth it? If you’re an Indian student, you will be likely mulling over this question while awaiting your bachelor’s degree exam results.
The job market is full of candidates with undergraduate degrees — will a good master’s help you stand out in the crowd? Is it the answer to finding a well-paying, fulfilling job? Or is it just a matter of two or three extra letters after your name that mum can boast about to her neighbours?
The most important factor in decision-making here is the financial question. The tuition fee for a postgraduate course depends on the reputation of the university/school, the program’s standing, and its duration, and could be between $30,000 and $120,000 in the US.
The average cost of doing an MBA is $40,000, and the tuition fee for a full-time MS engineering course for foreign students at the University of Michigan, for example, is $21,000 a year, according to the portal “bestmastersdegree.com.”
Although ballpark estimates show that the fees for master’s courses and the cost of living are lower in the US compared with the UK, there is not much to choose between the two countries cost-wise, because of the longer duration of American courses, according to Investopedia.
Very nearly, these countries, along with Australia and Canada, all are equally expensive destinations, and the top destination has remained the US.
What’s the return on investment? Quoting figures from the US Census Bureau, bestmastersdegree.com says that employees with a master’s earn 15 percent more than their colleagues with only a bachelor’s degree over a lifetime. But this is only an approximate, “on average” figure.
Giving an example of a more valuable PG degree, CareerBuilder notes that computer programmers with a master’s earn more than $72,000 annually, compared with only $51,000 that bachelor’s degree holders pull. Not a poor ROI by any reckoning.
The source of funds for the fee is a concern that stops most Indian students from doing a master’s.
But many Indian banks offer education loans, and while studying abroad, the student can explore the options of working part-time and easing the loan burden, and then plan loan repayment after finding a job.
For toppers and specific groups, scholarships funded by governments, private organizations, and institutions are available (see the “Top Universities” link in the references section below; and read more about MBA scholarships).
If you are already employed and are planning to do your master’s, your company may fund your studies. Some even allow employees with potential to take time off for higher studies.
More than a few Fortune 500 companies offer educational aid to staff. If your employer is ready to give you time and money, then attending a postgraduate course would make perfect sense.
How does post-graduation make you an asset for companies? First, the knowledge and skills that you acquired during your undergraduate program are built upon during PG. If you’re looking for your first job, a master’s on your CV would signal to recruiters that you have an abiding interest in your chosen field. A master’s from a reputed school might also make up for a bachelor’s from a less reputed institution.
Many students sign up for post-graduation only because they don’t have a specific career plan and stay on in school in order to postpone the inevitable job-market rat race.
But a master’s right after graduation is an excellent option for bright students to gain new perspectives on life: for example, an MBA student can gain direct experience through internships and also build a network of professors, career-services personnel, and fellow students.
However, don’t imagine that recruiters are waiting for you to show up with your PG degree. Postgraduate job-seekers should keep in mind that master’s degrees open doors in some fields and not much in others.
For example, a graphic designer would be hired not for her PG degree but rather for her portfolio. However, a medical postgraduate would be seen as a much better candidate than a medical graduate.
A master’s degree may also impact salary differently in different fields. For example, a biology graduate with a PG degree can earn double the salary of one without, but an arts student with a master’s only 25 percent more.
Recruiters say that regardless of the field, young job-seekers or employees should look at what seniors before them did—if PG is apparently rewarding in their line of work, then that is the way to go. But even if PG degrees are not too common among your senior colleagues, you should still consider alternative training programs or apprenticeship to hone your skills.
A postgraduate degree might help you not only to land your first job but also to get you moving on your chosen career path—that is, a promotion earlier rather than later in your career.
An information technology specialist quoted in US News and World Reporter says that while a postgraduate degree is required for quite a few junior positions, almost all senior technological and management positions demand it.
If you don’t have a PG degree, you will need to acquire certifications to climb the ladder.
But there is also the view that attending a master’s course is loss of precious time that is better spent acquiring work experience, and that the best step after graduation is to find a job and gain practical skills at the workplace.
Some experts ask whether, instead of handing over substantial fees to graduate school, it isn’t better to receive salary checks and gain precious work experience at the same time.
Rosemary Guzman Hook, executive recruiter at Hook The Talent, Inc., sees value in work experience, but says experience is even better when it comes with a master’s degree, which, she says, will show recruiters that the candidate has practical knowledge and also theoretical expertise.
Those who discount the value of full-time, on-campus PG courses point out that there are a number of online and part-time courses that allow employees to study master’s without taking a break from work. Some online courses are self-paced and suitable even for those who are struggling to balance 40-hour work weeks with personal life.
Of course, it goes without saying that a PG university or college needs to be selected carefully against a basic checklist, starting with the most important point of them all:
Does a PG abroad fit in with your plan for your future?
Other questions follow:
– Does a PG degree from the school where you’ve been accepted have currency in the job market?
– Is the curriculum and faculty of a high standard?
– How long will it take for you to recover your college fee?
Nevertheless, despite the trials and tribulations—read GRE, GMAT, TOEFL/IELTS, admission and education-loan applications—there’s something of lasting value that a master’s creates.
It’s not just two or three coveted letters after your name, but the immense personal satisfaction that you achieve in gaining a new treasure of knowledge and skills. This may be a dream worth fulfilling.