If you’re interested in getting a master’s degree at 50, you are not alone. In 2000, 20 percent of graduate students were over 40, and the numbers have only risen dramatically since then. There are a few things that you should consider before you make this decision, as it is a major investment.
There are many ways in which getting a master’s degree could benefit you. If you are 50 or older, it may come with obstacles, but it could still be worth it. As long as you can prepare for it and do well, it can make you more of an expert in your field or help you transition to a new field.
If you’re 50 or older, you might feel discouraged at getting a graduate degree at this point. However, if you do your research and conclude that it could be right for you, it is worth considering.
Labor Force Trends for Older Adults
A lot of people assume that older adults are getting ready to retire. However, this is not the case. Plenty of people over 50 still have years or even decades of vitality left, and they want to use their energy to contribute to the workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the older segments of the US population are expected to be the fastest-growing labor force for the next few years. The groups that are expected to grow the most are people between the ages of 65 and 74, and people who are 75 and older.
This means that as someone who is 50 or older and trying to invest in a career through education, you are not alone. There are plenty of people in similar situations who stay in the workforce and plan to stay for a long time.
Most Profitable Master’s Degree Programs
If you are considering getting a master’s degree, you probably already know which subject you want to study. After all, you should study whatever interests you, rather than simply thinking about the bottom line.
However, if you are undecided, it might help to know which master’s programs have the highest wage premiums; a wage premium is the highest difference between what you are likely to earn with that master to only a bachelor’s degree.
If you are interested in a master’s degree in business, you’re in luck. Master’s programs in business, sales, and financial occupations exhibit some of the highest wage premiums.
Particularly if you are a commodities, securities, or financial services sales agent, you can expect to be making a wage that is almost 90 percent higher than what you would make with only a bachelor’s degree.
However, you should keep in mind that this isn’t always the case with a master’s degree in business. Training and development managers who hold master’s degrees have median wages that are 6 percent lower than those with bachelor’s degrees on average, for example.
Education is another very common field in which people get master’s degrees. More than 20 percent of master’s degrees were awarded in education in the 2012-2013 school year. The wage premium for education administrators is 44 percent.
The premium for kindergarten and preschool teachers is 43 percent. However, post-secondary teachers often have the lowest wage premiums since they usually need post-doctoral studies to get entry-level jobs.
Healthcare and Social Service
There are notable wage premiums in different positions throughout the healthcare and social service industries as well. Physician assistants are the ones who seem to benefit the most from getting master’s degrees, with a wage premium of 44 percent.
By STEM, of course, we mean science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The wage premiums vary in this category. Workers in math-related occupations, such as mathematicians and statisticians, have a wage premium of 33 percent. Computer programmers and computer systems analysts also have notable wage premiums.
There is quite a bit of variability and wage premiums for engineers. Mechanical engineers, civil engineers, and architectural and engineering managers have wage premiums that range between 9 and 13 percent.
Chemical engineers seem to have wages that are about the same, whether they have a master’s or just a bachelor’s. Petroleum, mining, and geological engineers make about 7 percent less on average with master’s degrees compared to bachelor’s degree holders.
Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree
There are many reasons why one would want to get a master’s degree at any age. The following are just a few.
If you have had a career for many years with just a bachelor’s degree, you know that you don’t necessarily need a master’s degree to succeed in that field. However, a master’s degree can give you a better understanding of your field. It can make you more competent in a specific area, which can make you a more desirable candidate in your employer and others’ eyes.
Earning More Money
Someone with a master’s degree will earn an average of $10,000 more per year than someone who only has a bachelor’s degree. Over time, this can add up to quite a bit. Additionally, it will open you to opportunities that you may not have had a chance at with only a bachelor’s. For example, with a master’s, you can typically qualify to teach in your field at a university.
There are some fields and even specific companies that require you to have a master’s degree to get certain positions. For example, some companies require master’s degrees to obtain a senior position and others that require master’s degrees even for entry-level positions.
Generally speaking, when you have a master’s degree, you will have more job security. For example, some companies might alter their hiring criteria so that applicants need to have master’s degrees to even be considered. Even if you were hired without one, you might need to get one to be sure you can stay at your job.
A master’s degree will also help your resume stand out, especially if it comes from an accredited institution. The job market is getting more and more competitive, and having a master’s degree will help keep you ahead of the curve.
Very often, in a master’s program, you will get first-hand experience in your industry of choice. Unlike undergraduate studies, graduate school does not involve general education requirements. This means that you can focus completely on your field.
You will have several different choices as to exactly what you want to study, and you’ll be able to narrow it down based on what you observe. Practical experience can be very useful in this regard.
Many people who pursue master’s degrees can do so while still staying in the workforce. Many employers will provide tuition reimbursement. And many of them want you to continue to learn so that you can become better at the job. They will be happy to know that you are getting hands-on experience as part of your schooling.
Getting a master’s degree will help you develop certain new skills and improve upon ones you already have. It will give you a chance to do things that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to do in the workplace.
At work, your job is to perform tasks for a certain purpose that benefits your employer. At school, your job is to learn and perform tasks to that end, which will result in different sorts of activities that exercise your brain in unique ways.
The following are some of the skills that might end up being improved with a master’s degree:
- Relationship management
- Understanding of relevant issues in the industry. In many industries nowadays, things are changing quickly, and old methods and schools of thought are becoming obsolete. A master’s degree can help you stay current.
- Leadership skills
- Problem solving and communication with others
- Research and writing
- Critical thinking and analysis
Your employer will likely see you as more of an asset after taking the time to develop these skills. They can help you be a better employee at your current job or open you to new possibilities.
More Room for a Career Change
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person moves from job to job 12 times while he or she is working. You may want to switch jobs, but you may want to switch careers entirely. A master’s degree will make it more feasible to do this if you decide the future.
While a master’s degree makes you more specialized in your field, it also makes you more versatile overall. It also makes you more marketable in the general job market. Employers will recognize the tenacity and commitment that it took for you to get the master’s degree and be more likely to hire you even in an unfamiliar field.
So many employers and organizations will see your master’s degree as evidence that you are capable and driven to succeed. This will make it more likely for you to be hired and even procure a leadership position quickly in a new field since they will see you as the type of person capable of doing all the necessary learning to be successful.
If you are interested in making a career change right now and know what field you want to enter, a master’s degree can help you even more. It can give you a body of knowledge in a field that you are currently unfamiliar with. Once you graduate, you will be in a prime position to get a good job in the new field.
A Chance to Relocate
Many people move out of town to do a master’s degree. You will have the opportunity to relocate if your school of choice is in a different city or state. If you can get a graduate assistantship or graduate research assistantship, you may be able to attend an out-of-state institution at a relatively low cost.
When you get a graduate degree, you also have chances to strengthen and expand your professional and personal networks. You will be in contact with other students and professors and potentially researchers who are experts in the field. If you have good relationships with them, they may be able to open you up to new job opportunities.
A Sense of Accomplishment
If you complete a master’s degree, you’ll have something to be proud of. Remember how you felt when you graduated high school and college? You will have the chance to experience that feeling all over again, knowing that you are doing something good for your career on top of it.
You can finish this master’s degree with a new set of paper qualifications and increased confidence in your academic and intellectual ability. And you also know that you will have an easier time getting into a leadership position in your career with this new degree.
Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree for People Over 50
In addition to all of the benefits that any adult would derive from going back for a master’s degree, there are benefits that older adults can specifically expect.
Better Cognitive Functioning
Research has shown that older people who choose to keep their brains active show elevated cognition and a smaller risk of dementia. Doctors recommend crossword puzzles to seniors to keep their brains active. Going back to school is another way to exercise critical thinking and memory capabilities.
Older students will often have an edge up on their younger classmates when doing problem-solving and analysis activities. They have decades of experience behind them and very different perspectives to offer.
A Chance to Explore Lost Interests
Many older adults interested in going back to school never got to study what they wanted to study the first time around. If you’re interested in changing careers, it could be time to follow your bliss and focus on your interests.
Opportunities for Social Interaction
Human beings, even introverts, are social creatures. Through several studies, social researchers have shown that it is very important for people to interact with others and not be isolated. Isolation tends to make people more prone to depression, which often happens around the time of retirement.
If you’re close to retirement, it might be good to pursue a master’s degree at this time. It will help prevent the withdrawal and loneliness that often accompanies aging. This will be a good chance for you to be around other people who share a common interest.
An Exchange of Knowledge
When you take courses, you are not only learning from the professor. You are also learning from all of the other people who were taking the course with you. Everyone who comes into the classroom has a different background and set of experiences. You can learn a lot from these people, and with your decades of experience, you have a lot to offer as well.
Drawbacks to Getting a Master’s Degree
Despite all the benefits that come with getting a master’s degree, there are disadvantages as well.
Master’s degrees can be pretty expensive. It is fairly rare for someone to get a scholarship or fellowship that will fund the program. Because of this, you will likely have to pay quite a bit of money out of your pocket, whether you do this through student loans or not.
If you are switching fields entirely and planning to leave your job, it is unlikely that you will be able to get your company to fund your studies. You may not even be able to get help from your company if you are staying in the same field, although this is something you should try to pursue whenever you can.
It will take you some time to get a master’s degree. In the United States, it typically takes about two years. While you may not think this is a long time, it is years of your life that you will likely have to dedicate primarily to school. Most of the time, you will not be able to work full-time while pursuing your master’s, and it will be time taken out of your career.
No Guarantee of Greater Career Success
The statistics do show that people with master’s degrees generally have access to better jobs and salary potential. However, you should keep in mind that the degree alone will not be a guarantee.
It will also depend quite a bit on what you’re planning to do with the degree once you have it, and your skill level, location, and other factors that may not even be in your control.
Getting a Master’s Degree at 50: Things to Keep in Mind
Many people who are 50 and older hesitate to go back for a master’s degree solely because of their age. However, you should keep in mind that if it is something you want, it’s never too late to get a master’s degree. It is becoming increasingly common for people to go back for degrees later in life.
It has also become much easier for non-traditional students to get master’s degrees. Schools have done many different things to make their programs more accessible to older students.
Online classes are much more relatively available now, as are night classes for people who have jobs during the day. There are also hybrid options so that you can do some of your learning online and some in a classroom with other students.
However, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. These may be obstacles, but they don’t have to be deal-breakers.
Cost is a major factor for many people. Many assume that if you go back to school as an adult, you will have to pay out-of-pocket. However, there are many ways that an older adult would be able to pay for graduate school without being in debt.
For example, many employers offer tuition reimbursement. Even if they don’t currently have a program, it’s worth it to talk to your human resources department and see if this is something they would be willing to do. It will be more likely if the master’s degree is directly going to help you contribute positively to the company.
You should also look into opportunities for fellowships and scholarships. Make sure to do the appropriate legwork when it comes to learning about the program before you commit.
Talk to the financial aid office and ask them about any financial assistance opportunities that may be available. They may also connect you with program alumni, who can potentially tell you how they could pay for graduate school.
You might wonder if you can go to graduate school with all of the responsibilities you have as an adult. At 50, you might have a full-time job and a family to take care of. You might wonder if you are even able to take on an entire master’s degree on top of all of your current responsibilities.
Some people can do this, and some cannot. However, you should think long and hard before deciding that you fall into the latter camp. Many people are capable of much more than they initially believe.
If you can talk to other program alumni, you can get a good sense of what the program entails, including the time commitment. From here, you can make your own decision about whether it’s feasible for you.
You will likely be very busy, so it’s very important to make sure that you set aside the appropriate amount of time every week to devote to your classes. And you will need to carve out enough time to write papers, study for exams, and work on group projects with your classmates.
You should bear in mind that you may need to make a few compromises.
For example, you might need to sacrifice time that you would normally spend with your family to get schoolwork done. It can be a good idea to have a discussion with your family members about this before you start your degree to ensure that they are okay with this.
If you have children who are not old enough to be left home alone, for example, you might need to make some childcare arrangements. You might ask around and see if there is a friend or family member who is willing to watch your children while you go to class or get work done.
You might be surprised to know how many people in your life are willing to do what they can to help you achieve your dream.
Choosing a Master’s Program
When you choose a master’s degree program, it’s more than just choosing the subject of study. You also want to choose a program that will be compatible with your lifestyle.
For example, if you’re not someone who has a lot of time to commute from the classroom, there are plenty of online master’s degree programs from which you can choose.
Because of everything that modern technology has to offer, you can enroll in an online program and still feel very connected to your fellow students and professors. Online programs also allow you a lot of flexibility, which might be very important if you plan to continue working while you’re going to school.
However, this isn’t for everyone. Some students need to be required to attend class in-person to stay accountable and stay caught up with lesson plans. Everyone has a different learning style and working style, and you should do what you think will work best for you.
If you want a chance to get your feet wet in this new field before you commit to an entire master’s degree, there are other options. You might want to start with a certificate program or boot camp, which can tell you if this interests you without making a huge commitment first.
Preparing for a Master’s Degree in a Different Field
It may be relatively easy to get a master’s degree in your current field. After all, you already have a background in the subject matter, and you can likely easily apply what you’re learning at school to work and vice versa. It’s also more likely that your employer will fund your schooling in this case.
However, it’s different if this isn’t the case. If your background is mostly or all in a different area than that in which you want to pursue your master’s degree, you might need to take a few post-baccalaureate courses in the new area. There are a few different ways in which this can benefit you.
- It will strengthen your application when you are applying for the master’s program. If you take courses in the same field in which you plan to do your master’s degree and get high grades, this will show admissions committees that you have aptitude in this field.
- The professors of these courses can write recommendation letters for you. If you develop a good rapport with your professor, a recommendation letter from him or her can take you a long way, especially if it is a well-known figure in your field.
- It will be good preparation for the master’s program. Since your background isn’t in this area, acquiring knowledge in the field will help you develop a background and have some knowledge when you start your master’s program. If you go into courses without the appropriate prerequisites, you could feel completely overwhelmed and lost.
There are many things that you should keep in mind if you want a master’s degree at 50 or older. You will need to prepare and keep in mind certain ways that it might be harder than if you had gotten this degree right after your bachelor’s. However, there will also be ways in which you are at an advantage over your younger peers.
It’s your decision to make. However, if you get the right master’s degree and use it properly, it can be a very worthwhile step forward in your career.
- University of Nebraska – Lincoln: Who graduate students are
- College Consensus: Best Online Degrees for Seniors
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Should I get a master’s degree?
- Purdue Global: 5 Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree
- The Best Schools: 11 Reasons to Get a Master’s Degree
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: NUMBER OF JOBS, LABOR MARKET EXPERIENCE, AND EARNINGS GROWTH: RESULTS FROM A NATIONAL LONGITUDINAL SURVEY
- Abound: 9 Unique Reasons to Pursue a Master’s Degree
- PrepScholar: Should I Get a Master’s Degree? 6 Factors to Consider
- Northeastern University: Is It Ever Too Late to Return to Grad School?