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Part of Western Governors University

November 19, 2019

Information Technology

Bachelor's vs. master's: Earning power of IT degrees.

A set of battery icons each getting progressively charged. Want to supercharge your career in IT? Here's what different degrees can do for you.

Ready to launch your professional IT career? There are many different IT degrees to pursue and many professional pathways that can get you ahead, so one of the first decisions you'll have to consider is how you can best equip yourself with the skills and training you'll need.

Start by asking yourself a few questions. Are you changing careers into IT? How much—if any—experience do you have working in IT or computer science? What are your professional goals? The answers to these questions will help you determine what kind of education you need to best set you toward your dream job.

You can land a lot of IT jobs with a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree in IT will equip you with leadership and decision-making skills that you might not learn during a bachelor's program. If you want to climb to the management rungs of the corporate ladder, you're probably going to need a master's degree and some training in related fields, such as financial and project management, leadership training, human capital, and others. It'll require a lot of work, but you'll earn more money as a result.

Here's a look at three IT careers, how much you can expect to earn in each, and just how much a master's degree might pump up your paycheck.

Computer research scientist.

Computer research scientists work on problems that don't yet exist. To help their companies prepare for the unknown, they explore and design innovative approaches to computing technology. Computer research scientists help top tech companies develop cutting-edge efforts in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. On any given day, they're writing code, reading academic literature, and designing and running experiments, and they're always at the forefront of innovation.

"Being a research scientist at Google is like being at the driver's seat of the revolution that is happening right now in computer science," Google research scientist Dipanjan Das explains in a video about the job.

Because the job is complex, a master's degree is typically required. But the pay matches the prestige: PayScale reports that while IT professionals with bachelor's degrees make an average of around $85,000 a year, those with master's degrees average around $101,000 a year.

The difference in median pay between research scientists and other IT professionals is stark. In 2018, the median pay ($118,370) for research scientists was 37 percent higher than the rest of the computer occupations field ($86,320), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary is even higher when you're working in software publishing ($140,220), medical or science research analysis ($128,570), or computer systems design ($124,220).

Computer scientist.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), computer science master's grads had some of the highest starting salaries of any master's degree graduates. Bachelor's degree-earning computer science graduates could expect to earn around $68,000 in their first year, NACE's 2019 Salary Survey reports; earning a master's degree increases that projection to more than $81,000. The report notes that graduates who majored in information systems and software applications saw even bigger bumps in their first-year salaries. Positions in this branch of IT include computer systems analyst, computer programmer, and software engineer.

A master's degree in computer science should yield fatter paychecks on a year-over-year basis compared to bachelor's degrees, too, according to the NACE report. Between 2018 and 2019, projected first-year salaries for master's degrees in computer science grew by nearly quadruple the rate of salaries for bachelor's degrees in computer science (8.5 percent for master's degree holders, versus 2.3 percent for workers with bachelor's degrees).

Data administrator.

There are many roles for IT professionals in data administration, such as data analyst, operations research analyst, statistician, and advanced analytics expert. Most entry-level jobs don't require a master's degree, but the further up the ladder you go, the more skills and practical experience you'll need. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, a master's degree might also set you apart as an applicant, especially at certain organizations or for more senior management roles. Data administrators make about $90,000 a year, on average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Job qualifications for database administrators might also depend on the size and complexity of the company or governing body, according to computerscience.org. "A master's degree is ideal for individuals planning to pursue roles within large companies or institutions that work with sensitive information, such as patient statistics and personal data," the site reports. "Advanced degrees provide specialized training in complex web development, database architecture, and information recovery and translation."

Earning power in IT.

There's compelling evidence that suggests that pursuing a master's degree is worthwhile in any professional field. Fast Company reports that 32 percent of employers are making education requirements for new hires more rigorous and that 27 percent of companies are specifically recruiting applicants with master's degrees for positions that used to only require four-year degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary of a full-time worker was $12,000 higher if they held a master's degree.

If you're looking for a career in a growing field that can yield you the most return on your educational investment, consider a career in IT. The first step? Earning your master's degree.

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