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1. A Master's Degree = Bigger Salary

Money isn't everything, but it sure can put food on your table. A master's degree in business, education, or another professional area can mean extra financial security for your family. In 2006, women with a bachelor's degree earned a median of $839 per week, while women holding a master's degree earned a median of $987 per week, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. That extra $600 each month could make or break your budget these days, particularly with layoffs around every corner and home foreclosures at record levels.

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For example, if you are a teacher, earning a master's degree can impact your paycheck immediately. Primary and secondary teachers with a master's in education qualify for a salary differential that can add up to thousands of dollars each year, says the United Federation of Teachers. Check with your local school administrator or district personnel department for salary grade information in your area.

2. A Master's Degree = More Marketability

Increased unemployment has led to a tighter job market and much stiffer competition. Earning your business master's degree through a traditional or online grad school could help you hold on to your current job or stand out while looking for a new one. The Department of Labor's Women's Bureau reports that the higher a worker's degree, the more likely she will be actively working (or at least looking for work) and the less likely that she will be unemployed.

As the American workforce becomes increasingly educated, a master's in business could be critical to staying current and marketable. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that the number of master's degrees earned will increase 27 percent for women and 29 percent for men between 2005-06 and 2017-18. The growing availability of online MBA degree programs can make staying competitive much more simple, regardless of your busy work schedule or other commitments.

3. A Master's Degree = More Options

If you're shaken up by the current recession, fight back by shaking up your career. Losing a job can often be a blessing in disguise, forcing you out of your comfort zone into new opportunities. The harsh reality is that less than half of all Americans are satisfied with their current jobs, according to The Conference Board, and things look even bleaker for those under 25. Shake things up and increase your chances for job satisfaction by gearing up for online grad school. The Conference Board also reports that those Americans earning more than $50,000 each year have the greatest job satisfaction and obtaining a master's degree greatly increases your earning potential.

Going back to school for a business master's degree to expand your job options? Considering a master's in education for a complete career change? Whatever your specific goal, you will not be the only "non-traditional" student in your classes. Higher education expert Peter Stokes, PhD found that 58 percent of higher ed students are at least 22 years old and 40 percent of students are attending part-time. One benefit of this trend is that online grad schools are plentiful, offering a wide variety of master's degrees.

Living through a recession can be scary but the process can also clarify the tough realities of today's job market, including whether additional you should earn a master's degree online or on campus to get ahead.

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