Experts warn against earning a master’s during the pandemic. Here’s why

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Maybe getting a master’s degree during the pandemic isn’t such a good idea. 

In fact, it might actually make your job search more difficult, says career coach J.T. O’Donnell

Most of us assume that going back to school for a graduate degree will better prepare us for higher-paying jobs in hot job markets. 

But this isn’t always the case, especially during the COVID pandemic. 

A master’s degree may not offer the same benefits as it once did, and here’s why. 

Job prospects are weak

O’Donnell challenged the assumption that a master’s degree increases the chances of finding a good job. The Class of 2020 graduated in one of the worst job markets in history, according to The Hill

COVID lockdowns have ushered millions of recent college graduates into a job market where small businesses are shutting down and unemployment is high. “Lockdowns triggered by the pandemic changed [this assumption] overnight, leading 36.5 million people to apply for unemployment benefits,” wrote The Hill. 

And, those with master’s degrees on their resumes could appear to be “over-qualified” for some positions. “I had one client with an MBA who applied to dozens of waitressing jobs this year to pay off student loan debt but didn’t get hired anywhere until she took her master’s degree off her resume,” O’Donnell said. 

Experience over education

For years, employers have been more open than ever to hiring candidates without degrees at all, provided they had demonstrated work experience in the field. 

“Recent research shows that degree inflation—the rising demand for four-year college degrees for jobs that previously did not require them—overall is increasing,” wrote SHRM. 

Degree inflation indirectly refers to the relative diminishing returns of college degrees as degree holders continue to saturate the market. 

More and more companies are reducing or eliminating degree requirements in a fight to hire the most qualified candidate rather than the candidate with exposure to education. 

Your age matters

Depending on your age, you might not get enough of a return out of a master’s degree as you might think. If you’re a veteran in the workforce, you’re susceptible to this phenomenon. 

“Let’s say you want to retire in five or seven years. Is it really wise to invest thousands of dollars for a degree that will take you two or three years to get?” wrote O’Donnell. 

If you are just a few years away from retirement – or the pandemic has encouraged you to move your retirement date up, then a master’s degree could easily cost more than you’d make in additional salary before quitting the rat race. 

Or are you planning to switch careers? Take on a role that’s less public-facing? 

These questions heavily influence the value of going back to school for a master’s during the pandemic. 

How to determine if a master’s degree is worth it

To determine if a master’s degree is worth it, ask yourself some questions:

  • Do I see myself in my career for the long haul?
  • Do the most successful people in my industry have graduate degrees?
  • Will I get a substantial raise after completing my degree?
  • Do I have the time to pursue a master’s degree right now?
  • Can I get into a top school? 

All of these questions can help you to answer whether or not a master’s degree is worth it for you. If all else fails, talk to your manager and ask for their insight. 

At the very least, just asking the question will probably impress your boss.