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more debt: is a Master's worth it?
Old 09-20-2009, 06:27 PM   #1
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more debt: is a Master's worth it?

I'm about to take on a mortgage and wonder if adding more debt for a master's will pay off.

Found this article:
What Is a Master’s Degree Worth? - Room for Debate Blog - NYTimes.com

Just getting out of my undergrad debt, the thought of going back for more makes me a bit uneasy. Right now, however, I don't know how else to take my income up to the next level anytime soon.

P.S. I work full-time. Employer reimburses only tuition, and only after course completion. Still have to take out loans.
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Old 09-20-2009, 06:41 PM   #2
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Does your employer pay more if you have a Masters? Are there actual jobs there? Or do you get an automatic raise if you get your Masters?

I could see taking 1 class at a time, if employer pays tuition. Out of pocket expenses shouldn't be that much.
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Old 09-20-2009, 06:59 PM   #3
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Why not get a graduate certificate first? They are typically 12-15 credits, and if you decide to pursue a master's degree, those credits will count for roughly 1/3 of the requisite amount.
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Old 09-20-2009, 07:15 PM   #4
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I've followed all your threads because of your first post. From others in that thread I've learned that salaries here in the frozen north are different from down there. Thus, a grain of salt is required for my comments (even though my former mega-corp had a larger US staff than Canadian).

First define your goal. Then how to get there.

From your first post, you don't want a management position. An MBA is probably out as far as increasing your income. Business Administration implies management.

Would a MA/MSc in CS/IT help? Depends if you are doing specialized stuff. At my former mega-corp, degrees opened the door. Performance determined your pay level (after allowing for the brown nose effect). Our dep't had two PhD's doing routine work and being paid the same as those with BA's (or even 2 year tech diplomas).

To me, it's fairly simple. Find a position you want, look at what qualifications are required, get those qualifications. If that position is in government, advanced degrees in a totally unrelated field may help. In the real world, get real.

You'll make it eventually. Keep at it.
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Old 09-20-2009, 07:30 PM   #5
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Personally I think it is preferable for the decision of whether or not to get a graduate degree to be driven by personal desire/need to learn, not by salary potential. Depending on the degree, often you cannot depend on a substantial increase in salary and sometimes the result is no increase at all. However, completing a decent graduate degree is a substantial commitment of time so it helps to have a solid non-monetary reason to be doing this.
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Old 09-20-2009, 08:11 PM   #6
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i'm a software developer. I'm assuming for your forum name that you are also.
i've never worked anywhere where they gave much credence to a masters degree.
creativity and hard work were always what counted where i worked.
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Old 09-20-2009, 08:31 PM   #7
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Does your employer pay more if you have a Masters?
They might, but it's not written anywhere. My team's lead developer has a Master's.

Quote:
Find a position you want, look at what qualifications are required, get those qualifications.
I'd like to be the one they can ask to solve the really hard problems. These are usually Sr.-level positions as far as I can tell, and yrs. of experience is the top requirement. Which I do not have, so I have to prove myself to "them" (and myself) some other way.
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I think it is preferable for the decision of whether or not to get a graduate degree to be driven by personal desire/need to learn, not by salary potential
I think "need to learn" is the motive. This education should enable me with the skills I need to raise my income.
I don't necessarily believe that I'd find this education in the "--- Cookbook" type books I rely on in the code trenches. For the tough questions that are more conceptual than implementation, I don't think the best answer on stackoverflow.

From what I'm hearing, the paper value of a Master's isn't necessarily what it costs, which was what I was getting at in the OP.
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Old 09-20-2009, 08:58 PM   #8
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If the company will pay for it (even if it's a reimbursement policy, who cares?), why not go for it? It can't hurt.
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Old 09-20-2009, 10:04 PM   #9
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Ditto
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Old 09-21-2009, 01:04 AM   #10
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I've been in IT for a while, and have seen all sides of the hiring process. Worked as, interviewed, budgeted, created hiring plans, worked with vendor teams/contractors, etc. What I've found is that while a small % of hiring managers may be impressed by a masters degree, they would be far more impressed by 2-3 additional years of relevant work experience. More importantly, many hiring managers for software developers rely on the opinions of their current development staff - many of whom may actually react negatively to your having a masters... Finally, even if you do find a manager that is impressed, they can't actually pay you any more, so while it may in some cases help you get a job, it's not going to translate to more money.

I would go for the masters if your plan is to move to a new field, and want the degree to either open doors or create some credibility as a substitute for work experience. If you're staying in software development, I'm not sure you'll see the return on your time (or tuition).
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Old 09-21-2009, 05:07 AM   #11
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IMO --- I would not get a Masters in CS or other software related majors unless you can look forward and know you will be in a specialized job or with an employer that rewards for an advanced degree.

In my experience (in the general service sector of business)... a grad degree in CS or Software Engineering doesn't help people much (it is more about the drive and competence of the person at work).

I do not have much detail about your background or career aspirations... my advice to anyone in the general service sector (IT related work) would be:

1) Skip getting an advanced degree (unless it is free) in CS, software engineering etc... but even if it is free option 2 below is better if you have an interest.
2) If you have management aspirations or think you will down the road... diversify your educational background and horizons and get an MBA! This is what I did and it has helped me. It has enabled me to step into different career paths and given me more flexibility and pay.
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Old 09-21-2009, 09:01 AM   #12
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I would do it only if it didn't involve going into debt. Unless an employer is willing to pay for it, then you are going to have to cash flow it instead.
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:24 AM   #13
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For some reason I thought OP was talking about continuing to work full time and also taking courses toward the masters, paid for by the employer after the courses are completed? Not taking a couple years off from his job. If that is the case, would that not make him more appealing to prospective employers down the road--to have the uninterrupted work experience plus showing the initiative to work toward a masters at the same time?

He will also meet other people in the classes and possibly be exposed to different ideas and methods than his current job uses.
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:41 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Want2retire View Post
Personally I think it is preferable for the decision of whether or not to get a graduate degree to be driven by personal desire/need to learn, not by salary potential. Depending on the degree, often you cannot depend on a substantial increase in salary and sometimes the result is no increase at all. However, completing a decent graduate degree is a substantial commitment of time so it helps to have a solid non-monetary reason to be doing this.
I couldn't have said it better.
In my former life as a salaried govt techie, the Masters' degree was held up as the rite of passage to get an advanced grade. I was taking MSEE courses and w*rking full time and traveling a lot. My reason for doing the courses was for the promotion to a GS-13, the highest grade without going into management.
What was missing was MY desire to get the degree. I eventually got tired of not having any personal time and the courses weren't really teaching me anything new. So I stopped. I got all sorts of grief for that, but I was a lot happier.
UPDATE: My gut feeling was they were just messing with me for the promotion, so my main reason for the degree went poof.
I did eventually get the GS-13 without the degree, when we converted to a demonstration pay-for-performance system.
So who had the last laugh ?

Everyone is different...if you really want it, go for it.
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:43 AM   #15
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What was missing was MY desire to get the degree. I eventually got tired of not having any personal time and the courses weren't really teaching me anything new. So I stopped. I got all sorts of grief for that, but I was a lot happier.
I was working on a MSCS in the mid 1990s. I actually finished 60% of the program before I burned out and dropped out. Despite how much of it I finished, I really don't regret dropping out of the program. I can't say it's negatively impacted my career or my earning potential.
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Old 09-21-2009, 10:50 AM   #16
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if your plan is to move to a new field, and want the degree to either open doors or create some credibility as a substitute for work experience
I can agree with this; in my case I'm substituting experience with education, only in the same field. I'd consider using the degree to open doors to a new field. except I'd have to talk my manager into letting me do so.
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I thought OP was talking about continuing to work full time and also taking courses toward the masters, paid for by the employer after the courses are completed
That's correct. More appealing resume? I've been conditioned by society to think so; that greater education usually leads to greater salary. But others' real-world experience tells otherwise. Since a major reason I'm considering a degree is for an education I don't think is found outside of academia, maybe I'll settle for a certificate. But then why not go for a higher degree and get a Master's?
This is how I look at this. I've got extra time, without a whole lot of extra income right now. What's a good way to invest this time? My salary looks mostly fixed in the future, how do I raise it?
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:18 AM   #17
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They might, but it's not written anywhere. My team's lead developer has a Master's.

..These are usually Sr.-level positions as far as I can tell, and yrs. of experience is the top requirement. Which I do not have, so I have to prove myself to "them" (and myself) some other way.

I think "need to learn" is the motive. This education should enable me with the skills I need to raise my income...
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I can agree with this; in my case I'm substituting experience with education, only in the same field. I'd consider using the degree to open doors to a new field. except I'd have to talk my manager into letting me do so.

...What's a good way to invest this time? My salary looks mostly fixed in the future, how do I raise it?
Forgive the editing, but I saw something here I think...correct me if I'm wrong. Is it company policy to pay for tuition, or is it contingent on the immediate supervisor's recommendation ? That could be key if your boss is the only one with a Masters'. Follow my drift ?

Aside from that, I think your reasons are very valid, as today's private sector w*rkplace reality is multiple company changes within one career. If this degree gives you more of a chance for other positions within and external to your current employer, and YOU want it, then by all means go for it.

Quoting a very smart lady (my Mom) : "They can never take your education away from you."
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:28 AM   #18
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I haven't seen Master's degrees in Comp Sci be helpful in getting better/higher paying jobs. Can't say it doesn't happen, but this is one of those fields that doesn't really lend itself to that.

I started a Master's myself. The classwork was not relevant, and then I switched to a place that didn't have tuition reimbursement. So I stopped halfway through.

If you like academia and someone else is paying, might as well go for it. If you'd rather have some time to yourself, you aren't giving much up by not having that degree.
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Old 09-21-2009, 11:59 AM   #19
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Is it company policy to pay for tuition, or is it contingent on the immediate supervisor's recommendation ? That could be key if your boss is the only one with a Masters'. Follow my drift ?
Well it's contingent upon my immediate supervisor's approval. I'm almost certain that my immediate mgr has his position from his experience (10 or so yrs) in this same "department" if you will. I don't think the Master's was a prereq. Why he decided to get it? I haven't asked.

Quote:
I haven't seen Master's degrees in Comp Sci be helpful in getting better/higher paying jobs.
On what the others are saying about the automatic pay raise, probably shouldn't bet on that. I read somewhere that Google was initially staffed by PhDs. So maybe it will help in getting "the" job.

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diversify your educational background and horizons and get an MBA!
Even if I wanted to, that would exceed my debt tolerance.
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Old 09-21-2009, 12:12 PM   #20
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Maybe I can amplify what Freebird, Want2retire and others have said.

At your age and with your skills, you have an enormous amount of human capital, and probably not much money or experience, so how to play this hand?

Getting a Master's degree while working full time is unimaginable to me. I know folks who have done it, but I never could. The degree will open some doors, but likely not at your current place of employment. I hate to say it, but managers all too often pigeonhole workers, and once those opinions are formed it is almost impossible to change them. If you work for a mega-corp, you might be able to transfer to get a fresh start, but if you stay where you are my bet would be that the time you spent in getting another degree would be wasted.

Workplace politics aside, you have the value of your time to consider. Free time in your 20s is tremendously valuable, IMHO, worth much more than free time in your 60s. There are many things that you can do when young that you cannot do when older.

With that in mind, I wouldn't commit my free time to a degree program unless your lack of knowledge (not lack of degree) is preventing you having the career you want to have. My experience has been that programming is the technical field for which a degree is least important. Some of the most success programmers I know dropped out of college. Mega-corps find a way to promote exceptional programmers whether or not they have a degree.

A master's degree program (a good one anyway) will be academically oriented. They won't be teaching you the nuts and bolts, but the underlying theory. A good school will be oriented towards cutting edge research. So if you find that you lack knowledge in, say, numerical analysis or compiler theory or whatever, is preventing you from working in the field you want to be in, then going back to school is worth it. If you don't have a good idea of what you want to do, then you are going to spend all of your free time taking really hard courses that you might never use again.

If all you want to do is make more money, I think there are easier ways to do it than getting an MS. You know the drill, polish up your resume, work on your networking, be willing to move, yada, yada, yada.

Full disclosure. I have no business giving career advice to anyone. My career made Dilbert's look good. I wasn't terribly successful from a salary or management pecking order point of view, but I did get to work on fascinating problems of my own choice and I used what I learned in college to the max, every day.

Oh, I guess that I should add that I have a non-thesis master's degree, probably very much like what you are considering, but I just stayed in college an extra year to get it.

I feel like such an old f@rt, prattling on with my "wisdom". Sheesh.
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