GA Tech OMSCS Economics

As I wrote previously, I recently accepted an offer of admission to the Georgia Tech Online Masters of Science in Computer Science. This post discusses the economic and professional reasons why I chose to pursue this degree.

The Economic Calculus

A CS masters can be conservatively expected to garner a salary bump in the neighborhood of $5K to $10K per year over a CS bachelor’s degree from the same school. Some estimates indicate the average salary increase is much higher, with the resulting raises measured in the tens of percents. In my case, a masters in CS will enable me to transition from mechanical engineering into the more lucrative computer science field. It will also, most likely, help me enter the rapidly growing and dynamic tech industry, which pays much more than the agriculture industry, a pertinent point of comparison. My compensation premium from completing this degree is therefore likely to be much more than it would be for the typical software engineer.

Since the out-of-pocket cost for the degree is less than $8K, the pay-back period for the OMSCS degree as a strictly financial “investment” can be expected to be less than a year. By that simplistic standard, pursuing the degree is a no-brainer.

The other, more conservative way to estimate the value of the degree is by assigning a dollar value to the time required to complete it. Estimating that it will take 20-30 hours/week over the course of 3 years, finishing the degree will likely require somewhere between 3000 and 4500 total hours “invested.” Valuing time at $40/hour, this is an implied average “time cost” of $150K.

I will be in my early 30s before the degree is completed, so I estimate that I will have a roughly 30-year career over which to recoup that “time investment.” To offset a one-time, $150K “expenditure,” I calculate I would need to earn an additional $10K per year to break even (assuming a 5% discount rate). This is a very reasonable expectation, especially given my particular situation. And, valuing time in this way assumes that I could put an extra 1250 hours per year to productive use, and not spend them watching Netflix, for example. Doubtful.

Based on the foregoing, the GA Tech OMSCS program appears to be time, and money, very well spent.

Other Considerations

And, the foregoing doesn’t even take into account the less tangible benefits:

  • satisfying work with high-performing colleagues,
  • personal growth and enrichment associated with completing additional education,
  • the fact that 20-30 hours/week of something new is a much more life-affirming proposition than spending that same amount of additional time “grinding” at a tedious job, and the
  • “interest satisfaction” associated being in a growing and cutting-edge field.

Even if the economic calculus didn’t work out as well as it does, those less tangible benefits are worth a significant financial investment in and of themselves. As an OMSCS student, based on the analysis just presented, I’ll most likely get those benefits for free (if I don’t actually end up money ahead).

Now to figure out how to do this program without failing…