SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2013 |
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By Allison Ellis / Special to On Course
n 2010, when Seattle-based children’s book author and
freelance writer Elizabeth Mills realized that her publishing
jobs were drying up, she decided to make a career change.
“I like books, and I like kids, so I thought becoming a school
librarian would be a perfect fit,” she says. One important
detail: First, she needed to get a master’s degree.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics,
there are approximately 693,000 master’s degrees awarded
each year in the United States, and over the past 10 years,
degree awards have increased 50 percent.
In name alone, a postgraduate degree certainly carries a level
of caché, not to mention a nice-looking title on your résumé.
But the real point is professional development: Most master’s
degrees are designed to give students the advanced train-
ing they need in order to pursue highly specialized fields of
Do your research
Do you need a master’s degree? Indeed, if you’re pursuing a
career in library science, physical therapy or urban planning,
getting a master’s degree isn’t just nice to have, it’s a job re-
quirement. For some business jobs, obtaining a master’s can
bump you up to the next management tier.
Yet in certain creative professions, an advanced degree may
make no difference in earnings potential. A master’s requires
an investment of at least two years and education costs that av-
erage $34,600 per year, so it’s a decision worthy of more study.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook
Handbook (at contains a comprehensive da-
tabase of top-paying jobs that require a master’s degree. At
the site, you can learn education requirements, pay and job
forecast information for career fields that interest you.
Seattle-based is another resource that offers
custom online tools to help you determine whether a mas-
ter’s will give you that added edge.
Narrow your choices
Wendie Phillips, director of student services at the University
of Washington’s Information School, advises prospective stu-
dents to set up informational interviews to explore options.
“Identify professionals who have gotten their master’s de-
grees in the fields you are most interested in, and then go talk
to them,” she says.
Peterson’s guides ( and websites such as, which has more than 60,000 master’s pro-
grams in its directory, can help narrow your choices by state,
area of study and type of program.
Fulfill requirements
To get started toward a master’s degree, you’ll need at least
a transcript from your undergraduate college or university,
letters of recommendation and a complete application. Some
master’s programs require prerequisites or a core focus in
a particular field — which can be fulfilled either through
academic coursework or on the job.
Typically a Graduate Record Examination (or GRE, which
is the most widely accepted graduate admissions test) is re-
quired, though not always, so be sure to check the admissions
page for the program that interests you.
GRE test results are good for five years, so if you’re a recent
grad or still in school, it might be a good idea to take the test
now while the information is still fresh. Been out of college for
10 to 20 years? No problem; that’s what test-prep classes are for.
Work-life balance
In the not-so-distant past, pursuing a graduate degree meant
you had to take classes on campus. No longer. Seattle resident
Jay Hilwig, a designer for Centri Technology, is pursuing a
master’s in human computer interaction (HCI) via Iowa
State University’s online-only program after beginning his
coursework at the University of Washington.
“I’m more of a self-learner, so the online program is a much
better fit,” Hilwig says.
That independence also appeals to Erin Brown, of Olympia,
who is getting her master’s in business administration (MBA)
from online-only Western Governors University.
“I’m a single mom who commutes to a full-time job two
hours every day,” she says. “I would not have been able to get
my degree any other way.”
Mills, who is on track to get her master’s in library and
information science (MLIS) degree this spring, relishes the
campus life. “The academic relationships I’ve forged are
incredible,” she says. Very much so, it seems: Mills has already
decided to go the distance to pursue a Ph.D.
Taking your education
beyond a bachelor’s starts
with a master’s degree
Seattle resident Elizabeth Mills is getting her master’s degree at the University of Washington as part of a career change.
More online
Find more than 60,000
master’s programs at
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