Career Resources

Should You Get a Master’s During a Recession?

Should You Get a Master’s During a Recession?
While it's impossible to guess what will cause the next economic downturn, there are certainly fields that have proven more stable during past recessions. Image from
Alfred Heekin profile
Alfred Heekin January 27, 2023

Job prospects are sparse during any recession. Graduate school offers a respite until the job market improves; it also improves your chances of being hired as a recent graduate. Does that mean pursuing a master's degree during an economic downturn is worth it?

Article continues here

Economic recessions are inevitable. When signs point to an economic downturn, you may wonder how best to brace yourself for the fallout. Pursuing a graduate degree might sound like an excellent solution as job prospects dwindle, and it often is. Just consider the opportunity cost before applying to any degree program.

First, ask yourself a straightforward question: Would I enroll in this master’s program under normal economic circumstances? The answer to this question must be yes to consider enrolling in any graduate program. The reason is simple. Pursuing an advanced degree is a serious career decision requiring a significant commitment of time, energy, and finances. Going to school does not guarantee a full-time job, and you may graduate with considerable student loan debt.

That said, grad school can open up a world of opportunities for your chosen career path. It may qualify you for jobs that would otherwise be forever out of reach. And it can broaden your expertise in ways that typically improve job satisfaction and self-esteem.

Choose a master’s degree that aligns with your career goals, first and foremost. Recessions will come and go. Your degree is forever.

So, should you get a master’s during a recession? This article explores that question, along with the following topics:

  • Should you get a master’s during a recession?
  • Top recession-proof master’s degrees

Should you get a master’s during a recession?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

—George Santayana

Past recessions can offer insights to potential grad students deciding whether to pursue a master’s degree. During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, for instance, job prospects increased dramatically for degree-holders working in healthcare. A massive shift to online higher education also spurred growth in the e-learning industry. Conversely, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), production, transportation, and material moving occupations plummeted due to restrictions on in-person work.

During the financial crisis that caused The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, the unemployment rate skyrocketed, job prospects dwindled, and layoffs increased exponentially. This was particularly true for graduate students pursuing personal finance, who found a more challenging path to securing a first job. Professionals working in the housing market also found their job prospects sparse.

So, which industries are least likely to falter during the next recession?

Top recession-proof master’s degrees

While it’s impossible to guess what will cause the next economic downturn, there are certainly fields that have proven more stable during past recessions. You’ll find our top recession-proof master’s degrees below.

Master of Science in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity provides an excellent career path if you’re looking for employment stability and outstanding wages. The unemployment rate in cybersecurity dropped to zero percent in 2016. The job market for these professionals is increasing at a pace of 32 percent—outpacing the vast majority of fields, according to the BLS. The demand for cybersecurity experts remained high throughout the last two recessions.

Cybersecurity professionals earn an average salary of almost $113,000. Top-tier roles like Chief Information Security Officer bank over $300,000 per year on average.

Master of Physician Assistant Studies

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that the United States could face a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. Increased demand due to America’s aging population necessitates a robust healthcare system—estimated to grow an additional 11 percent in the next decade.

According to the BLS, physician’s assistants are the fifth fastest-growing profession in the United States. Moreover, the pay for these roles is excellent. PAs earn a median annual income of just over $108,000, with the top ten percent averaging more than $146,000.

Master of Science in Data Science

Data scientist consistently ranks among the top jobs in the United States. There’s also plenty of demand within the profession. In 2020, Quanthub reported a shortage of qualified data scientists, noting three times as many data science online job listings as comparable job searches.

Data scientists make excellent wages. Mid-career data scientists typically earn well over six figures. Indeed notes that data scientists earn about $130,000 per year on average.

Master of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists (OTs) boast high compensation, flexibility, and job security. U.S. News & World Report lists occupational therapy as one of “the best medical jobs that don’t require medical school”. The profession ranks 13th among the 100 best jobs in the United States. Whether in a recession or not, there are many reasons to pursue a Master of Occupational Therapy.

Occupational therapists are well-paid, with a median salary of around $84,000 annually for those with national certification. The field is proliferating, with the number of professional OTs increasing by 24 percent between 2016 and 2026, more than three times as fast as the typical U.S. occupation.

Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapists rarely lack job opportunities. The BLS estimates that marriage and family therapy jobs will grow by 23 percent by 2026, much faster than the average growth of all occupations. By 2026, another 9,700 jobs should be available, making for 51,200 new marriage and family therapy positions.

You can expect a comfortable salary once you are licensed as a marriage and family therapist. According to the BLS, these professionals earned a median salary of about $50,000 in 2018. Therapists in the lowest ten percent earned less than $32,000, while those in the highest ten percent earned over $82,000.

Master of Healthcare Administration

Healthcare administration is a highly respected career path with substantial earning potential. Job growth in this field is increasing much faster than average. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS estimates that healthcare administration jobs will grow by 32 percent. Public health jobs are increasing at a similar pace.

Per the BLS, in 2020, the median annual income for medical and health service managers was about $104,000, with the lowest ten percent of workers earning less than $60,000 and the highest ten percent making upwards of $195,000. Executive-level workers in healthcare earned a median annual wage of about $186,000, with the top ten percent of workers earning around $208,000 per year.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

How useful is this page?

Click on a star to rate it!

Since you found this page useful...mind sharing it?

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: Career ResourcesGeneral