Lifelong learning matters. By growing your knowledge, you open the doors to higher pay, more opportunities and a bigger network. Now that you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, it’s time for the next step. Should you go for your master’s, or would a professional certification better suit your needs? Read on to find out. 

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Option A:

Going for a post-graduate degree

Advanced education is great for getting a deeper, well-rounded overview of a field. And for a growing number of positions — especially in management — a post-graduate degree is preferred and/or required. There are other benefits to attaining a post-graduate degree as well.

Higher Salary Bracket

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the jobs that pay over $94,000/year typically require a master’s or doctoral degree. For an MBA, the median salary in 2021 was $115,000.

Your salary will continue to rise with your age for longer than someone with a bachelor's degree: Those with a graduate degree see their median incomes rise into their mid-50s, whereas those with a bachelor’s degree plateau in their early 40s.

Larger Professional Network

Your network will expand beyond your fellow students to the faculty and guest speakers you meet — experts in the field. You can develop mentors, as well as connections that may help you advance your career in the future.

Downsides to a Post-Graduate Degree

What are the downsides? Time and money. A master’s degree can cost anywhere from $30,000-120,000. For an MBA, it can be as much as $200,000. Graduate school is also a major time commitment. Whether online or in person, you’ll be attending class, and you’ll have reading and homework to do — for about two years if you go full-time.

Know Your Goal

When considering a graduate degree, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish, and make sure you have the resources to make it happen. If you can’t afford to pay out of pocket, are you willing to take out loans to finance your education? If so, how will you repay them? The return on investment of a graduate degree largely depends on your individual situation and the requirements of your industry.

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Option 2:

Going for a Professional Certification

The biggest difference between a graduate degree and professional certification is the fact that the latter is focused. Professional certifications are specialized; you’re telling people that you are trained and prepared for a specific job.

Demonstrate Expertise

Certifications match the current standards of a particular job better than degrees, which are more encompassing of an entire field of study. They show others that you have what it takes to succeed in the profession.

For example, AFP’s FPAC and CTP certifications tell people you’re an expert in financial planning & analysis (FP&A) and treasury, respectively, and that you have met the industry standard.

Save Time and Money

Opting for a professional certification, instead of a graduate degree, saves you time and money. While some certifications do require up to two years, others can be obtained in just six months.

Certifications are less expensive to pursue than graduate degrees. Plus, a number of employers reimburse the cost of a certification if it’s related to your job, so be sure to ask about that at your workplace.

Higher Pay and Advancement

Professional certifications have been linked to higher pay and career advancement. They help you stand out in the applicant pool and give you a competitive edge over other candidates.

Creating an action plan

The decision you make — between a graduate degree and a professional certification — largely comes down to two things: your resources and the type of job you want to pursue. 

  • What are your career goals? Maybe you have professional experience in one department but you want to move to another in your field, like going from accounting to FP&A. Or maybe you want to move up to management one day. Your goals hold a great deal of stock in which path you choose, so be clear about that.
  • How much time and money are you willing to invest? If you’re not willing to invest the time required to do well in graduate school, then you’ll be wasting your money. And if you don’t have the resources, or you’re not willing to take out loans, then that’s a significant roadblock as well.

    The good news is, whether you pursue a post-graduate degree or a professional certification, both will likely lead to more opportunities and higher pay. Investing in your education is an investment in yourself, and that is one investment that is always worth making. 

    As you navigate your career, we’ll help you identify key decision points that can shape your future. Check out other articles in our Decision Points series.