Five Years after a Degree

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


Three paths to ponder

Stark wage disparities occur in many workplaces. Five years after a degree course, graduates with the same majors can earn vastly different amounts.

Where does the difference stem from? Is it fair? Why do employers do this?


Career path 1: Graduate degree

Let’s say you have a friend who went all in for an advanced graduate course after landing a job. A master’s degree is a route that many find worthwhile. However, getting a master’s degree takes time and money.

There is also the argument that employers are increasingly drawn towards a person’s talent and skills as opposed to their credentials. You weighed these considerations and decided not to pursue a master’s degree.

Your friend sought advanced education because they loved the subject and needed to get more familiar with it.

But the intellectual challenges from the program was eye-opening. It was not just a rewarding experience; your friend perfected their skills and expanded their professional perspective.

Their workplace performance improved significantly in the course of the program. The main problem was availability. Graduate programs demand a lot of time, and many are a full-time commitment.

So, while your friend on a master’s path was a top performer, they were scarcely available for critical work projects.

You got ahead. You focused on work and were available full time. You had the advantage of gaining experience in the same position. But in the last few years, you seem to have stagnated.

Your friend is back to work, and they are handling more responsibilities than before. While they may have been away for a long time, they know more and can-do things better, faster, and more accurately.

The title that goes with their name and the value associated with their work now earns them more money.

Are they justified to earn more money than you? Your employer believes yes. Here is why that may be so:

  • Your friend is now more strategic and adds more value to the company
  • They are more knowledgeable on the subject matter
  • They find ways to save costs and better manage risk
  • Their new title wins confidence with clients


Career path 2: Professional certification

While your Master’s friend went away for a long time, you have another friend from the same college year.

They were just as passionate about further studies and career advancement, but after analyzing the cost and time requirements of a graduate degree, they opted for professional certification.

Thankfully, after careful investigation, they found a respected certification program in your field. A desire to learn was all that was required to join. They enrolled and pursued the short program.

You thought about it, but you came up with countless excuses for why professional certification is not your thing.

One excuse was probably the time requirement. You watched as your friend balanced work, family, and studies with difficulty. They seemed to be on top of things at work, but you knew that it was rough deep down.

Gradually, you started noticing a big difference between their output and yours. They developed a stronger work ethic and became more efficient at work. They never missed a single workday.

Whenever they were around, they were the go-to person for solutions to all kinds of problems. They were more confident and dependable. Your employer suddenly started giving them more duties.

As an alternative path to career advancement, professional certification improves a worker’s attractiveness. In itself, enrollment to the program is all it takes to show commitment to doing more in a given job position.

Throughout the program, when the candidate applies new knowledge and skills, they win everyone’s favor, including their boss.

So that was the case for this friend of yours. In the shortest time, they navigated to the top. Was it a year or less than that? Now, they have a better position and a new title to their name.

All it took for that was a few months of studying and passing a test or two.

Is this friend of yours justified to earn more than you? Your employer believes yes. Here is why:

  • They took time to learn more about the subject matter
  • They were available full time even as they pursued certification
  • Now they have a better ability to add value to the organization
  • They have improved communication and leadership skills


Career path 3: No further studies

Now, while these two book lovers were pursuing knowledge, you burnt the midnight oil on work projects. You had more billable hours every week, and work projects could seemingly not run without you.

Why then, are you stuck in the same salary and position five years down the line?

These are the possible reasons:

  • You are not prepared for more responsibilities
  • It appears you are too comfortable in your position
  • The skills you had are now out of date
  • You haven’t earned the right for a raise
  • Your boss doesn’t know whether you are interested in more responsibilities
  • You have not grown your networking, leadership, and communication skills


What’s your next move going to be?

You could stay in the same position and earn the same salary for years to come. This option also puts you in the first ‘firing lane’ when it’s time for the organization to downsize.

The other option for you is to go back to school for more knowledge and learn relevant skills.

But your savings may not be so great at this time. Educational costs today are higher than was the case five years ago. Plus, with family responsibilities, you might not have the time to invest in a full-time graduate program.

Consider professional certification. Your second friend paid a mere fraction of what it took your masters buddy to advance their career. Certification can earn you the necessary skills and industry recognition.

It is the least you can do to resuscitate a dying career.


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