Not sure if getting your master’s degree or a graduate certificate is the best move? It’s a difficult decision, no doubt. We’ve provided some information below which should help you decide whether earning an advanced degree is the right choice for you.

Getting Started

  1. Learn more about the difference between a Master's degree and a graduate certificate
  2. Read the Top 10 Reasons to Earn an Advanced Degree
  3. Review earning potential and unemployment by degree
  4. Learn more about the GRE 
  5. Prepare for the GRE with free videos for Analytical WritingQuantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning
  6. File your FAFSA

Outside Resources

From the National Center for Education Statistics

Master's Degree vs Graduate Certificate

When deciding whether you should pursue a master's degree or a graduate certificate, keep in mind that it really depends on several factors, including your career field, finances, availability, and career goals. While neither a master's degree nor a graduate certificate is superior, speaking with a graduate admissions counselor can help you decide which degree you need to help you grow personally and professionally.

Master's Degree

Often a full-time, two-year program (although, some of Mercyhurst's graduate programs can be taken on a part-time basis), a master's degree offers a broader education in a specified field of study. A program tailored to your needs will give you more flexibility in your career. Master's degrees are often pursued by professionals who need advanced credentials in order to meet requirements for a promotion or to qualify for a managerial position within a company. 

Graduate Certificate

These part-time programs generally take less than a year to complete and are selected by professionals whose careers do not require advanced credentials to move up the ranks. Not only does a certificate program take less time to complete, a certificate is often a very focused program that keeps a professional up-to-date with his or her career of choice. Graduate certificates may be great for professionals who need to refresh his or her education or switch careers. Certificate credits may also apply towards a master's degree if a professional decides to commit to a master's program.

Top 10 Reasons to Earn an Advanced Degree

10. Taking advantage of an employer incentive.
Some employers will actually pay an employee’s partial or full tuition for completion of an advanced degree. In this win-win situation, you advance your resume while your employer gains a more-knowledgeable professional. Contact your employer today to see if they offer any educational benefits.

9. Work on advanced projects with faculty experts.
Graduate faculty are experts in their fields, sharing invaluable insight and years of practical experience. Whether it’s getting your name in a publication byline with your professor, consulting on fieldwork or conducting research, doors to significant opportunities may open more as a graduate student.

8. Expanded opportunities.
Expectations are higher of graduate students, as is responsibility. With heavy focus on research, experimentation or fieldwork, graduate students are often entrusted with access to advanced equipment, rare book collections and elite faculty. 

7. Local, national and international recognition.
Maybe it’s always been your dream to make a contribution to your field of work. One way to do so is to enroll in graduate school. Opportunities to attend conferences, network, present research, develop a unique thesis and accumulating awards/nominations are just some of the ways you may be recognized professionally.

6. Start over with a new career. 
Do you feel stuck? Do you dread going into your 9 to 5 job daily? They say when you love your job, you never work a day in your life. If boredom has hit, it may be time to pursue your passion. A graduate degree can help you change careers, with several of Mercyhurst programs offered on a part-time status.

5. The chance to see the world.
Ok, so not all graduate programs easily integrate study overseas; however, if you enroll in certain programs (Anthropology, Applied Intel, Secondary Education, Special Education) there are options for students to take advantage of overseas education programs.

4. To stand out amongst job applicants.
While experience is crucial to most employers, an advanced degree may rocket your resume to the top of HR’s pile. Hiring can be a grueling, drawn out process; having a master’s degree may just give you an edge over the competition.

3. Potential for promotion and/or a higher salary.
More responsibility? A better title? A larger chunk of change each month? Yes, please!

2. Advance/upgrade your education and knowledge.
Knowledge is power. The world is constantly changing around us. Choosing to adapt and grow through education can only help you in the long run.

1. Because YOU want to earn your master's degree.
A graduate degree or certificate is time consuming and costs money; however, if earning advanced credentials has always been a goal of yours, go for it! Making the decision to go back to school should be your decision. Remember, education is something that no one can ever take away from you.

Earning Potential by Degree

Salary Difference

According to the most up-to-date data provided by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master degree holders earn on average $936 more than professionals with bachelor's degrees monthly. Annually, that equates to more than $11,000 earned by professionals with master's degrees.

Unemployment Difference

Professionals who earn advanced degrees are more likely to hold onto their jobs compared to individuals with lesser degrees. While professionals with bachelor degrees report an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent — still under the national average — master degree holders report even lower unemployment rates at 3.5 percent.