Earning a master's or doctoral degree shows that you have a certain depth of knowledge when it comes to your subject area. Certain careers might require one of these degrees; others might see it as an exceptional bonus; and for others, neither might be necessary. When thinking about your education, look at the practicalities. Determine which type of degree will most help you attain your goals.

Joint Degrees

If you're just looking into getting your first master's degree, you'd be wise to look at the school's joint offerings. In these cases, you'd be working toward two related master's degrees. For example, Stanford University offers a joint program earning a master's degree in education alongside a Master of Business Administration degree. This would be ideal for someone looking to get into educational administration. When working on joint degrees, some of your classes will count toward both degrees, so you can save time. For example, the typical master's program takes about two years to complete, but you could earn the joint degree in three years versus two years for each degree.

Second Master's Degree

If you already have a master's degree, getting a second degree is likely to take as much time as getting your first one. It may be ideal for those who are looking to go into a radically different field, such as changing from a career in the sciences to working in business, law or education. However, two master's degrees in somewhat similar fields, such as chemistry and chemical engineering, may not make much of a difference when it comes to your career.

Doctor of Philosophy Degree

The Ph.D. can take up to eight years beyond the master's degree, as it requires you to take about two years of additional coursework as well as produce a dissertation that represents a meaningful contribution to your field of study. A doctorate shows that you have significant depth of knowledge in your area, and it is often a requirement if you want to teach in academia. Depending on what you study, a Ph.D. can also help with a career in business or in private research.

Which Is Right?

The right path to take depends on where you are now and where you want to end up. The joint degree may be an obvious choice for those who do not yet have a graduate degree and who have a good idea of what they want to use the degrees for. Getting two master's degrees in unrelated fields may seem to show a lack of commitment, though it can also signal a commitment to a new field, particularly if you're earning the second degree later in life. The Ph.D. is a choice for those who are ready to make a significant time commitment to their studies. Consider both whether your target job requires a doctorate and what the employment rate of doctoral graduates in that field is before applying to Ph.D. programs.