If you're thinking about obtaining a master's degree in mechanical engineering, one of your first questions should probably be: is this going to be worth the time, money and effort it is going to require over the long-term of my engineering career? And no, you can't just think of the salary.
If you’re like most engineers, you may have thought about obtaining a master’s degree in order to make more money or gain a competitive advantage. But is it really worth the extra time, effort, and money that you’d spend pursuing an advanced degree? I’ll outline the advantages and disadvantages that you should consider.
There are a few reasons why getting a master’s degree might benefit you and your mechanical engineering career:
You’ll Make More Money
Since mechanical engineering is one of engineering's most popular fields, you’ll have a lot of competition at every phase of your career. There’s a constant influx of new engineers vying for available positions, and the majority of them only have an undergraduate degree. By obtaining a master’s degree, you’ll set yourself apart from other engineers at your company or other candidates vying for the same role.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that the average starting salary for mechanical engineers with a bachelor’s degree was $61,300, while those with a master’s degree earned $71,700. In general, engineers who have completed a master’s program will earn 20 percent more at any stage of their career than those with only an undergraduate degree.
It's Easier to Advance in Your Career
Your commitment to pursue and complete an advanced degree speaks volumes about you to current and potential employers. Whether you’re interested in moving up vertically within your current organization or joining a new company in a more senior role, an advanced degree will generally work in your favor. It could be the deciding factor between you and another candidate, because it demonstrates your ability to juggle multiple tasks (especially if you were working full-time while obtaining your degree) and see a goal or project through to completion.
You’ll Acquire Cutting-Edge Expertise and Skills
While most mechanical engineers try to stay up-to-date on the latest best practices and industry trends, it can be difficult in a corporate or government setting. Graduate students are often closer to the action in terms of new and evolving technologies and advancements – including research, software and innovations. If you were hiring a new engineer, would you want to hire one who was sitting in a cubicle all day or one who was exposed to new and emerging technologies?
A graduate program is not always a good fit for everyone, though. There are a few disadvantages to getting a master’s degree that you should take into consideration:
It Takes Time
If you’re already working a demanding full-time job, it might be challenging to fit the pursuit of a graduate degree into your schedule on a daily basis. Treat it as a second “job” and expect to spend your evenings and weekends attending classes and completing assignments for your program. Although it might seem overwhelming or too difficult, keep reminding yourself that it’s a long-term investment and your hard work will pay off down the road. Keep your eyes on the end goal and you can overcome this obstacle.
It Will Cost You Money
You may still be paying off your undergraduate student loans or you may have significant financial responsibilities, such as a mortgage or a family to support. The addition of another monthly expense or loan deters many engineers from pursuing another degree. Again, remember that this is an investment that -- with a master's in mechanical engineering salary -- will pay YOU back in the long run; so it might be worth the short-term pain in order to reach your longer-term goals.
It Requires Dedication
Remember what we said about spending your evenings and weekends on this? This will require a significant amount of discipline that is not for the faint of heart. You need to commit upfront and remember that commitment when the going gets tough further down the road. It’s not a bad idea to make a contract with yourself and display it prominently where you—and other members of your household—can see it to carry you through any challenges that lie ahead.
It May Actually Hurt Your Career if You Don't Have a Lot of Experience
If you’re fresh out of undergraduate school, you might want to think twice about obtaining a master’s degree upfront. It won’t necessarily help you very much early in your career, because most companies hire recent college grads for junior-level positions within a certain pay range. There are sometimes exceptions to this rule, though, so you can get around this by finding companies who consciously seek candidates with advanced degrees and have the budget set aside for that.
Another alternative to this is to obtain an entry-level position with a company that offers tuition reimbursement after you receive your bachelor’s degree, and have them pay for your advanced degree. That way, you get the best of both worlds: on-the-job experience and an advanced degree paid for by your employer.
Despite the disadvantages or challenges, it’s almost always a good idea to pursue advanced education because it’s an investment in you and your future—with a high rate of return on your investment. Ultimately, it will be up to you to consider what works best for your personal circumstances, but most mechanical engineers will find the payoffs are greater than the costs.
If this topic intrigues you or you still have questions, you can discuss the pros and cons of obtaining an advanced engineering degree in the Jobs and Career Opportunities forum on GrabCAD Groups.
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