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Credentials Inflation: Are Masters Degrees the New Bachelors?

If you take a dive into the world of job posting sites, there’s a good chance that you’ll find employers seeking applicants with the preferred qualification of having earned a master’s or graduate degree. Whether it be in business, finance, healthcare administration, or even communications, more organizations are noticing a higher quality in applicants who have a master’s degree versus those who stopped at the bachelor’s. 

In a phenomenon called “credential inflation,” master’s degrees are now the fastest-growing degree in the nation, accounting for over a quarter of all degrees awarded. Many researchers have argued that this increase is a direct response to market forces. Employers increasingly demand applicants who can understand the latest technologies, work in diverse online environments, and easily increase conceptual knowledge of a specific area, thus making those with graduate degrees more credible, flexible, and competitive employees. As employers more consistently prioritize applicants with advanced degrees, more people are pursuing education beyond a bachelor’s, thus increasing the pool of potential applicants with graduate degrees, and further speeding up the cycle of credential inflation.

These shifting employer and market expectations have, in many quarters, transformed the master’s degree into a sort of new entry qualification. According to Forbes, an increasing number of occupations and professions require a master’s degree as the minimum credential to practice in the field, especially in healthcare, accounting and finance, or post-secondary education systems. Indeed, the days when a bachelor’s degree would suffice for someone wanting to be a teacher, social worker, or healthcare practitioner have mostly passed. These careers are now dominated by graduate degree holders. And because more communities and organizations perceive a master’s degree as a prestigious accomplishment, the push to add more funds, scholarships, and employment opportunities for graduate degree holders is only increasing. 

So what are the top fields to gain a master’s degree? According to Indeed, the following fields now require some form of master’s or graduate degree for their applicants. 

Counseling or Therapy

Applicants who hold a master’s degree in counseling or therapy are often involved in providing treatment and support to patients in different areas, such as rehabilitation or schools. These roles are often quite complex and involve training at the graduate level in areas such as cultural diversity, ethical practice, theoretical practices, psychology, group counseling and assessment in order to increase a practitioner’s listening, speaking and communication skills. Most graduate degree in counseling or therapy holders can earn an average salary upwards of $80K per year depending on their role and the specialized group they serve, such as those suffering from mental illness, behavioral disorders or substance abuse.

Through ACU Online, interested applicants can deepen their passion to care and support others through our various degree programs such as our Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT) and M.A in Conflict Management and Resolution. 

Business Administration

Applicants who hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree are often involved in management or leadership roles where they can improve business practices, increase profitability, and provide additional training for staff. Those who choose to pursue a MBA will take courses to cover different aspects of administration and management, such as accounting, statistics, entrepreneurship, economics and communications in order to further develop their leadership, communication and problem-solving skills. Most MBA holders can earn an average salary upwards of $100K per year depending on their role, making this a highly competitive graduate degree at most universities. 

Through ACU Online, interested applicants can discover their potential as business managers and leaders via our highly ranked and accredited MBA degree program. 


Applicants who hold a Master of Nursing degree (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing practice (DNP) are often referred to as nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners play vital roles in healthcare, making them some of the most sought-after professionals for treating common illnesses, diagnosing patients, and prescribing medications. As such, their coursework involves clinical experience, advanced health assessment, pathophysiology, nutrition and human anatomy so they can develop skills like compassion, resourcefulness, leadership, attention to detail and overall communication. Professionals with MSNs or DNPs typically earn close to $117K per year, making these graduate degrees a great stepping stone for current registered nurses. 

Through ACU Online, students can discover the various pathways to becoming a nurse practitioner via our accredited Doctor of Nursing Practice program. 

The possibilities with a master’s degree feel endless and financially rewarding. Not only that, but applicants with a master’s degree are typically associated with higher salaries (making close to $81K per year on average), lower unemployment rates, greater lifetime earnings, and increased career advancement opportunities compared with lower education levels, such as a bachelor’s degree or high school diploma. With all of these obvious benefits, isn’t it time you started to consider whether a master’s degree should be your new norm heading into the job market? 

Visit our website and see the graduate degree options ACU Online can offer you in various fields.

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