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The number of people with master's degrees has jumped sharply in the past decade, which raises the competitive bar in the job market. Fortunately, the growth of online master's programs, in addition to the many on-campus options already available, make a master's degree more accessible than ever before.

The reasons to earn a master's degree are even more varied than the types of degrees available. This guide can help you examine whether you are ready for a master's program and give you some tools to make it easier to continue your education.

Six Signs You May Be Ready for a Master's Program

Pursuing an on campus or online graduate degree program is a big decision, so consider the following signs to determine if this might be a good time for you to consider earning a master's degree.

1. You feel your career is in a rut.

A bachelor's degree may have gotten you in the door, but if you have been working for a few years and haven't made it much beyond an entry-level job, a master's degree might be the game-changer you are looking for. After all, if your career has plateaued, you have more to gain than to lose.

2. The jobs you want to apply for require a master's degree.

If you've tested the job market and have repeatedly found yourself blocked from attractive jobs because they require a master's degree, don't keep beating your head against this wall. Go out and get a credential that can open some new doors to you.

3. You notice that the people getting ahead in your field often have master's degrees.

Companies don't always list a master's degree as a formal requirement, but if you look at the people who are in the positions you covet and see that many of them do have master's degrees, it could be a sign of what is necessary to compete at the level you wish to reach.

4. You feel your skills or knowledge base may have become outdated.

In many fields, knowledge becomes outdated after a decade or so, and an occasional refresher is needed. If you need to update your education anyway, why not add to your educational credentials in the process by doing it in the context of a master's degree?

5. You are looking to change your career field.

If you've changed your mind about your career field, you may be thinking of going back to school. However, rather than simply adding a second bachelor's degree, think about whether earning a master's degree could both teach you a new subject and make you more marketable when you start applying for jobs in your new field.

6. You are in a position to pursue higher learning for the love of it.

While there are many practical reasons for pursuing a master's degree, but sometimes there need be no other reason than a love of learning. If you have a strong intellectual curiosity and are in the financial and personal position to go back to school, a master's degree could take your learning to a new level.

Financial Aid, Online Master's Programs, and Other Problem-Solving Tools

The potential obstacles to pursuing a master's degree usually boil down to time and money. With the help of the following tools, you can overcome those obstacles.

Online Graduate Degree Programs

There are on-campus master's degree programs available in just about every part of the country, but the real revolution over the past decade has been the proliferation of online graduate degree programs. Online master's degree programs can help you overcome geographic barriers, make scheduling easier, and make a master's degree more affordable.

Financial Aid

While there is a cost to pursuing graduate school, don't conclude that you can't afford it until you've checked out your financial aid options. If the degree is relevant to your job, your employer might be willing to pay some or all of your tuition. You should also check out the U.S. Department of Education Web site to see what federal student aid might be available. Finally, if you are a military veteran, check with the Department of Veterans Affairs to see what educational benefits you may qualify for under the GI bill.

Directories for Online Grad Schools

Online resources make it easier than ever to research your educational options, for both on-campus and online grad schools. You can begin your search without even having to leave your home.

Career Resources

To decide whether a master's degree is applicable to your career goals, check out the occupational information on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site. Also, talk to recruiters in the field to see which graduate degrees and which master's programs they value.

The bottom line is, if you are ready to sign up for a master's program, it has never been easier to do so than it is now.

Pursue your Major today…