Is getting a second degree worthwhile?

There was a time when it was a great challenge for someone to be able to afford and obtain the time and grades to access an undergraduate degree. A family might only be able to send one person into higher education, if any. Now though, it is quite easy in the western world to obtain access to university through student loans and bursaries. It is becoming the norm to stay in education for several years doing not only one degree, but potentially, a second or third. Do the benefits outweigh the costs, though? There is an argument that being in education for so long delays a person’s career development, whilst others would wager that it enhances your chances of success in the workplace. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider undertaking a second degree.

Opportunity to change career

Doing a second degree after your initial undergraduate qualification, is often a choice for those that are in the work environment but looking to switch careers and move into another field entirely. Having already obtained an undergraduate degree offers a base requirement that opens doors to many other subjects that you do not have previous knowledge in. For example, a previous music graduate could go on to study politics in a second degree. They are completely different subjects, but having completed an undergraduate study shows that you have the capacity to write and complete work at the level required for a high-level qualification in most subjects.

Depending on the subject that you wish to pursue, an undergraduate degree is likely to be essential, and depending on the institution, the requirements will vary in the grades needed, work experience, and sometimes an entry exam is required. Some universities will offer a short diploma course to bridge those who do not have the ideal degree beforehand, which then allows them to access a master’s degree in the second subject.

Of course, studying a subject that you are not already familiar with will be a challenge, and most people prefer to continue their studies within a similar subject field.

Respect in your field

Many people choose to do a second degree within their current work specialism, and it is becoming more normal to see employers offering to pay for part or all the costs of these studies and offer time off during the week in order to develop their employees. As more people become qualified to a postgraduate level, it is becoming more expected as an entry-level requirement in many higher-ranking work positions.

Advancing within your own field offers you the chance to gain more respect amongst colleagues and to have a deeper knowledge of your subject, whilst also providing more grounds for development in specific a field, as well as improving job and earning potential. For example, within nursing, a second degree BSN will offer the opportunity for nurses to widen their patient care skills, knowledge of different practices, and create leadership skills that would enable access to job promotions and other roles in the medical industry. The choice to take on a second degree shows your willingness to develop, learn, and move on with new practices and information in the field, and your desire to progress in your career.

To fully take advantage of this opportunity though, you must be actively engaged in discussions with your organization and be willing to positively promote yourself, the work that you have been doing, and your value to the company. If you do not make an active effort to use your studies to develop your career through the engagement with managers, human resources, and the involvement in management schemes and applications, then you are likely to have gained much more debt than earning potential.

The opportunity to develop your existing skills and deepen a subject knowledge to a near-expert level, is also going to have wonderful effects on your self-confidence and self-esteem in the long term. Evidence also shows that not only will being qualified to this level offer someone more earning ability in their work, but they are also more likely to make healthier life choices overall.

However, in the short term, whilst studying, there is likely to be a strain on other elements of your mental health. As a postgraduate degree is more substantial than an undergraduate degree, and being coupled with a home and work life, studying may be a lot of mental pressure for the time being. Someone making the decision to study in addition to other commitments should consider their ability to handle stress and their life balance carefully. Thankfully, postgraduate degrees are very flexible in their offerings of part-time hours of study so that the qualification can be completed at your own pace.

A chance to redo university life

If university was a little bit messy during your first degree, because of too many parties, friends and ‘good’ memories, it might have meant that you did not do as well at your studies as you had hoped. Returning to student life as a mature adult offers a wider perspective of the subject that you are studying, along with the educational yearning and drive that you may have been missing in your early years. You can become more pro-active in the educational side of university life and the resources on offer. For example, you may spend more time using library materials, engage with professors at a mature level of discussion, enjoy better living conditions, and get involved in study groups and research projects that may have passed you by in your first university experience. It is also an opportunity to network with others in your field and potential colleagues of the future, which is always beneficial for career development.

Of course, to experience these benefits, you need to have enough time to commit to your studies and the services available. Many people who return to studying for a second degree have family and work commitments, and studying must fit conveniently within this. Nowadays, many courses are made available online and there are also many institutions that offer brilliant online resources and forums so that university can still be a pleasant experience remotely. This became especially important during the pandemic, when many students had to join classes and experience student life through their computers.

To access a PHD

Of course, a second degree in your chosen field can also offer the chance to progress further in your education to the point where you could be regarded as an expert in the subject, if you were to study to PHD level. Completing a PHD following a postgraduate qualification would make the student a doctor of philosophy, offering industry-wide respect amongst peers in the field, and the ability to teach in a subject at university level. Whilst a student can occasionally study a PHD with only a bachelor’s degree and professional experience, it is normally required that they have a master’s degree to access the qualification.

Many academics wish to pursue a doctorate for the additional respect and opportunities it offers them in their existing career, or because of their deep interest in the subject. To achieve this high award, a research project of considerable volume and interest is needed, and a student is expected to have made an impact on the research within their industry in some way. On occasion, a PHD is sponsored by a corporation for research into a field or topic. This is extremely beneficial if it can be arranged, as a PHD is a substantial undertaking that can take several years and significant resources.

A PHD can be a brilliant opportunity to make a difference in the world of research (and in effect, the actual world) if you have the commitment and capacity to progress with it. There are famous examples of PHDs from leading intellectuals in history that are now well-kept artefacts; for example, Marie Curie’s thesis ‘Research on Radioactive Substances’ or Albert Einstein’s ‘A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions’. New research is still capturing the minds of people all over the world. In 2017, Stephen Hawking’s PHD thesis was released as a free digital download to read and had so many views in such a short space of time, it was causing the website to crash for many users. Being able to share your thoughts and written material online is extremely easy now, but by holding a doctorate-level expertise in your field, it makes your work much more credible, and in demand.


There are several factors that need to be considered when researching the idea of taking a second degree, and it is a huge commitment. Discussions with friends and family, your workplace, and potential places of study are all essential to make sure that you have all the information needed to make a good decision. The subject, length of course, hours, remote working or location, work/life balance, your mental and physical health, and of course, your personal finances will all be factors in a decision to study further. Thankfully, the information provided online on the process is abundant, and there are a wide breadth of courses available to choose from globally.

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