"If you're just starting and you don't really have the experience yet to know if you want to stay a teacher, then maybe [a master's] doesn't make so much sense," he says.
While most states boost teacher pay based on experience and education, the salary bump isn't uniform across all states. Oregon public school teachers only earn about 3 percent more with a master's, but that figure jumps to 43 percent in Illinois, Startz noted in a 2011 blog post, analyzing 2007-2008 salary data from the "Digest of Education Statistics," the most recent figures available.
But that bump provided by a master's could disappear altogether, as states and districts opt to raise starting salaries or establish incentive pay, rather than pay for a degree, Startz says.
"[If] you're going to get a master's, right now it's worth $5,000 a year," he says. "Ten years down the road, will it still be worth $5,000?"
The value of graduate engineering
On the opposite end of the salary spectrum, engineers who specialized in petroleum, aerospace, chemical, nuclear, electrical, or computer engineering as undergrads can eventually make six-figure salaries without ever pursuing a master's degree.
With that level of earning potential, a master's in engineering may not make sense, but for engineers in more general disciplines—such as mechanical, civil, or industrial—the value of a master's depends on your career track, says Dan Wittliff, president of the National Society of Professional Engineers.
"If you're working for an HVAC company … or working for a general civil firm doing grading or drainage … a bachelor's degree will work fine for that," he adds.
Engineers considering a master's degree should explore options outside of their discipline, too, says Wittliff, who earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering from Southern Methodist University, then got an MBA from the University of Oklahoma.
"The MBA sets the tone for you to get into management in larger corporations. You could do it the purely technical route, but at some point they see you as a technical specialist," he says. "If you want to get to the top you have to have some management and business acumen—otherwise it doesn't make any sense."
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