I’ve gotten this question a lot, mostly from officers who have a year or more before they get out of the military and think they should be doing something more with their time. Before you make this decision, think really hard about why you’re getting that master’s degree. Do you want to use the knowledge gained in the master’s program to perform a job better, or do you just want an advanced degree on your LinkedIn profile and resume, hoping that you will receive higher pay and/or a better chance of landing a job? If it’s the latter, you’ll likely be disappointed. In my experience as a recruiter for military veterans transitioning to corporate America, I haven’t seen many job openings that require a master’s degree. As a transitioning JMO (or SNCO for that matter), you should be leveraging your work experience, not trying to see if another piece of paper at the tail end of your military career will round out your profile. With the proliferation of online MBAs (and other degrees), a lot of officers think it’s a good idea to get an MBA while on active duty so that they have the degree when they get out. It sort of makes sense, right? Do things in parallel instead of in series?

If you’re hoping it makes you qualified for something you’re not, the answer is “no

Here’s the problem: the MBA doesn’t actually qualify you to do anything. I went to a full-time MBA program after leaving the Navy instead of pursuing it on active duty because I wanted to pivot to a marketing career. For me, the value of going to a brick-and-mortar school full-time was that I was able to meet companies that came to campus that wanted to hire people from our school. That’s how I got my summer internship with Colgate-Palmolive and my first full-time marketing role with Sling TV after graduation.

Getting an MBA online then trying to move to something like marketing is nearly impossible because without any marketing experience, you won’t get hired. (This applies to a lot of fields; I’m using marketing as an example because that’s what I’m familiar with). The companies who are open to hiring fresh MBA graduates seeking a new career (read: no previous experience in the desired field) hire primarily on campus at a select assortment of schools that they already have a relationship with. The point I’m driving home here is this: if there’s a position you’re already qualified for based on your military experience, that part-time/online master’s isn’t going to help much, and if you’re not qualified for a position based on your experience, the part-time/online masters isn’t going to change that.

Getting a master’s degree to build up your resume?

In short: understand the process (what you learn) vs. the result (the degree) and realize that an extra degree (especially from a War College) tends to be “bio-building” for military officers and doesn’t carry much weight on the outside. The military fosters this “check-the-box” mentality when it comes to a lot of things, and advanced degrees and certifications are unfortunately part of this. Anyone who has attended a Defense Acquisition University class knows what I’m talking about. When I was an Aviation Maintenance Duty Officer in the Navy, the brief I got as a wet-behind-the-ears Ensign was, “if you want to make O-5, get a master’s degree. It doesn’t matter what it’s in, or where it’s from, just get it.” The civilian world doesn’t work this way at all. Getting a master’s degree or some other certification when you don’t have the work experience to back it up will just put you in the spot where you think you’re worth more than you are.

Bottom line: I’m not discouraging the pursuit of a master’s degree if you’re doing it for the right reasons: knowledge, personal development and career development if you have experience in the field of study. If you’re getting it to puff your chest out and wave it around to employers and later post on LinkedIn complaining how you can’t get an interview even though you got a master’s degree before leaving the service, don’t do it.