Taylor Tobin

Now that we’re in the midst of graduation season, recent college grads find themselves contemplating their next moves. The strong US job market bodes well for this new wave of job-seekers... and yet, the temptation of staying in the warm bosom of academia can be difficult to resist. 

While certain careers unquestionably require an advanced degree — and others unofficially reward them with salaries that justify the extra years of school — many master’s candidates leave their programs with heavy debt and few workplace advantages to justify the ticket price. Career guru Alison Green of Ask A Manager says the following about graduate degrees:

Grad school makes sense when you’re going into a field that requires or significantly rewards a graduate degree, and when the program that you would enroll in has a high track record of graduates getting jobs in their field. But you shouldn’t go if you don’t know what you plan to do with the graduate degree afterward. And you certainly shouldn’t go to grad school out of a vague idea that it will make you more marketable. Not only will it often not make you more marketable, it can actually hamstring your efforts to pursue the career you want.”

Not sure whether grad school makes sense for your career aspirations? We’re here to help. Everyone knows that doctors, lawyers, and tenured professors need graduate degrees, but we’ve also rounded up four surprising jobs that either require or reward master’s diplomas — along with four careers you can easily pursue armed with a bachelor’s degree.

Head to grad school for these careers

1. Librarians

While helping library visitors find books and access information isn’t often associated in the popular imagination with an advanced degree, librarians do in fact need a master’s-level education. Library careers involve significant amounts of professional research, and in order to work as a librarian, you need a master’s degree in library sciences, which sets you up for an average annual salary of $56,880.

2. Pharmacists

The folks who prepare and dispense prescriptions medications at pharmacies need a 3-4 year Doctorate of Pharmacy (also known as a PharmD degree). The schooling for pharmacists surpasses the typical 2 years allotted for master’s degrees, but those who complete the program and find pharmacy employment are rewarded for their efforts with a median annual salary of $122,230.

3. Statistician

High-level math whizzes who love synthesizing and analyzing data can find lucrative careers as statisticians, but they’ll first need to earn a master’s degree in either mathematics or applied statistics. Statisticians are in demand for a wide variety of industries, ranging from market research to politics to biotechnology. If you’re hired as a statistician, you can expect a median salary for this position of $84,760 per year.

4. Archivists

Employed by museums, educational institutions, historical societies, and government departments (among others), archivists specialize in the research, collection, and organization of documents, art pieces, literary works, film reels, and other records. It’s an excellent career for inquisitive individuals with a penchant for keeping things in order, and to find an entry-level position in this field, you’ll need a master’s degree in history, library studies, or archival studies. According to the Department of Labor, archivists earn an average annual salary of $55,470.

Skip the graduate degree for these careers

1. Engineers

It’s easy to assume that engineers require a master’s degree in order to design and implement mathematical formulas and the development of new products, but the vast majority of engineering careers require only a bachelor’s degree. If you want to become a nuclear engineer, an aerospace engineer, or an engineering manager, bypass the master’s program and jump right into the workforce, as experience in this field counts for far more than advanced education. Engineering salaries vary depending on specifics, but intermediate-level engineers can expect to earn annual pay in the high five figures-low six figures

2. Teacher

While there are some exceptions (such as special-education instructors), most teachers don’t require a master’s degree to work in their field. A bachelor’s degree and a teaching certification are needed for public school educators, while many private schools employ teachers who only hold bachelor’s degrees. Master’s degrees in education frequently lead to higher salaries and career advancement for those looking to move into administration, but they’re not strictly necessary. Teachers in the US make an average starting salary of $38,477 annually.

3. Accountants

Like teachers, accountants do need an industry-specific certification (Certified Public Accountant, also known as a CPA) in order to practice. However, a master’s degree isn’t required, and an aspiring accountant can begin a career with a bachelor’s degree and a CPA, which can be obtained after 150 hours of undergraduate study hours.  Salaries for accountants average out to $68,150 per year.

4. Software developers

While Silicon Valley wunderkinds who build multi-billion-dollar empires as college dropouts are the exception rather than the rule, high-level coding and development roles in the tech industry don’t require any post-grad education credentials (although finishing your bachelor’s degree is definitely recommended). Software developers earn an average annual salary of $100,080. 

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