According to some statistics and masters degree is worth over $1 million more in total lifetime earnings than a simple high school diploma. Obviously this is a lump-sum payment. But over the years on average the opportunities and higher pay an advanced degree affords should translate into roughly $1.3 million.
In the job market is flooded by applicants with four year degrees, a master’s degree can make a significant improvement to your chances of securing a job. Of course in some areas a master’s degree may overqualified you. But most job seekers would rather be slightly over qualified for a position than underqualified. Even if a masters degree isn’t an option right now, there are a number of schools offering less study intensive options in a graduate citation where you get some recognition that you can put on your resume without the full rigor and thesis necessary to complete a full masters degree.
Of course the $1.3 million figure is only an average. For many people the value is significantly higher. Of course people with a Masters degree in underwater basket weaving working at McDonald’s helped pull the average down. Not every degree translates into higher pay.
With a bit of careful planning you can choose the degree at the high-end of the average instead of the lower end. This may take a bit of luck–it is hard to know how the job market will change over the next twenty years. Still you should be able to avoid the areas that are obviously not going to be high earning careers. A degree in chess, the Beatles or vampire literature isn’t probably going to put you at the high end of the spectrum. Bio-engineering is probably going to be around for awhile as are a number of other technical careers where there is currently a great deal of growth potential.