Was my masters degree worth it? Yes, but not how you think

A person's feet walking on newspapers. A quote over it that reads, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." by Derek Bok
From Flickr Creative Commons: Celestine Chua

Disclaimer: I was one of the fortunate who had my masters degree almost fully-funded by the organization I worked for. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t cost me; I still had to put a lot of time into my schoolwork and my classes were held an hour from my home, so there was a lot of driving involved.

I often speak to professionals who are torn on whether or not to go for a higher degree. In most cases, a higher degree in the short-term (5 years) probably won’t result in a raise or a promotion. So, they often ask, is it really worth it?

In aggregate, the higher the education level you attain in the U.S., the lower your employment rate and the higher your income will be. So, generally speaking, even if you don’t see a short-term gain for earning a higher degree, there is most likely going to be a long-term gain for you. But, when I think back on what I learned most from my masters degree, what makes it ultimately worth it for me are the tools that I now use in all aspects of my life.

The first main tool was how to look up good information. As one of my colleagues (a financial analyst) put it, “The thing I learned in my masters degree that I value the most is knowing how to look up corporate data.” Knowing where, and how, to find data is incredibly helpful in most careers and in your personal life. Want to know how much the CEO is paid of the stock you own? I can find that. Interested in the graduation rate of your local high school? No problem. Curious on the latest studies about caffeine? Give me a few minutes, but I’ll get it to you.

The second, and even more important thing I learned in my masters degree was how to tell the difference between good information and bad information. This is a combination of knowing where to look and  how to look. For example, a family member told me about a major controversy that resulted in the firing of the local superintendent about three months prior to him telling me. The problem? No record of any firings could be found in the local newspapers and the school’s own board meeting notes showed no change in the name of the superintendent that was supposedly fired.  Or seeing a study about how a certain food is good for you, but when I look-up the study, I found out the major food manufacturer for the food conducted the study, meaning it is biased to fit that outcome. Or a study on health that does seem legit, but doesn’t control for other factors that might be affecting the results or has a very small sample size.

The two skills above, as the examples show, are not only useful in my professional career, but also in my personal life. It’s made me a more-informed citizen and voter, it’s made me a more discerning consumer, and it’s prevented me from spreading false information.

So was my master’s degree worth it? Absolutely. And I’m convinced that I’m not done learning yet.