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The Master's degree dilemma

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Joanna Hughes :
There are practically infinite master's degree options available around the world. In fact, whatever your interests or career aspirations, there is a program that will work for you. However, it's not just a matter of deciding on a discipline, but also about whether a one-year or two-year course of study best suits your needs. We're here to help with a roundup of the pros and cons of each.
 The One-Year Master's Degree Program
While a bachelor's degree demonstrates proficiency in an academic area, a master's degree signifies expertise. Think expertise can't be attained in a single year? Think again. While there's no arguing that one-year master's degrees are intensive, in many cases they're also the quickest path to reaching your goals. So what are the specific benefits of one-year master's degree programs?
1. They're Employment-Friendly
If you're already a member of the workforce, taking two years off for graduate school can seem like a lengthy detour. One year, however, affords you the same opportunity for advancing your career without missing two years of working. In some cases, your employer may even be willing to hold your job while you're gone, the chances of which are much less likely for two-year programs.
2. They're Cost-Friendly
There are many reasons to get a master's degree. That said, they're also expensive, making them a difficult sell when it's impossible to definitively quantify ROI. So what's a master's degree-minded, budget-conscious prospective student to do? One-year master's degree programs offer appealing middle-ground: all of the advantages of an advanced degree at a fraction of the cost.
3. They Have Transformative Potential for Your Resume
Master's degrees can be an invaluable differentiator in a crowded and competitive job market. While adding skills, job responsibilities and other talents add appeal to your resume, a master's degree is more than a mere line item. Rather, it has the power to transform your candidacy. When time is of the essence, there's no more efficient way to accomplish this goal than by enrolling in a one-year master's degree program.
By now this all sounds pretty good, right? But before you sign on, it's also important to keep the downsides of one-year master's degree programs in mind, including the following:
1. They Offer Specialized Knowledge, But In a Hurry
Even if it was possible for a one-year master's degree to convey as much knowledge and expertise as a two-year program, the pace will be significantly faster. For some students, this means taking less material in; for other, it leads to a much more demanding study environment. Conversely, a two-year master's degree program gives you the time to thoroughly cover all materials in a less stressful setting.
2. Fewer Networking Opportunities
The connections you make in graduate school will stay with your throughout your life. Attending grad school for just one year shortens the time you'll have to make and develop these connections. A shorter period of study can also impact your future references: will your teachers get to know you and your work well enough to speak on your behalf in the future?
 The Two-Year Master's Degree Program
While a two-year master's degree covers the same material as a one-year program, it does so over an extended period of time. Which begs the question: why would you opt to spend more time and money for what is essentially the same thing? Well, we've got a few reasons that make two-year master's degree programs a good bet, including the following pros:
1. They're a Smart Use of Time
The job market is dynamic, and won't always be in your favor. In times when the job market is unstable, a two-year master's degree program offers a promising way to strengthen your candidacy during the off time. Not to mention that when you've completed your degree and the job market has (hopefully) rebounded, you'll be positioned for an even better job.
2. They Maximize Learning
If you're truly looking to increase your expertise in a particular area, then cramming all of that learning into one year can be a challenge. A two-year program, meanwhile, offers ample opportunity to learn everything you want to learn-not just in terms of your future career, but also in terms of your personal enrichment. While one-year programs may only cover the bare essentials, two-year programs offer the chance to delve into electives, too.
3. They're Ph.D.-Friendly
If you're considering entering a Ph.D. program at some point, a two-year master's program best positions you for acceptance. Not only will you enter the pool of candidates with demonstrated expertise and commitment to the discipline beyond what you'd get in a one-year program, but you'll also have time to make real connections and build relationships with professors who can write stellar references for you when the time comes.
But two-year master's degree programs, aren't the clear victor, either. Here are the cons associated with these longer degrees:
1. They're Expensive
Between tuition and living expenses, a two-year master's degree program is a much more significant financial investment. Not only that, but you'll also be forfeiting your real-world salary for two full years instead of one, and there's no guarantee that you'll recoup those costs.
2. They Mean a Larger Employment Gap
While employers don't typically view time off from the workforce for academic studies as a bad thing, stepping away from your career path for two full years can be a somewhat frightening concept. Will you miss chances for advancement while you're gone? Is it really worth it? With one-year programs, these concerns aren't as much of a factor.
 As with most things in life, there's no clear-cut formula for deciding whether a one-year or two-year's master's degree program is the right path. However, taking the time to thoroughly understand and evaluate your options can help you make the most informed decision.

(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).

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