Getting an education vs. work experience in the workforce is a conflict that professionals may face at any stage of their lives. 

Whether you are a high school graduate weighing college – and the associated costs – against a job opportunity that would put money in your pocket immediately, or a seasoned professional unsure of risking a steady income to go back to school with an eye toward long-term success, the work experience vs. degree dilemma can lead to many sleepless nights.

There are advantages and disadvantages to pursuing either route, just as there are advantages and disadvantages to earning your degree while working a full- or part-time job. When making your decision, it’s important to examine all of the factors.

Why should I go to work?

For some students, urgent commitments such as taking care of one’s family take priority over school. 

When balancing the idea of work experience vs. degree, others may choose the former because of the immediate benefits, such as taking home a paycheck and building a resume of relevant achievements. 

“Aside from earning an income sooner, and avoiding tuition expenses, there’s also value in being able to gain important real-world work experience,” explains the University of Arizona Global Campus Career Services Specialist Genesis Lastrella. “In working, you begin to establish your independence by learning how to manage your own money and pay your own bills.”  

Lastrella, who has worked in higher education since 2002, adds that time away from the classroom can be used to explore interests and career goals, giving you the opportunity to “verify your aspirations” before committing to school. 

What’s the downside of going to work?

Committing to work without a college education can have its drawbacks, especially when you hit a “ceiling” that leaves you with little room for advancement. 

“Without higher education or a degree, I was unable to move further,” explains Katrina Harvey, who ultimately graduated from  in 2011 with a degree in Master of Arts in Organizational Management. Prior to earning her master’s degree, Harvey found herself training others who were moving into positions higher up the ladder despite her past work experience. 

“Gone are the days where you’re able to get a good job without some formal education,” she says.

This statement is also true when it comes to a career outside of the limited options that only require a high school diploma.  

“Often times, these roles are not glamorous,” Lastrella adds. “Pursuing a degree and going to college opens up the job market to the many entry-level roles that require at least a bachelor’s degree.”

What are the advantages and disadvantages of earning a master’s degree?

Your degree opens doors, in a sense. Not only do degree programs at the Global Campus teach you prized leadership skills, but they also offer you incredible transferrable skills such as writing, researching, and analyzing information.

“A master’s degree opens up a wealth of opportunities in changing careers, advancing your career, and increasing your earning potential,” explains Lastrella.

While there are no disadvantages to having more knowledge and marketable skills, the potential drawback for master’s degree students could come from time and financial commitments. 

Master’s degree programs are shorter than bachelor’s degree programs – usually two years compared to four – but they require a lot of work, focus, and sacrifice. Before you decide to pursue your master’s degree, you should understand how much of a commitment is required.

The amount of time it takes to earn a master’s degree is just one of many things to consider before you commit to pursuing a master’s degree. Learning how to balance school with the demands of family and work will be critical for many. Finding that balance is one of the most common reasons students choose to go back to school online.

“Because of its on-demand nature and having access to course materials 24/7, you are able to fit schoolwork into your structured schedule,” says Lastrella. “Whether that is on your lunch break or, if you’re a parent, at night after your kids have gone to sleep.”

Why working and going to school pays off

Attending school to earn a master’s degree while also working full time may not be easy, but as many Global Campus graduates have proven it is possible. Not only is it an attainable goal, but there are many good reasons to do so. Perhaps the best reason is that you’re putting yourself in a position to further your education without sacrificing your experience, and you are gaining new skills, such as time management, along the way.

“In many of your classes, you’ll be learning about theoretical concepts that you can observe and/or put into practice yourself in your work environment,” Lastrella says.

Additionally, the college experience creates endless networking opportunities that can help you further your career. UAGC, for example, is home to numerous organizations and honor societies in which students find support, friends, and career contacts. 

When weighing a master’s degree vs. work experience, it’s important that you’ve also considered Lastrella’s point about verifying your aspirations. Ask yourself: “Where do I want to be and how will my degree help me get there?”  

Master’s degree courses are concentrated on key concepts and skills (with specialization courses adding another layer of focus). When you make your decision, you should be confident that you’re ready to take on greater responsibilities in your career as a manager, director, or even a C-suite executive. 

The signs that point toward pursuing a degree in higher education are different for everyone. Sometimes it’s a lifelong dream that must be fulfilled. Other times it’s the “ceiling” – as in Harvey’s case – that’s keeping you from moving forward. Whatever has inspired you to consider pursuing a master’s degree, make sure you weigh all the pros and cons of doing so instead of or in addition to also working full-time.


Written by University Staff

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