One of my goals in life is to get a master’s degree. Now, I know this puts me in the majority of Millenials who stay in college forever then move back into their parents basements until they turn 40. This – I know all too well – is the stigma that my young generation is up against. I really started asking myself lately, “Is a civil engineering master degree worth it?” Now, I am not just talking a master’s in civil engineering, but also related fields like finance, economics, data, etc. There are really a number of questions that must be answered first, so let me break it down:
1. Why do I want a degree?
For me, there are 2 reasons that I want a higher-level degree. The first reason is that I like the sense of accomplishment. I like undertaking a challenge and then overcoming it. Having a master’s degree would be the culmination of that.
This, I believe, is why I love to run, lift, swim, or anything else that – to a normal person – would seem asinine. Getting that medal or that trophy at the end of an arduous Ragnar race reminds me of that awesome experience I had.
This is also the reason why I felt that civil service was not for me: http://www.drivingwithmagellan.com/2015/12/18/leaving-the-public-sector/ There was no challenge anymore. I didn’t feel like I was learning that much. Furthermore, to get assistance on a master’s degree, they required a lengthy and cumbersome application process, 7 years of work, and only $20k, if I was lucky. Not worth it!
The second, and most important and most vain, is that I want the prestige of a top 5 institution. I admit that this is a more selfish and borderline narcissistic reason, but a reason nonetheless. I want to be able to show that I went through a really prestigious program. Having a well-respected institution grants me this whenever I am introduced for a presentation or when a resume is read.
2. What is the benefit?
This is a really interesting question, and can be quantified into two categories: salary and knowledge.
On average, master’s students can earn approximately 30% more than their bachelor’s partners. Librarians, it turns out, earn this premium. This sounds great on paper, but when looking at the civil-side, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) surveys see that the premium is around 10%.
So, if I assume that I made $55k starting out in today’s dollars (an average ), and received an average of a 3% raise per year (includes inflation adjustments and modest raises), then the following graph shows my pay per year:
However, there is a little known fact that your artificial pay, for most W2 employees, is $150k/year. So, let’s see what it is with a cap of $150k. Now, this is per anectodal evidence, and in researching the AASHTO FAR rates for a small/medium company. I think, on average, that most employees if they stay in for 30-40 years, that they will be able to reach this rate. This is my no means unachievable.
Now, is this normal for all employees? No. I think that most medium to high-achieving CE grads will probably surpass this. I have noticed that the workforce is much older, leaving a lot of room for younger employees, like myself, to move into high paying jobs.
So, what is the difference in pay? Not much. For graph #1, the added salary is around $250k, while the 2nd graph yields an additional $185k over a career. That’s an extra $275 per biweekly paycheck and an extra $200 for each scenario respectively. That doesn’t seem like a very steep paycheck.
Getting a master’s degree will obviously give me knowledge and information. Studying a subject for an extended period of time will give me more insight into whatever subject I so choose. Applying it to my career would be another issue entirely.
The knowledge that I would learn in a Master’s program is not anything I couldn’t learn from reading books, going to webinars, and “self-learning.” The transportation sector has been around a long time, and the body of knowledge that exists is pretty extensive. However, transportation has basically been stagnant for the past few decades. Concrete is concrete. Steel is steel. People still drive. So what is there to learn?
3. What are the costs?
As a wise man once said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. This could not be truer than when it comes to college education. Read any news article on college or listen to any soundbite from a politician. Sprinkled in there somewhere without a doubt is the cost of tuition and student loan debt. On average, a masters degree is around $40k. Ouch!
There is also a time cost. These programs take a long time, average about 2 years. This is time that could be spent with family, making business connection, investing in Real Estate (a new interest of mine), etc. This is the opportunity cost that I would experience. Is this more valuable than my other activities? Well, for a traditional program, no.
4. So what kind of programs am I looking at?
It is great to talk about this in theory, without looking at what type of programs. Yes I could do a traditional masters, but, as stated above, this opportunity cost is too high. It does not set me apart from my peers. I feel that these programs are used to gain an upper-hand when entering the workforce. I have been in the industry for about 7 years. I need to be different.
Therefore, there are a list of potential master’s degrees that set me apart from the pack. These are outside the normal CE discipline that I will be investigating further, and will be exploring more in future posts. These include:
- Professional Master’s of Applied Systems Engineering (PMASE) – Georgia Tech
- Master’s in Public Policy Transportation – UCLA
- Master’s of Science in Civic Analytics – NYU
- Master’s of Engineering in Large Cyber-Physical Systems – Cal Berkeley
More may be added, but this is what I am looking at now.
So what do you think? Would you get a master’s in my position, or is the cost just too high?