- Education

Aiming for the top: How an online master’s degree could unlock your career potential

At one time or another, a whole host of people will reach a crossroads point in their career – how can I push on and become a senior manager, or ascend to the next paygrade?

To stand out from the crowd and enhance your employability, you need a resumé that is packed with experiences and achievements.

Of course, for many industries, you will need an educational and theoretical background in order to ensure you don’t bump your head against a glass ceiling on your route to the top.

There is a misconception that degree courses are designed solely for younger people looking for the university/college experience, but the truth is that these days, anyone can embark on a course of study – even from your own home.

Online degrees are flexible and designed to be scheduled around your existing commitments. So, if you want to further your current career path without having to quit your job, remote-based learning is a fantastic option.

Similarly, parents of young children or carers for their own elderly parents can achieve a master’s degree while ensuring that the needs of others are met. The emphasis here is on balance, so you can work, study and enjoy a healthy social life all at the same time… without compromises.

The great news is that there are plenty of benefits to studying an online master’s degree when it comes to elevating your career progression to the next level.

Specialize and focus

What a master’s degree will offer you is the chance to double-down and focus on a specialized area of your chosen industry.

Let’s take the example of an engineering management master’s degree online. There are many ways to break into the broad sector that is engineering, with dozens, if not hundreds, of different job roles that fall under that umbrella.

From knowing how to use budgets and financial forecasting tools, to people management and date-driven decision making, a management-based master’s degree arms the learner with a holistic array of skills and competencies that can carry them into senior positions within an engineering firm, or to even be transferred to other sectors. Good managers are good managers, no matter what the firm does or produces.

The beauty of master’s degrees is that they increase your employability and enhance your potential without necessarily locking you into a specific job for the rest of your life. Whether you have a targeted career path or simply want a wider range of options, extending your learning is of paramount importance.

Getting paid what you deserve

Look, we’d all like to think we aren’t motivated by money, but the truth is that we want to feel like we are getting a fair salary based upon the work we do and also the potential we bring to a company.

There’s no shame in wanting to get paid what you deserve, and the happy twist is that by earning a master’s degree, you can improve your earning potential considerably.

On average, those with a master’s degree earn more than those without – it’s a simple numbers game. As of 2021, the average salary in the United States was $56,310, which works out to around $27.07 per hour. The average starting salary for a graduate in the US is roughly the same, which means that – within a couple of years – you can expect to be earning more than the average worker.

The numbers really stack up when you look at specialized fields. According to a research study, master’s graduates in biology can expect to earn as much as 87% more than those without a degree. That’s a starting salary of $69,563, compared to average earnings of $37,182.

That percentage gap continues across the board, with master’s holders in business administration/management (51%), education (50%), media (47%) and nursing (44%), to name just a few, all enjoying a starting salary that is considerably higher than the average wage of their counterparts without a master’s degree.

Of course, money isn’t everything – we know that. Job satisfaction, feeling valued and having a sense that there are opportunities to progress within a firm are equally as important as the cold, hard dollar that gets transferred to your bank account at the end of each month.

But let’s be real for a moment – money does count for plenty when you consider if your talents and work rate are being rewarded fairly. If you plan on stepping up into a management position, you will likely be better renumerated for your efforts than a non-managerial worker… but to ascend to the leadership ranks, you may need a master’s degree in the first place.

So, there’s a whole chicken-and-egg thing going on here. Needless to say, a master’s degree will, demonstrably, lead to better opportunities in the workplace and higher earnings potential.

Be the best you can be

To really fulfil your potential in anything you do, you need to arm yourself with the tools and skills to maximize your ability.

While there are some practical, hands-on industries that may not require a theoretical grounding in order to be successful in them, for many others, gaining knowledge and practical skills is an essential component of getting on the first rung of the job ladder and then climbing your way to the top from there.

Even those who weren’t particularly interested in academia growing up can discover a new-found passion for learning later in life, and achieving a Master’s degree will both improve your employability and earning potential straight away and help to ‘future-proof’ your career aspirations in the years ahead as well.

Undertaking a master’s degree is a commitment to improving yourself, but also a commitment to your chosen field – these courses are not cheap, but you will earn back that money after graduating. It also demonstrates to employers that you really are in it for the long haul, and it is another feather in your cap when it comes to navigating your way through job interviews.

What experts have noted is that while there is a shrinking job pool as the US and other countries navigate recession and tough trading conditions, the number of people attending university is actually on the rise – so there’s more competition for fewer jobs, which doesn’t sound like an ideal situation.

Possessing a master’s degree will help your resumé to stand out in an increasingly crowded job market. A number of HR employees and recruitment firms will offer a strong weighting in their shortlisting to those with further education to their name, so graduates have a clear edge in the competition to find that perfect job.

Earning a master’s degree is becoming increasingly important, even if actually completing your studies requires hard work and a significant investment in finances and time. Some are concerned that an online degree will simply lead to constantly sitting behind a desk, writing assignments and completing projects.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many courses incorporate a practical component too where appropriate, so you will pick up those key real-world skills that will ensure you are an asset to any would-be employers.

These placements are often undertaken at recognized firms within your chosen sector too, so it’s a great opportunity to showcase your skills, impress your mentor and hopefully secure a letter of recommendation along the way, while putting into practice the learning you have achieved so far.

The whole point of a degree of any kind is to set you up with the competency to hit the ground running in your first job in your chosen sector, or to show your current bosses that you have what it takes to progress with their company. This is no different with an online degree, which enables you to fulfil your potential while studying in a flexible way that suits your everyday life.

Opening the door

There are some job roles for which owning a master’s degree is compulsory – you simply won’t get employed without one.

Many of these jobs can be categorized under the ‘sciences’ heading, broadly speaking. From clinical psychologists and therapists to doctors, nurses and social workers, all have done the hard yards at university or college to get the qualification they need to enter their chosen field.

Even if you want to become a lawyer or a statistician, you will need a master’s degree to even get asked in for a job interview – it is a pre-requisite, such is the nature of the work in those sectors.

Even if you don’t specifically need a master’s degree, there are lots of reasons that one will add texture and relevance to your resumé. Not only will you gain a technical grounding in a subject, but you may also gain invaluable hands-on experience in a professional workplace – if it’s relevant to your course at least.

On top of that, you can pick up so-called ‘soft skills’ that will follow you throughout your career. You may find that your writing and research skills improve as you tackle your assignments, and you may find that you become more analytical, a better problem solver and more confident when it comes to taking on complex or time-consuming projects.

Some degree courses have a component of public speaking too, usually in giving presentations on a specific topic, and even when conducted over Microsoft Teams or Zoom, these can still be nerve-racking affairs. This is another skill that people tend to improve with time and repetition. You may just find that delivering presentations as part of your degree course will enable you to feel more confident when talking to customers and other stakeholders in your first job after graduation.

If nothing else, completing an online master’s degree shows that you are hard-working, diligent, can manage your time effectively and balance a number of different requirements at once – those are the sorts of skills that employers are crying out for.

Switching lanes in your career

There are several different reasons as to why somebody would want to change their career.

It could be that you are tired of what you are doing right now or want to follow a long-term interest in a particular niche or sector. Maybe you feel like you are hitting your head on a ceiling when it comes to pay or progression, or maybe you want a change of pace in what you’re doing with your everyday life.

Making the decision to change your career path is easy, but actually following it through can be difficult. The figures suggest that 53% of people who quit their jobs in 2021 did so to switch up their profession, so at least you’re in good company.

It goes without saying that adding a master’s degree to your resumé can smooth the process considerably. Perhaps you need a professional qualification to actually break into your chosen sector, or you want to show employers that you have the knowledge and transferable skills to be an asset to their organization.

One of the interesting things about online degrees is that you can study them around your current job. So, even if you are planning a career change, you can stay in your existing role and make some money until the right moment comes along to hand in your resignation letter.

Plenty of online degrees welcome applications from part-time students. Whether you want to carry on working or have a young family to care for, don’t feel as though you are automatically counted out of furthering your education. Plenty of people of all ages study and work simultaneously.

Typically, you may be asked to commit around 20 hours per week to your studies. However, there’s rarely a set schedule, so you can fit these hours in early in the morning, in the evening after work or on the weekend – whatever suits your lifestyle. All the course materials will be presented to you online, and you can interact with your tutors and fellow students via discussion groups and course-related portals, as most online degrees will offer this capability.

There are three broad ways in which you can study for an online degree in a part-time fashion. There’s blended learning, which essentially combines online learning and home working with occasional trips to your university/college for face-to-face lectures and tutorial sessions. Block learning, meanwhile, is where you may be asked to attend in person for a given number of hours and days, although you will be given plenty of warning to ensure you can book time off work or sort out childcare.

The third option is distance learning, where you will work from home or your chosen space throughout the entirety of your degree. All the resources you need will be available online, with access to a personal tutor provided should you wish to converse with them about your course.

You might think that studying part-time will lengthen the amount of time before you graduate, but this isn’t always the case. Indeed, some accelerated courses will allow you to earn your qualification in less than 18 months – depending on what you study, of course.

All things considered, there are plenty of reasons to consider part-time study – particularly if you are planning to change your career entirely.

Should I study for a master’s degree online?

This article will hopefully have answered any questions you may have had about online master’s degrees, and whether this is the right step for you to take at this point in your career.

One of the concerns that a lot of people have about online courses is that they think they will be left all alone to fend for themselves – just them, their laptop and a whole bunch of study materials.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. These days, the internet and its related technologies are so fast and reliable that you can study for your qualification from anywhere – and at a time that suits you.

You will be able to participate in seminars and tutorials, download course materials, take part in discussion groups and chat face-to-face with your tutors and mentors using the latest technology tools, meaning that you will have many of the perks of a traditional degree without having to live on campus or make daily trips to a college or university.

You can still enjoy the social side of college life if you wish, and you will still build those interpersonal relationships and a network of contacts that could prove very fruitful in your future career.

If you have any concerns that studying for a degree online is somehow below-par compared to a more traditional route, think again. Not only will you enjoy the complete college/university experience, you will soon pick up the skills and knowledge you need to move into the next phase of your career with confidence and anticipation.

About Cherly Crawford

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