There’s no doubt that postgraduate degrees can enrich your knowledge. Professionally, these degrees often add a level of expertise to your skillset that can help you achieve two things: a higher salary and an expanded set of career options. But that doesn’t mean that advanced degrees make sense for everyone, especially when you consider how much time and money it can take to earn one.
A Georgetown University study found, for example, that people who earned advanced degrees in health and medical preparatory programs enjoyed, on average, a 190 percent salary increase. On the other end of the scale, people who majored in atmospheric sciences and meteorology only increased their pay an average 1 percent.

How, then, do you know if the degree you’ve been eyeing for professional benefit is really worth the time and money? Below are a few guidelines to consider.

Worth It

Degrees that boost pay — significantly

Often, people pursue advanced degrees with the express goal of boosting their salary. But how much of an increase justifies the investment?

Fox Business recommends doing a little math: Look at how much your advanced degree will cost (and don’t forget to include lost wages, if you won’t be earning an income during your tenure). Then project your salary increase post-degree and figure out how many years it will take for the income boost to cover the money spent. This information can help you decide whether a higher degree will pay for itself — and more.

Degrees that open doors to employment

Some fields — like higher education administration, public affairs and social services — require an advanced degree, according to U.S. News & World Report. Thirty years ago, a bachelor’s degree could qualify you for an entry-level job as an admissions counselor, academic advisor or student services coordinator. Today, you’ll need a master’s degree just to be considered. If the job you want requires an advanced degree, then the investment is almost certainly worth it.

MBA programs

Getting a Masters of Business Administration can have a big impact on your earnings. As Aol notes, an advanced business degree from the top 50 to 100 schools can help the vast majority of business graduates to double or triple their salaries. For instance, according to Aol, the salaries of Notre Dame grads rose an average 149 percent over their pre-MBA pay; University of Minnesota MBA grads typically saw a 132 percent hike.

To really get the most of your MBA, Yahoo recommends a concentration in finance, which employers consider to be an asset. Yahoo also notes that an MBA can be particularly effective if paired with an undergraduate degree in a technical area, such as science, tech or engineering.

Some master’s degrees

This summer, Forbes published its list of master’s degrees with the best job prospects. Basing its picks on which degrees led to jobs with the best long-term salary and employment outlook, Forbes chose master’s degrees for information studies, physics, physician’s assistant studies, computer science, electrical engineering, occupational therapy, public health, nursing, finance (see MBA Programs, above) and civil engineering.

Not Worth It

Ph.D.’s for academics

If you aim to get a science Ph.D. with the hope of getting an academic position, you may have a tough go of it. Academic jobs in the sciences have become scarce, according to Slate. And for those newly minted Ph.D.’s who hope to find better opportunity outside academia, Slate notes that the industrial sector hasn’t produced enough jobs to compensate for the dwindling number of positions at universities.

Law degrees . . . at the moment

There was a time when having a law degree was as good as having money in the bank. But then word got out and the landscape shifted. Now, while attorneys can still land worthy positions and make considerable money, opportunities are harder to find — especially for those who’d attend a bottom-ranking school. While the number of law school graduates rose 11 percent in the last decade, thousands of lawyer and legal staff positions were eliminated these past few years, according to Bankrate. And while 88 percent of grads were employed, not all had positions practicing law. Plus, nearly half the graduates’ salaries ranged between $40,000 and $65,000. Keep in mind that 2012 grads left school with an average debt of $108,293, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Fine arts and mass-media degrees

In some fields — like the fine arts, media and advertising — hands-on experience and an impressive portfolio may get you much farther than an advanced degree. Referring to the Georgetown study, Bankrate notes that graduates from MFA programs only saw a 3 percent salary increase. As for media careers, one creative staffing agency told Bankrate that her clients don’t seek out employees with advanced degrees, unless they need someone to focus on high-level strategy.

Some master’s degrees

The same Forbes article that highlights master’s degrees with the best job prospects (above) also includes a list of master’s degrees with the worst job prospects. Forbes picked master’s degrees for library and information science, music, English, education, public administration, biology, history, counseling, political science, architecture and human resource management.

Still, if you can afford it and don’t need to recoup your investment, gaining knowledge is always rewarding. And keep in mind, boosting your professional development doesn’t always require a year or more at school. Depending on your situation, you may be able to get by with a class, conference, lecture . . . even just a book. And if you’re lucky, you may be able to get your employer to pay for it.

Which advanced education degrees do you think are worth the investment? How has advanced education made an impact on your life?