Whenever someone undergoes a challenge and comes out the other side semi-unscathed it’s quite popular to tell yourself and others, “It was all worth it – look at me now.” It’s a natural instinct to insist that whatever you’ve just put yourself through was worth it because the alternative – that you misused valuable resources such as time and money – kind of sucks.
Rather than admit failure and learn from the decision-making process that led you to that point, it’s always much easier to simply think, “Man, look at that mountain I just climbed, I am so badass.” (Or maybe your internal dialogue isn’t quite so teenager inspired – the sentiment is what counts.)
You may have noticed a bit of a downturn in the amount of writing I’ve been able to put on the site lately. This is due to a lot of things such as getting married (and all the endless small decisions that accompany such an endeavor), the whole day job thing, and the largest factor of all: pursuing my Master of Education degree. My lack of writing is just one example of the opportunity cost that came with going back to school to add a few more letters behind my name. There were many others (I’ve been told the aforementioned marriage was also close to being on the list at times) but there are obviously benefits to the decision as well.
Kyle Says: “Only You Can Prevent Over-Credentialization”
It’s incredibly difficult to write an article titled Is a Master’s Degree Worth It because the inference would be that I could tell you if your specific proposed path of study was worth the time, money, and overall opportunity cost in your situation. That depends on a lot of things:
- What field is your degree in?
- Do you need a master’s for a promotion?
- What would you be doing with your time if you weren’t going back to school?
- How easy do you find academic work generally?
- What is your level of satisfaction when engaging with your specific field of study?
- How are your time management skills?
- How much time do you have to manage (family, etc.)?
And that’s just the beginning. So instead of doing an endless amount of research with various hypotheticals and trying to come to some sort of pseudo-scientific answer that probably wouldn’t be all that relevant to you anyway, I decided to take the lazy man’s way out and just tell you what my experience has been like looking at it through the rear-view mirror. I’m just putting the final touches on my degree and have been in a reflective mood lately. Hopefully it’ll help you gain some insights into your situation.
In Short: It Wasn’t Worth It!
Truthfully, I knew the answer to this question when I was 2/3rds done my degree, but at that point I was sort of “pot committed” in terms of what I had already put into the game. For those of you that didn’t have a poker nerd phase, the conclusion I reached at the 2/3rd mark was that at that point, the benefits of finishing the degree (not to mention satisfying my own vanity and stubbornness) far outweighed the return I would get on not sacrificing the final of time, money, etc.
That being said, if I could go back and talk to myself three years ago, I would have to say taking the degree was a mistake. Again, this isn’t easy to admit, and when I’ve voiced these thoughts to a very few people (right before posting it on a public webpage) the reaction was essentially, “Sure it feels that way now when you’re a little burned out, but no one can take it away from you, and you never know when it might come in handy.” All of that is true to an extent, but at the same time you know what else would have come in handy? The return I would have gotten from putting all that energy elsewhere over the past few years!
I should point out that I’m in no way saying that a Master of Education program is wrong for everyone or even most people. I’m not saying that all master’s degrees are useless or that all graduate students made the wrong decision. What I am trying to illustrate instead is that our temptation to say that a past project or experience was great in order to justify to ourselves and everyone else around us why we did it in the first place, can cause a sort of groupthink where facts and honest reflections can get lost.
Weighing the Pros and the Cons
I’m interested in hearing/reading what others think of this decision when everything is factored in. Here’s a brief list of what I feel is relevant to determining if my degree was a good use of my limited resources:
- My annual paycheque will see a $3,500 gross increase immediately (somewhere around $2,000 net once everyone else gets their cut).
- The pay ceiling for my career as a high-school teacher increases by $3,500.
- An accompanying slight raise in my pension formula.
- I am more qualified for promotions that I’m fairly certain I no longer want.
- I learned a valuable lesson (more on this in another post): I no longer want to pursue administrative promotions that once appealed to me.
- I met some good folks who shared some useful experiences.
- I learned a few small nuggets of wisdom and practical knowledge that will help me a minor amount in my teaching career.
- I have a credential that might at some point impress someone if I ever leave the world of public education.
- My tuition cost about $10,000 over the course of the degree. (I know, this is exceedingly reasonable for a graduate program, and I will actually get most of this back through tax incentives over the next few years.)
- Travel costs, textbooks, and other incidentals cost about $4,000.
- A lowball estimate of time allotted over the past three years is probably in the 1,000 hour range when travelling time is included.
- The constant splitting of focus and energy negatively impacted a lot of areas of my life as I’m not a great multi-tasker.
- The frustration of dealing with very abstract educational theories (many of which are based on faulty premises in my opinion) when being confronted on a daily basis with educational realities that are all too real – likely took days, if not months, off my projected time on planet Earth.
- I may have priced myself out of future teaching jobs if I ever move.
Looking at these lists as I come to the end of my journey I feel pretty confident in saying if I could do it all over again, I’d rather have the hours and energy instead of the fancy piece of paper. The upfront investment of money is a no-brainer considering the pay increase and the tax incentives that more than offset the tuition costs. It’s harder to quantify the value of having to split your focus on a daily basis, as well as the simple opportunity cost of doing something else with your time.
With the time and energy put into the degree I could have invested much more into promoting my writing, lucrative freelance work, entrepreneurial opportunities, and my students! Not to mention pesky projects like exercise (I honestly have no idea if more energy would have been directed in this direction).
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll look at things differently in fifteen years when the M.Ed behind my name helps me get taken seriously somewhere. It’s hard to predict what some of those long-term benefits will be. In the short term however, I think I’d do it a little differently if I knew then what I knew now.
Am I missing something? Have I failed to considered a major factor? Has anyone else out there been afraid to admit when a major commitment of theirs didn’t turn out as well as they might have wanted or projected?