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The Importance of Graduate Degrees

written by: William Springer•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 1/27/2011

Why bother getting a graduate degree? In some cases, having an advanced degree is a requirement for getting promotions and raises; in others, it will do you little good. Read on to find out about the importance of graduate degrees and if an advanced degree would be helpful for you.

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    A Graduate Degree: Personal and Professional

    Given the cost of earning a PhD, why would anyone bother? Aside from the personal satisfaction from completing a very difficult talk (and a PhD is not for everyone), why should you invest the time and effort? What is the importance of graduate degrees?

    In this article, we'll look at some of the reasons, both personal and professional, for why you might want to earn a graduate or postgraduate degree in your field of study.

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    Depth of Knowledge

    The advantage of graduate study is that you get the opportunity to delve deeply into a subject, such that you can become a true expert on it. If you're interested in doing something that requires in-depth knowledge, such as research or teaching, a graduate or postgraduate degree is the way to go. An undergraduate degree, on the other hand, is designed for breadth rather than depth: it exposes you to a variety of areas within your discipline, but you generally don't have the opportunity to become an expert in any of them.

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    Got to Have That Piece of Paper

    Graduation cap; this image is in the public domain Of course, sometimes the knowledge gained from a degree is less important than the fact of having it. Just as many jobs require a college degree but don't care what area it's in (as the fact that you've completed college tells the company something about you), in some cases having an advanced degree is sufficient or required for advancement.

    For example, teaching at a community college generally requires a master's degree in any area, as well as having fifteen graduate semester hours in the area that you want to teach in. When the author taught middle school math, he got an increase in pay for having a master's degree; the fact that it was in a relevant subject area didn't actually matter.

    Of course, this isn't always (or even mostly) true; generally, you'll want to have a degree in an area relevant to your field. However, having that piece of paper is often required to get a better paying job or move up to a higher pay scale.

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    What Graduate Degrees Mean to You

    So what is the importance of graduate degrees to you? If you're in a position that you're happy in, getting another degree could likely be more trouble than it's worth: it's a lot of time, money, and effort invested into something that you might not even need. However, many companies have programs through which they will pay at least part of the cost for continuing education that is relevant to your job, so you might not be stuck with the entire cost. Additionally, that cost might be made up by an increase in your pay once the degree is complete.

    If you're looking for a new job, or plan to do so in the future, an advanced degree may be helpful...or it might not, depending on what type of position you're interested in. In general, "intellectual"-type positions like to see advanced study, as it shows that you're capable of succeeding at the job. On the other hand, for other types of work, it may actually make it harder to get a job, as the company may believe you to be overqualified and pass over you on the assumption that you'll quit as soon as something better comes along.

    The main question, then, is whether you're the type of person who enjoys learning and would be perfectly happy putting in the massive effort required in graduate school. If so, you're more likely to have both success at earning the degree and seeking the type of position that would require it.