According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), American universities awarded 604,607 master's degrees in 2006. These diplomas range from the liberal arts to the sciences, to professional degrees such as the MBA. It usually takes a minimum of two years to complete a master’s degree. The U.S. Census Bureau issued a report stating that those who complete advanced degrees earned an average of $23,796 more than those with bachelor’s degrees. Aside from the obvious salary benefits, there are several reasons why people pursue master’s degrees.

Career Advancement

There are several professions that require a graduate degree. Among those who must meet these requirements are lawyers and some mental health professionals. Many others pursue graduate degrees with hopes of developing a competitive edge in their job searches. The most common degrees among students in this category are the Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administration and health-related Master’s Degrees.

Mandatory Teacher Certification

According to the NCES, 29 percent of the master’s degrees awarded in 2006 were conferred in the area of education. Many states require teachers to become certified, and this is often accomplished through the completion of a master’s level teaching program. These programs are often offered in the evening and online. The most common degree in this category is the Master of Science in Education.

College Level Teaching

Those who plan to teach at the college level must obtain a graduate degree. Fortunately, many graduate students are given the opportunity to teach at their own universities while pursuing their master’s degrees. This provides the student with legitimate college-level teaching experience and academic references that can be used when he or she enters the work force as a teacher.

Becoming a Doctor of Philosophy (or Ph.D.)

Those who wish to obtain a Ph.D. must first obtain a master’s degree in a related field. While pursuing the master’s degree, students are often required to develop a foreign language competency, conduct research and write or defend a formal thesis.

Career Changes

Many people enter graduate school to gain the knowledge necessary for a career change. While critics tend to question the effectiveness of merely obtaining a graduate degree in one’s chosen field before changing career paths, many people have reported success with this practice. Those who plan to pursue a graduate degree prior to changing careers should try to complete an internship in their field of choice. Doing so will help the student to obtain the references and experience that will be needed after graduation.

Gaining Additional Knowledge

There are many people who enter graduate school because they simply love to learn. Students who possess this zest for learning often enter graduate level liberal studies programs. Such programs increase their knowledge while challenging their abilities to analyze data, synthesize information and write critically.

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