ILLUSTRATION BY SAHAR SWALEH/Golden Gate Xpress

 

Before many have even had a chance to put on their cap and gown, they can see their next degree on the horizon. Ditching their post-grad
relaxation, many first-time college graduates are on track to attain their master’s degree. Has earning a bachelor’s become high school graduation 2.0?

Prior to the rise of the master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree was branded as the golden ticket to attain and sustain a decades-long career.

Much like the turned fate of a misleading Wonka’s Golden Ticket, what happens when your bachelor’s degree isn’t worth what you once thought it was? It seems now more than ever, the security felt by the 20-something college graduate is fading along with the closely-held promise that an undergraduate degree will be the end of their higher education pursuit.

Master’s degrees and Ph.D.s were once considered the arena for the overachievers. Now it seems the master’s degree has become the new
bachelor’s degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing entry-level employment based on education level is the master’s degree. By 2022, the amount of entry-level occupations requiring a master’s degree is expected to increase by 18.4 percent from 2012, the fastest of all eight education levels.

According to Georgetown University’s report, The Economic Value of College Majors, one out of three college graduates attain a graduate
degree. While the overall enrollment for the graduate degree continues to increase, the retention rates show success varies vastly for different
careers.

Although biology and life sciences majors have the fifth lowest number of students of the top 15 major groups, lower than both humanities
and liberal arts and communication and journalism majors, the retention rates tell a different story. Biology and life sciences majors hold the
highest retention rate, 57.7 percent, while communications and journalism majors hold the lowest — a dismal 20.8 percent.

Regardless of major, a master’s degree increases overall wages, however, by no surprise, the largest salaries go to STEM, health and education majors. Biology and life sciences graduate degrees earn 63.3 percent more than their undergraduate degree counterparts while health and medical graduate degrees earn an astonishing 137 percent more than their undergraduate counterparts.

According to the College Board, obtaining a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree can cost the same. The average cost of tuition, fees and room and board for either degree at a public four-year institution is $19,080. Similarly, the average costs at a private four-year are $46,680 for
a bachelor’s degree and $42,380 for a master’s degree.

With similar price tags attached to both degrees, the increasing popularity of a graduate degree can be puzzling to some. However, one could argue the degree pays for itself when compared to the wage premiums one can earn with a graduate degree. The average graduate degree wage premium is 28.4 percent. Additionally, some employers reimburse some if not all tuition costs as part of the benefits package.

According to Georgetown University, graduate wage premiums vary from 22.9 percent for arts majors up to 63.3 percent for biology and life sciences majors. Before jumping the gun on applying to obtain a graduate degree, one should consider if the expected premium offsets the additional investment toward another degree. All in all, there’s a lot to consider.

While pursuing a graduate degree might not have been on everyone’s radar, the days of ruling the possibility out are long gone. The master’s degree has risen, showing no signs of slowing down. The question now is: could the Ph.D. possibly become the new master’s?

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