After reading the responses to Is a College/University Degree Still Relevant?, I'd then ask, once you complete a university technology degree, would pursuing a masters in the field be worth it? Or is the experience you would gain working for those two years be more valuable? Or is a masters degree something that is more valuable after one has a few years of real-world experience after their undergrad? And what career doors would a masters open, and which would they possibly close?

Keeping in mind this discussion on higher pay for advanced degrees, I'd rate whether a masters is worthwhile by both the pay one would get, but also more importantly, how enjoyable the job would be, and the types available (research only? development? management?).

+7  A: 

I'd take a year of experience over a year of study any time. We interview for developers semi-frequently and whilst we don't disregard the fact that someone has done a masters degree, we tend to prefer someone with an extra year experience than an extra year of study as there are just some things you can't learn unless you're on the job.

+5  A: 

If there's an area of CS or CS-related study that really gets you excited, then I'd advocate the masters program. If you're just generically considering the masters because you might make more $$$ one day, then I think that's a bad idea. If you get really excited by a subject and can excel at it and might be able to get some industry collaboration experience within that area while in school, then I think a masters can be a great idea. You might not come out ahead in the pay department, especially after considering the zero salary while getting the degree, but your job satisfaction and your knowledge and "status" in a field you love might make it more than worthwhile.

Chris Farmer
+15  A: 

It really depends what you're trying to accomplish. If you want to go into academia or some sort of research institution, graduate school is probably the only path. Grad school can also be a good way to switch careers, if you get a degree in something other than the subject of your undergrad. Master's degrees can also be a good way to get a salary bump at some companies or government organizations that pay folks more if they have a graduate degree (PhDs, on the other hand, are rarely worth the effort if money is the only thing you're concerned about). I went on a bit of a rant about writing skills over in the other question and a Master's degree (particularly in a program that requires a thesis) is a good way to develop those skills.

On the other hand, a graduate degree isn't even close to being the required credential a bachelor's degree is (careers in academia, medicine, and law excepted, of course). Facing a choice between a someone with a year or so of real world experience under their belt and a candidate with a master's degree, most employers are probably going to with the more experienced candidate. The balance may shift the other way if both candidates have some experience (5 years versus 3 years + master's, for instance). A master's degree may help you in the long term, but short term it's probably a net negative. This makes the idea of getting a few years of experience under your belt before going back for the master's seem attractive, but dropping out of the workforce to go back to school or going part time is hard. I've seen plenty of folks try it and not make it.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are a wide range of different kinds of masters degree programs. Some focus on preparing people for a further career in academia (a pit stop on the way to the PhD) and are going to be more theoretical. Others are aimed at career oriented folks and will be a lot more practical. Be sure you know what kind of program you want and what the institution you're looking at offers before deciding to pursue a graduate degree.

Chris Upchurch
+6  A: 

From a monetary standpoint, it's a no brainer for any engineering/cs degree.

  1. In almost all companies, a masters degree will start you at a higher salary for the same position with a bachelor's degree. A higher starting salary translates into higher salaries then your peers as you advance up the career ladder.
  2. A year of experience is better argument is folly. Most job requirements are adjusted for advanced degrees. (4 years of experience with bachelors, 2 years of experience with a masters)
  3. Most engineering/cs masters degrees can be finished in 12 months, especially if you plow through it immediately after your bachelors.
Plowing through it immediately after your bachelors would be foolish. You need experience first, then go back.
Tim Merrifield
+47  A: 

After 3 years of working with web design and 6 years with development, I'm pursuing a Masters in Computer Science. My BS degree is in another field, so I always stood for the idea that the degree was not important. However, now I see great advantages in a combination of experience and study.

Here are the advantages that I've seen so far:

  • Grad school forces you to understand the problems
    Learning from your experience is good, because it's harder to forget something you've been through, but school forces you to think about the reasons and understand the trade-offs (not only say "I know this is gonna work").

  • Grad school gives you a different mindset
    I've been to classes that I took for granted in the beginning because I thought they didn't have anything to add to my work experience, but even those classes made me think about the problems with a different perspective.

  • Going back to school makes you avid to learn more
    You have to do a lot of research in grad school and you make that a habit for other answers you are looking for. Going to grad school also made me curious about other languages that I never considered learning before and removed me from a comfortable state that I've settled in my career.

  • Previously accumulated experience helps you to understand what you learn
    I had a Software Engineering class that there was no way I could understand without any experience on the field. The thing was incredibly abstract and if I didn't have the examples in my mind to combine with the theory, I'm sure I would forget all that talk in less then a year. The class helped me to understand why projects failed and that for me was invaluable (even though it will not show off in my resume).

I can think of only one disadvantage that is your life can be a hell trying to combine work and study.

The achievements of pursuing a master's degree are mostly personal. In my case, it also helped me professionally but that's a story for some other time. But in conclusion, I can't see how learning could possibly close any doors.

Far from closing doors, the people I know who went on to get masters generally figure it added about 10k to their starting pay :)
Well a masters coupled with experience is way better than having a bachelor's degree and then going straight to masters without any appreciation of real-world applications. Bubbassauro's case was optimal :)
Jon Limjap
another upside: school is a lot more fun than workdownside: you're broke
Shawn Simon
@shawn, it really depends, I've actually had alot of fun doing projects for work, same with school, but they both defiantly have their not fun moments.
James McMahon
The main problem (among others) I see with getting a masters degree. Is that unlike some other sciences or disciplines, the best advances and minds are not in the academic world. The academic world is constantly catching up with the outside.
Mark Rogers
+1 "I can think of only one disadvantage that is your life can be a hell trying to combine work and study." Seriously. That's why I got my schooling out of the way first.
Bob Cross
+6  A: 
Or is the experience you would gain working for those two years be more valuable

That depends. When I was involved in hiring programmers I would always chose someone with experience over someone with education, given that they also had the required theoretical background and understanding of programming concepts. (Note that 'required theoretical background' here doesn't necessarily mean a university degree.)

However, there is no reason why you can't get experience while getting an education. Get yourself involved in open source projects or your own hobby projects while studying. If I have the choice between a good programmer and a good programmer with a master's degree, I will chose the one with the degree.

It does not matter if you spent two or ten years at a university. If you are not practicing programming on a regular basis you will not be a skilled programmer. However, if you are working actively to improve your practical programming skills and stay up-to-date with relevant technologies, there is no reason why a master's degree would hurt your career.

When it comes to salary I think this is mostly relevant when you first get started working. Once your experience exceeds your education, things tend to even out.

A master's degree would however be useful if you are interesting in pursuing a career as a scientist, doing (academic) research or working for a company that requires a certain level of education (i.e. Google).

If you are motivated for doing a master's degree and can find a way to get practical programming experience at the same time, I would go for it.

Anders Sandvig

A Master's degree in the field can be very worthwhile if one likes an academic setting and the material they are getting into. Don't forget though that there are other types of Master's degrees that some can go for like a Master's Business Administration or Master's in Management Engineering that can also be very beneficial to some people.

Depending on how much of a real-world Masters program you mean, e.g. University of Phoenix has Master's programs that are quite different from those where schools are heavy into research and could provide more experience into theoretical topics.

JB King
+2  A: 

Many universities offer "4+1" programs, where a student can earn their BS in Computer Science in 4 years, then take only one more year of classes and get a MS. If you look at it that way, there is not much to lose.

Dylan V
+2  A: 

If you have the opportunity to get a Master's, go for it. You never know if it might come in handy later in your career, such as if you decide to go into teaching or work for an employer who values the degree. In grad school you'll be able to explore topic areas that truly interest you, plus you'll learn a whole lot more about CS than you ever did as an undergrad.

A Master's can only open doors for you; I don't know of any worthwhile employers who would turn someone down because of it.

Barry Brown
+3  A: 

This is the classic real world vs academics argument.

For some reason in the real world an advanced degree will give you a higher starting salary. But thats where it ends, you may find yourself quickly passed up by those with bachelors degrees, and the odd person with no degree.

You definitely do not need any college experience to be productive and successful in the software world. As others have stated its a polish thing, college is like a finishing school it doesnt matter what the degree is you kind of get a taste of something that you dont get in high school. Just like you can pick out the freshmen from the upper class men just by looking across campus, you can pick out the level of college degrees just by looking at fellow employees.

What all academics fail to see though is that you can very quickly go too far. Advanced degrees can and often will make you unproductive in the real world. In some companies unproductive people can tread water for a long time, perhaps their whole career, others find themselves laid off.

High GPA has the same problem, you might not notice it but a high gpa will often result in not even being called in for an interview. A high gpa is a clear indication of the failure to understand the 80/20 rule, which means it will cost the company significantly more time and money to have you solve a problem than the next person. As many (academic) studies have shown that extra 20 percent effort doesnt necessarily result in better decisions or results. It is just bad business.

Both with your degree level and gpa you want to be in the middle of the bell curve to be guaranteed success. This means a bachelors degree. If you want to be an academic and work for google or a university (or some other pure research type establishment) then you must have a high gpa and high degree, its not an option.

My point is that high gpa and/or high degree can do irreparable damage, its like a tattoo or plastic surgery, make damn sure this is the lifestyle you want before doing something you cannot undo. If you have not been in the workforce for a few years, you really dont know what you want so you unfortunately cannot tell the future. If you had been in the work force for a while you wouldnt be asking this question.

I'd say go get some experience, decide what you want to do with your life, realize that many graduates dont end up working on what they went to school to learn. If you figure out that this isnt the life you wanted, THEN change it.

Nothing guarantees success.
Lance Roberts
Not interviewing "high gpa" is silly. You may be ignoring someone who expended 50% effort and still got a "high gpa". They may be able to do the same for your company.

For a teaching career in elementary or secondary, a B.A. or B.Sc. plus the B.Ed is the way in. If you have a B.A. and an M.A., you still need to get the B.Ed to teach. So, for a profession such as teaching, the B.A. or B.Sc. plus the B.Ed are not only the sensible degrees to have, but the necessary degrees to have.


If for research or development, MS is more viable choice for career advancement. But if you choose to pursue management path, a technical MS is not going to help you that much than a MBA degree.

+1  A: 

I've worked in the real world for almost a decade as a developer and have gone to graduate school part-time for some of that time. I am about to complete a master's degree and I agree 100% with the up-voted poster.

In my experience, "real-world" experience is great for learning how to get things done, but all to often there is a lack of rigor, perspective, and eventually a kind of complacency with doing things as they've been done before. If there is no immediate incentive for learning or changing in the form of money or other market forces and without visionary leadership, it is too easy for these things to fall by the wayside. When it becomes necessary to change, often times outsiders are brought into the organization or there is a scrambling for the business to respond to a knowledge crisis. And by responding to a knowledge crisis, I'm not talking about buying the latest API reference for your language of choice. One of the founders on this site has emphasized in the past that he looks for developers that are smart and gets things done. In my experience, the get things done mentality in most businesses comes first, with perspective and longer-term thinking coming second. As a "smart" developer and a non-founder, how long can one develop bug-tracking software and forum-software?

In terms of pay, if you look at the trends on, master's degree in computer science salaries actually are lower on average. And in my own experience, after working in the real-world, your non-graduate-degree co-workers and management don't seem to value a graduate degree in computer science (unless you work at the likes of google or microsoft research). That being said, I really feel that having been exposed to more challenging problems that require careful thought over a period of a time, as well as the academic rigor has given me a mental-edge over my co-workers. Plus I've met more genuinely brilliant people in academia then in the business world. Along with this exposure however, I've become more at risk at getting bored more quickly with learning the latest APIs to solve the same business problems over and over again however.

I disagree with Mark Rogers that academia follows industry in our field. I think that reflects his one-sided perspective. The idea for features in C# that I heard my co-workers rave about a few years ago such as lamba expressions and reflection have been around since the 30s and 80s, respectively. Things like cloud computing, which is a top trend on indeed, in some form or another has been around for several decades. Perhaps industry problems drive academics to research, but I don't believe that academia follows industry in our field. I also want to point out that the revered book code complete, if you look at the citations, you will see is loaded with citations to journals that academics spend their lives publishing to. And those articles are not the latest and greatest that have come-out of academia either. As far as the best minds comment: I'll concede that perhaps the best minds at getting things done under budget and on time are in the real-world.

Overkill? No. Worthwhile? Maybe.

Positives - perspective - rigor - opportunity to work on new problems - familiarity with established literature to solve old problems - segway into a research or teaching career

Downside: - it costs money unless you have an assistantship or work for a progressive company - immediate monetary pay-off is questionable - if you take evening classes, you may forgo happy hour for a few nights per week for a long time