I once made the mistake of talking about my master’s degree regrets on Instagram and received the most defensive DMs of anything I’ve ever posted about. I think my commentary hit a nerve, and I would like to continue this heated topic here. If you are thinking about getting your master’s degree as a teacher, I hope this post helps you make the best decision for YOU.
Teacher Master’s Degree Disclaimers:
- Some states require teachers to get a master’s degree even though they might not want to. I can’t help you with that, but some of my thoughts may at least guide your graduate class selection if you have choices.
- Not all states have the same perks or guidelines for getting your master’s degree as a teacher. I live in Tennessee. You will need to do your own research. Pay increases (or lack thereof) vary WILDLY from state to state or even district to district.
- Certain roles in education require a master’s degree. If you have specific advancement goals or want to be open to the possibility of future advancement, getting your master’s degree may be a non-negotiable requirement.
- This is MY personal opinion on getting my master’s degree as a teacher. At the end of this post, I’ll share different perspectives from my followers on Instagram, and I encourage you to talk to more educators for even more viewpoints.
I got my Master’s degree as a teacher for all the wrong reasons. Scratch that. I got it for one wrong reason – THE MONEY.
One of the many teacher retention issues we must address is the lack of career advancement options for educators. Personally, I never had ambitions to advance into a leadership role beyond teaching. I had zero desire to go into administration or any other leadership position outside the classroom. I knew this about myself early on and this stance has never wavered. Therefore, future advancement was not a motivating factor in my decision to get my master’s degree as a teacher.
But even though I didn’t want to go into administration, I did want a pay raise. The way I saw it, the only way for me to advance my teaching career in the form of more money was to get my master’s degree.
Therefore, I proceeded to take about $30,000 worth of student loans to pay for a 2,987 raise per year.
“But Ashley, you can recoup that in 10 years so it was worth it in the long run!!!”
I will get into some math later that will further investigate this common response, but for now, no that did not work out for me.
While I had every intention of happily teaching with the state of Tennessee for 30 years, life had other plans. Turns out, I happily taught for 10 years, not 30. Also, I did not complete my master’s degree until year 3. Therefore, I ended up only recouping a “raise” of 20,909 with 7 years on the master’s pay scale.
Instead of giving myself a raise that would pay off eventually, I lost almost $10,000 getting my master’s degree as a teacher.
If your MAIN motivation for getting your master’s degree is MONEY like it was for me, here are some things to consider before you take out a hefty graduate student loan.
- Master’s degree consideration: Before you dedicate to paying for a master’s degree as a teacher, consider longevity. Realistically, how long will you teach? This is an unpredictable question to an extent, but unfortunately, we do know that teacher retention is in crisis right now. I’m hopeful this will change, and I focus a lot of my work on making teaching easier and more enjoyable for ELA teachers, but just know that recouping your investment is usually a long game.
- Master’s degree consideration: Can you get scholarships or loan forgiveness? If either of these are possible, this is an entirely different conversation! I would absolutely not regret my master’s degree as much if it would have been free (though I would still regret some other choices which I will get into in a minute).
- Master’s degree consideration: How much will your master’s degree cost vs how much will your raise be? You will need these numbers to do the math like I did above and see if it’s financially smart for you. Some states make it more worth it than others.
- Master’s degree consideration: Do you need a pay increase to better provide for you and/or your family? I do not want to sound flippant about the pay raise that often (but not always) comes with a master’s degree. Teachers are grossly underpaid, and for some, a master’s degree pay increase is necessary to live.
When framed in the right way, money can absolutely be an important “why.” Having more financial security and more money to spend on the things that bring you joy are worthy motivations. For me, I only wanted the pay raise for the pay raise itself and did not have any deeper “whys” associated with my decision to get my master’s degree.
Beyond the money and not having a strong motivating factor behind my decision, I also made plenty of other regrettable choices when I got my master’s degree as a teacher. I’ll outline them here so that my mistakes may help other educators with their choices.
More of my master’s degree regrets as a teacher:
I was too inexperienced to choose a helpful study focus
I started my master’s degree my second year as an ELA teacher, and upon reflection, that wasn’t the best timing for me. I was too green to reflect on my teaching practices in a real way and was too early in my career to see where it might lead later on. If it had it to do over, I would have taken specific classes on where I needed to grow as a teacher (namely, reading comprehension research and strategies for high school students) and advanced classes to prepare me for what I do now (an advanced public speaking course would have been nice).
I got my master’s degree in English literature, but had I waited, I think it would have been completely different. It would have been smart to get my librarian degree because 1: it would give me another job option and 2: I do a ton of research in my field now. An advanced curriculum design degree would have also been beneficial, ha!
I was too overwhelmed as a new teacher to take my classes seriously
Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I navigated being a new teacher AND getting my master’s degree at the same time. It was beyond exhausting, and I harbored a lot of resentment toward my graduate classes. Teaching was my top priority, and I viewed my graduate work as somewhat of a grueling bootcamp to get to the payoff at the end. This goes against everything I believe as an educator and life-long learner. I wish I would have been in a place in my life where I could have enjoyed the process of learning and gotten more out of it.
I picked the wrong graduate classes
Since I did not have a career goal to work toward nor free time as an overwhelmed new ELA teacher, I chose classes for my graduate degree at random. I either chose the class based on working around my teacher schedule or something that sounded fun and easy. If I had it to do over, I would have chosen classes that I was passionate about as an educator such as listening literacy, student buy-in, classroom environment, keeping the wonder, and curriculum design. By chance, I did end up loving a few of my classes, but in hindsight, I wish I had been more intentional about what I was learning.
I wish I would have studied abroad
Of all my master degree regrets, this is my biggest one. I’ve had wanderlust since I was a child and would be lying if I said summers off to travel wasn’t a big perk in my career choice. From home exchanges to renting our primary house out on Airbnb to credit card points, I’ve always found a way to travel on a teacher’s budget. Living abroad has been a dream of mine, and my US graduate degree regrets started after listening to this podcast: College Education Beyond The States w/ Jennifer Viemont (which is great for a class filler by the way!).
This episode blew my mind when it comes to tuition costs in the US compared to English-speaking universities abroad. While this episode does focus on undergraduate costs, I explored further on the Beyond the States website to find this: Top Three Reasons Students Are Going to Europe for Graduate School. Not only could I have saved a ton of money on my master’s degree, but I could have lived in Europe on a student visa, completed my degree in less time, and gained an invaluable world perspective to bring back to the states and my classroom.
I could have invested that money instead
Circling back, if I would have set up a simple ROTH IRA and put $100 a month into it until I reached a total investment of 30,000 (rather than sinking 30,000 into student loan debt), I would now have a true raise of approximately $78,846 (or 48,746 if you only count the compound interest). This is a conservative number. Historically, ROTH IRAs have delivered between 7% and 10% average annual returns. If you are getting your master’s degree solely for the pay raise or retirement benefits, it’s worth doing a little math and research to compare how investing in yourself in the form of a degree stacks up against other types of investments. Obviously, this means you won’t be getting your yearly raise until retirement (in the form of dividend payouts), but I just want to make the point that I wish I would have weighed all my financial options to make the best informed decision.
Additionally, I could have squirreled away another $100 into my European adventure savings each month for 3 years. Then, after making it past the overwhelming new teacher phase, I would have had 3,600 to help me get settled in Europe to begin my overseas master’s degree. From everything I’ve read, the pace of a European graduate degree and rules of student visas allow for 20 hours of work per week. Learning in a multicultural environment, working a few hours a day, studying in cozy European cafes, then venturing to different countries on the weekends sounds much more pleasant learning experience than the 60+ hours a week I was working as a new teacher while getting my master’s degree in the US. REGRETS!!!
Lastly, I want to end with some different perspectives from my ELA teacher community. I polled my audience and asked if they regretted their master’s degree. If they answered yes, I ask them to share their regrets. If they asked no, I asked them to share why they are happy with their choice. Here are the most common or thought-provoking replies:
Master degree regret replies:
- Many teachers are resentful that their state requires a master’s degree but doesn’t pay for it. They aren’t necessarily regretful to have the degree because it is the only way they can continue to teach, but more so resentful of the costs.
- Someone replied that they chose a degree in Library Media Science but the current book banning and political atmosphere makes her nervous she chose the wrong path.
- Many felt like their master’s degree didn’t better prepare them for the classroom or advance their craft as a teacher.
- Like me, many regret taking out student loans and the cost vs benefit outcome. Several did not stay in the field long enough to recoup the costs. Some started out in a state that gave a pay raise for their master’s degree but then moved to one that didn’t.
Master degree satisfaction replies:
I loved reading these responses! Most of them validate my regret list above because they made better choices than I did. HA!
- Many replied that it was a life-long goal and sense of pride for them. As a first-generation college graduate, I absolutely LOVE THIS! I believe that if my biggest “why” had not been the money, I would have had a totally different experience.
- Many replied that it made them feel more confident in themselves and their pedagogical practices. Again, LOVE this for them!
- Several replied that it connected them with a network of colleagues or helped them make life-long friends with similar interests. WHOLESOME!!!
- Several replied that they chose a degree they knew they would love and viewed it as a passion project. SWEET!!!
- Several like knowing they have it for any future career advancements that they may decide to pursue later on. They enjoy knowing they have options. Others have already used their degrees to advance into roles that require a master’s degree. SMART!!!
- Lastly, the most frequent response was that they enjoy the extra money and that getting their master’s degree was totally worth it for them based on their pay scale increase. Many were able to get their advanced degree for free, so it was a no-brainer. GOOD FOR YOU!!!
As someone who believes in and promotes lifelong learning, I debated whether or not I should post this. I would never shame someone for taking out student loans to continue their education. When you invest in yourself, that’s something that can never be taken away. That said, as I’ve outlined in this post, I had the wrong master’s degree mindset for ME. I wish I would have read a post like this back then and considered my choices with more intention. I hope it helps someone debating whether or not to get your master’s degree as a teacher. Leave a comment or DM me if it resonates with you in some way!