What Comes After a Master’s Degree
A master’s degree requires sizeable time, effort, and financial commitment. But what happens after a master’s? For most people, a master’s degree is where they will end their formal education. The vast majority will go on to seek employment or advance in their careers, while some will take up courses for certification or licensing if they add value to their degree or are mandated by law. A few would also become entrepreneurs and start their own ventures.
After completing a master’s degree program, individuals have a few options to choose from. Here are a few choices you can think about:
1. Continue Your Studies with Another Master’s
If you are interested in becoming an expert in one area but feel you can increase your scope in it, complementing your recently earned master’s degree with another may be an excellent choice. For example, if you already have a master’s in religious studies, you could enroll in a master’s in theology to give you a broader understanding of your main subject. If you have a master’s in kinesiology and exercise science, you can take up a master’s in coaching.
Having two master’s degrees can often be better than one. The additional qualification will undoubtedly lead to higher salaries and better career prospects. In 2021, graduates with a bachelor’s degree earned $1,334 per week, while those with a master’s degree earned $1,574 per week. There has been little research into the impact of two master’s degrees on earnings, but depending on which degree you use to be the primary driver of your career, backed up by your other degree, you can expect a healthy pay increase.
When considering two master’s degrees, remember to keep the costs in check. Although online programs are often cheaper than traditional in-person ones, the overall cost of your education could run into tens of thousands of dollars. You can consider free master’s programs some universities offer or a fast program from which you can graduate quickly. Pursuing a 6-month master’s and easy programs can save you money.
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2. Enter the Workforce
The most common and possibly most conservative course of action for you is to start looking for a job immediately after graduation. By doing so, you can start your professional career and earn money right away, paying off any student loans you may have. Reputable universities typically offer excellent job placement services that can connect you with recruiters. Entry-level to highly specialized positions are advertised on online job boards, and you can research top businesses in your industry to find something that suits your needs. Alternatively, you can consider entrepreneurship and starting your own business, in which case you must understand whether you have what it takes — man, machine, and money — to make it work.
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3. Pursue a Doctoral Degree
A master’s degree may not be the end of their educational journey for some people. You might want to stand out even more from the sea of recent graduates applying for jobs, or you might have chosen a profession where a Ph.D. is the minimum requirement to be considered. For instance, psychologists are usually required to hold a Ph.D. to qualify for licensure. In this case, for those who wish to continue with their studies, the next stage after obtaining a master’s degree is to pursue a doctoral degree, typically a Ph.D., which requires working at an institution while also conducting independent research. It is the highest level of education that a person can receive.
If you are interested in conducting research or teaching at the college level, a Ph.D. or Ed.D is a great option. While the Ph.D. is ideal for pursuing a career in academia, the Doctor of Education (EdD) is a professional degree designed for practitioners interested in educational leadership. The Ph.D. entitles one to employment security and the possibility of a higher salary as a tenured professor at a college or university. The sense of accomplishment, the perception of being an authority in one’s field, and the more opportunities for intellectual stimulation are all undoubtedly personal benefits of earning a doctorate. Ph.D. holders also earn median weekly pay of $1,909 compared to the $1,574 that master’s degree holders make.
The downside to obtaining a doctoral degree is its cost. Doctoral programs are even more expensive than master’s programs. However, many universities offer fully funded Ph.D. programs that often cover your tuition fees, provide you with a stipend, and pay for your health insurance. Another option to offset the financial burden is to combine working part-time or doing an internship while continuing your studies part-time to gain relevant experience.
4. Obtain Certifications and Other Qualifications
Professional certifications can speed up career advancement, particularly in fields that require a high level of specialization, like accounting, human resources, or information technology. Although not all certifications are equally valued, they assure professional competence in conjunction with a professional degree or work experience. For example, if you have completed your master’s in accounting, obtaining the CPA or CMA certification and license would make immense sense. If your degree requires you to be certified to be eligible for licensure to practice or work, it is the natural and logical step to take after graduation. Professional or board certifications make you eligible for specialized and niche jobs that automatically lead to better pay.
How Do You Choose Which Path to Take?
Choosing what to do next may initially seem complex. But if you consider a few factors, you may find it easy to conclude what your next step should be. Here are a few tips to help you choose your next move:
- Ask yourself if you are open to further studies. If you are, research your possibilities and check the prospects for obtaining another master’s degree or pursuing a doctoral degree.
- Understand your career options if you do not want to pursue further education. Look into what salaries and job growth you can expect. Starting your own venture is also worth considering; you must list the pros and cons.
- Find out if your job needs additional qualifications. If your preferred job requires certification or licensure, do the spade work and shortlist what certifications and licenses you need and the time required for each.
- Consider the cost and time implications of tips 1 to 3 and weigh the pros and cons of each option.
- Shortlist your options and speak to other professionals and mentors to seek their expert advice and opinions.
- Do your research. If your research points you towards further education, pick another master’s or doctoral program that aligns with your interests and objectives. If not, and if you are happy with the pay and job growth an immediate job would give you, then your search for the right choice ends with obtaining one.
The Bottom Line
There is no right or wrong option or the best or worst choice — to each their own. Your choice entirely depends on your needs, interests, and professional goals. The next step is to take some time to consider what you want from your career and then begin making plans to get there. Have faith in your ability to make the right decision, and do not be afraid to look around and find what will work best for you and your future career.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Employment Projections