What Percentage of the Population Has a Master’s Degree?

What Percentage of the Population Has a Master’s Degree?

Reviewed by: .

Going to college has become a much more popular and achievable option in recent years. Many people are deciding to pursue education even farther than undergraduate studies, reaching for master’s degrees. But how many have gone far enough to earn a master’s degree?

In 2021 the number of people age 25 and older who have earned a master’s degree totaled 21 million and the population was 328,239,523. So, the rough percentage of people in 2019 with a master’s degree is 6.39%. This doesn’t include students who earned a doctorate or a professional degree.

However, there is so much more to a master’s degree than just an overall percentage. Let’s talk more about what master’s degrees even are, alternatives that people pursue, and some pros and cons of having a high educational attainment.

What is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree is a graduate study degree that takes 1 1/2 to 2 years to complete. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly short time, getting a master’s degree is complicated. For most master’s degrees, you need to have already completed your undergraduate studies.

This means you should have already taken post-high school studies and hold a bachelor’s degree (which is a 4-year degree). So in total, including the undergraduate studies, getting a master’s degree will actually take 5 1/2 to 6 years to obtain. Also, this timeline is only applicable if you get your undergraduate degrees right on schedule. For some people, it takes longer than 4 years to get a bachelor’s degree.

Also, depending on the focus of your master’s degree, the program might take longer than 1 1/2 – 2 years. Some people also choose to wait a few years before pursuing a master’s degree. Not every university will offer master’s programs, but the topics of these degrees can vary from business to agriculture to fine art.

Master’s Degrees Earned

The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2018-2019, 833,700 master’s degrees were earned. 197,100 of those degrees were in the business field, 146,400 were in the education field, and 131,600 were in the health profession field and similar fields.

The percentage of college graduates with a master’s degree is roughly 6.39%. The number of people age 25 and older who hold a master’s degree totaled 21 million, (Source) At that time, the population of the US was 328,239,523. (Source)

Interestingly, some states have a higher percentage of people with college degrees. For instance, Massachusetts has the highest percentage of people with college degrees compared to any of the other states. 41% of the population have bachelor’s degrees, and 18% earned a master’s or another graduate studies degree. (Source)

Alternatives to master’s degree

Although the percentage of people with a master’s degree is fairly low, research shows that “Nearly 94 million, or 42%, of Americans ages 25 and over have a college degree of some type.” (Source) Not everyone who pursues further education gets a master’s degree. There are many other options, and these include an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and/or professional degree.

An associate’s degree takes the shortest amount of time to complete, lasting only 2 years. This is an undergraduate degree, meaning it’s the next step in education after high school. Bachelor’s degrees are also undergraduate degrees, however, these degrees typically take 4 years to earn.

Other Advanced Degrees

Many people decide to go father than just a master’s degree and want to pursue a doctorate. In 2019 it was found that 13.1% of adults in the US have an advanced degree of some sort. (Source) The term advanced degree covers graduate study degrees, like master’s and doctorate degrees or professional degrees.

Doctorate degrees are graduate studies degrees like master’s, but they take much longer to qualify for. They can take anywhere from 4 years to 8 years to earn after undergraduate studies have been completed. These degrees, though very difficult to get, are very useful in the long run.

The other advanced degree is a professional degree. A professional degree is a degree that helps prepare a student to work in a particular field, such as medicine or law. These degrees can take a student anywhere from 1 to 5 years to complete, depending on the field being studied and the school they are attending. (Source)

Careers that require a masters degree

Even though there are so few people in the US with master’s degrees, many jobs require a master’s degree. Some jobs don’t require master’s degrees, but it is very difficult to get hired without having one.

These jobs usually require a master’s degree.

  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Economist
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Family/Marriage Therapist
  • College Professor
  • Archivist
  • School counselor

Though not all jobs require a master’s degree, having one will make getting a job easier.

Pros and Cons of a Master’s Degree

However, trying to get a master’s degree isn’t all fun and exciting, there are some downsides to it that you should take into account. Master’s degrees are academically challenging. This degree represents some very serious and in-depth college education. Also, tuition for that many years of college is expensive, especially because you can’t work full-time and attend a full semester of college too. This leads to possible financial problems.

Another downside of trying to get a master’s degree is that college is mentally and physically taxing. This might not be a problem for some, but things like staying up late to finish homework and dealing with the stress of finals can be taxing, especially if it goes on for 5 -6 years. Trying to earn a master’s degree isn’t something you should take lightly; its emotional, mental, and economic costs are pretty high.

On the other hand, the benefits of getting a master’s degree are pretty high too. You get more than just a fancy diploma and bragging rights. The first benefit of getting a graduate degree is that you are qualified for more jobs. Like we mentioned before, many jobs require a master’s degree. If you have your heart set on being a college professor, then a master’s degree is a necessity.

Also, you’re more likely to be hired for other jobs because you have a master’s degree. Having a master’s shows the employer that you are willing to work hard for something and that you are very knowledgeable in that field. A final benefit of working to get a master’s degree is that you get to learn more about the things that interest you. Never underestimate that last one because investing in learning about something you enjoy is always a good thing.