Bachelor or Master? What is enough?

for students for graduates for beginners for professionals for executives
 

I have studied in Germany and Great-Britain in two of the leading engineering universities. So I know the different systems quite a bit. While the anglo-saxon education system tends to go for Bachelor graduations, then skips masters mostly to aim for PhDs, in Germany the master level is the standard. I want to challenge the master level here to some extend and encourage students to leave university earlier. Also, I would like employers to rethink their expectations to graduates in this article.

The central european education system: Diplom and Magister

For a long time the central European countries(Germany, Swiss, Austria, Poland, …) have built their education system on Diplom and Magister degree which equivalents are the master levels of the anglo-saxon system. There is an exception for Fachhochschulen (technical colleges) which master graduates are more equivalent to a bachelor of a university or a master honours degree but overall the master degree was the common sense of graduation. The students never took a thesis in between and just finished with a at least half year long thesis in the end of their studies. Some special courses like physics tended to go even for a whole year of thesis writing.

With the introduction of the Bologna process, the system changed to the anglo-saxon standard of Bachelor and Master degrees with equivalent thesis measures. While the bachelor teaches the broader scheme of the courses topic, the master tends to go into a specialisation within this topic. Nevertheless, most universities kept the structure of the Diplom and cut it after around 3 years. They called it bachelor with introducing a lot of extra work by testing every single lesson which was not intended in the Diplom degrees before. This frustrated the students of course a lot and in the first years many iterations have been done to correct the worst mistakes of the Bologna process.

Putting all the academic knowledge into your brain is a very fine progress. And you should be proud on maturing the art of your study to the very end. In the cases of science, linguistics, fine arts, etc. you are depending on the level of adaptability and transversal skills that you might have trained throughout your study. This is the level of “cleverness” you might have gained and most companies will test your “cleverness” in applications. Your very knowledge will be second to that. One can argue why you should than study in the first place.

Your science makes you strong

Unfortunately, the reason is not the market dictating its need to the graduates in spe. It is a mixture of historical expectations and the usefulness of students to their professors. Let me explain:

Let us assume you study biology and are supposed to take a thesis in your final year. Well, running low on research budget your professor will include you in recent research. Most research in science is way ahead and quite uninteresting for the industry. It might be interesting for RnD (research and development) but for sure then you will have to find a position fitting to your knowledge. That is rare. Learning practical skills at university is quite good for your employability as a scientist in university but in more than 90% of all cases, you will work afterwards in industry. Then, you might miss your personal selling point for a future position.

So should you directly write your thesis in the industry? It is one possibility and depending on your course, I would suggest you do it. Most common this would be for journalism, engineering, business and so on. For pure science like physics, chemistry and biology, I suggest to learn the exactness of your art. It will help you later after your first two to three years in industry to have still a background and attitude of your science to fall back. For example I found out that most physicists make quite good engineers but when engineers are bored by the exactness and needed endurance of a delicate task, physicists flourish.

With your bachelor thesis done, you have just touched the way of your science. You received a basic understanding of the attitude your field works like. A master will help you to get far more into the thought process. And the way of solving problems is usually more trained in the master’s level. That is why they earn usually more money. That is why they are in average faster in solving problems and have a bigger skill set to do so.

Do not suffer studying

But some people really suffer coping with the study life. I would even state that especially in the central European countries, the high amount of freedom and needed self-discipline to succeed in your course is not made for everyone. My recommendation for those who are suffering, finish it and go. Try to be practical and hop onto the job train. It seems you are more the practical guy, so be it!

Do not overestimate the necessity of the Master’s degree. You might get a lower income in comparison and you might need some guts to accept your friends surpassing you. But is it worth having at least two years of suffering ahead? I would say no.

And from the monetarist perspective it will be acceptable, if you calculate in opportunity costs. That means: What is the difference between your two choices? While studying, you most likely will not earn money and spend maybe around 12 k€ for your living expenses + course fees. In the other case, you would already earn 30 to 40 k€ and expect a higher salary every year. That is already the case when your study friends are looking for a job.

Do not suffer working

And in the end, the university will still be there some years later. You can always go back to university afterwards. Most will not do this at all for a full-time studentship because they got used to live the life and spent their precious money on the weekend. There are special distance learning courses for enhancing your degree. Most of them are very much expensive if they are not aligned with the normal studies. However, you can set their costs off against tax liabilities which will safe you usually around 30% of costs.

It is a tough thing to manage education and a full time job next to it. Nevertheless, succeeding  here shows a highly over average endurance. It will give you the edge on your next application or career step.

I suggest the step back to university especially for those who are feeling the call for something higher (again). It might be an a**hole boss or an arrogant coworker that triggers the feeling but it can be the needed drop in the bucket to set an aim. And with an aim in your backhead, it is much, much, much easier to go back and fight for a vision of your own education..

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