Should I Pursue My Master’s Degree? Well… It Depends

by Ryan Ireland - Marketing and Communications Manager at National Lacrosse League
May 26, 2022

As someone who just finished their master’s degree in April of 2022, I thought this topic was right up my alley.

When I was looking to study Sports Management and pursue my career in sports, my immediate thought was doing my undergrad and pursuing my master’s degree immediately following.

Part of my allure and dream was due to going to Ohio University for my undergrad studies and wanting to be part of the OU Alumni Network with so many amazing individuals within the industry. While I knew having the undergrad experience would help, I thought the master’s program would help me establish my career even further.

With studying abroad and bringing some credits with me to college, I was able to graduate early. Through the process though, I questioned if I should add another degree, a minor/certificate, or even go straight to the master’s program.

I had great relationships with all my professors and levied them for advice as well as those I knew from the OU master’s program, and I was surprised by their response. The overwhelming majority recommended I finish my degree and start my career. They said that everything I had done in school was plenty to get started, that there was not much else for me to learn and that the sports business experience was much more impactful for my career.

Heeding their advice, I graduated and started looking for jobs (which is a whole other topic for another day). I started off in ticket sales with the Colorado Rapids before transitioning into a role in marketing with the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League. While my degree helped me get the roles, the connections I had made, and the work experience paid for themselves.

No one degree has helped people get their start in sports, people come from all background’s experiences, and education. While I still advocate for a sports management degree, it does not guarantee a job come graduation day.

So why did I go back to pursue my masters then? It came down to a couple of factors. I still wanted to pursue my dream to be a MSA grad of Ohio University, furthering education is important for me, and of course a thing called COVID-19 completely disrupted the sports landscape so I felt the timing was right.

While I was fortunate to keep my job through the pandemic and even get a new job with the National Lacrosse League offices, I figured the future is uncertain and further education would never hurt.

I was accepted into Ohio University’s Professional Masters of Sports Administration program, which is a 21-month program designed for professionals to pursue their masters while working full-time.

Through the program, I was able to meet my cohort (mostly virtually) and establish amazing connections across the industry and from those looking to get into sport on a once-a-week basis. I consider them all great friends even though we are separated by time zones, states, and even continents.

What I loved about the program was we all had real world experience where we can discuss situations that happened to us versus just hypotheticals from a textbook or watching the news. We had people from all areas of the industry working across multiple types of sports properties.

Although I was only five years removed from my undergrad days, I was surprised at how similar the topics were for classes and discussions. It may have been different for me because I was one of only three who did their undergrad at OU as well as their masters but if anything, it was a great refresher of basics from across the industry and led to amazing conversation from others point of view from their experience. It really helped summarize what I have been doing day-to-day and to be able to apply textbook or lecture learning to a real-life scenario whether it be in finance, sponsorship, facilities, or event management.

Once I hit graduation of this year, I had my degree, was refreshed on almost the full landscape of the sports industry, and further built my network with people I feel I can always rely on.

So that brings us back to the original question, should I pursue my master’s degree? My answer is still “it depends.”

Experience is what makes the real difference, and I am glad I took my professor’s and mentors advice because I would not be where I am if I took another year or two to pursue my masters right out of undergrad. The experience and attitude has got me to where I am at today, not necessarily my degree.

The other big factor is the network you have. Some people may say it is who you know, some may say what you know, my thought is for this industry it is who knows you. It is no surprise that hundreds if not thousands of people may apply for a job in sports. Many applicants are well overqualified but want to work in a “fun” industry, even if it means applying for a job seemingly beneath their abilities and experience.

A degree is not likely to separate you but an insider within the organization who can vouch for you could make a bigger difference. Unless it is required for the position or for more management positions, many do not need their master’s degree and sometimes not even a business degree for an entry level role.

On the other hand, there are so many reasons to get a master’s degree. For those potentially looking for a career change to get into sports, I think it is a wonderful way to get introduced to the industry and make those connections. For those looking to grow into their career to get to an executive level, go for it. For those who value higher education and have the means to afford it, you will not regret it.

Do not be afraid to do what I did and get the experience and if the time is right, go back. There are lots of programs that are not as rigid as an on-campus program designed for full-time students. If you choose to get your master’s degree, you will not be hurt by it. Everyone has a different path, and it is no secret that education is expensive and time consuming. While the degree is not essential to be successful in the sports industry you really need to decide what you want to get out of your masters and if it is worth the investment. That would be my recommendation.