Everyone is concerned with staying competitive in today's crowded business landscape. That doesn't just ring true for entrepreneurs looking to build products that meet shifting customer needs. It also matters for workers trying to find top jobs, or looking to build their skill set so they can maintain successful careers.

For e mployees who feel stuck in their current position, going back to school may seem like a next natural step. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the number of people with a master's degree is rising. Between the 2003-04 and 2013-14 academic years, the number of awarded master's degrees increased by 34 percent, and the number of doctoral degrees increased 41 percent. Of these master's degrees, half were concentrated in two areas: business and education. The third largest sector was healthcare.

There could be a couple of reasons why people are going back to school. Economic uncertainty has hit the millennial generation hard, with dozens, even hundreds of applicants vying for a single position. Many members of this generation looked to their education to strengthen their resume. Secondly, in sectors like education, returning to school may even be required as a condition of employment.

All that said, is a master's program the right choice for you? Maybe - but maybe not. Here's how to know if you're in the market for a degree or if it's best to skip the added debt.

Consider Current Earnings

Perhaps the main reason to consider a master's degree is for the extra earnings on each paycheck. But your payoff, or lack thereof, will depend on your industry and occupation. Consider this: According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2013 the median annual income for workers over 25 with a full time job was $56,000 when a bachelor's degree was their highest level of education. With a master's degree, that same population earned an average of $68,000. Factoring in the cost of tuition, you could be seeing that profit after only a few years.

On the other hand, workers in some industries earn no extra income after completing a master's program. For example, a study from Georgetown University found almost no increase in income for those who obtain a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Jobs in that space seem to place more value on relevant experience and a well-curated portfolio.

Do You Hate Your Job?

One (big) reason to return to school is if you're looking for a career overhaul. As a member of Generation X, I can tell you that many of my friends in this age group hit mid-career and found themselves dissatisfied, underwhelmed (or overwhelmed), and feel they're lacking respect, authority, or clout. I've met many a millennial and Baby Boomer who have been there too. A return to school may seem like the magic fix, but you'll have to consider the financial, emotional, and mental costs of returning there.

  • Are you budgeted mentally? Mid-level professionals usually have spouses and children. Are you prepared to readjust your schedule and make the necessary sacrifices to make getting another degree work?
  • Do you have a financial plan? Consider that the average master's degree costs $30,000. If you're looking to make a career change because you don't make enough, this sum probably isn't sitting in the bank. Financial aid is available, but are you prepared to make large payments after completing the degree?
  • Is returning to school the ideal solution? Dissatisfied employees may think their only option is to jump ship and run off to something new. This sentiment isn't uncommon. Take time to consider if there's another way to treat what ails you (a talk with management about compensation or job duties, for example). In other cases, your perceived dissatisfaction with your job may be a symptom of another problem entirely - one that can't be solved with another degree.

Does Your Company Offer Tuition Reimbursement?

It's much easier to teach a current employee something new than it is to hire and train a new worker. Businesses realize this, so they're beginning to offer tuition reimbursement for employees as part of their benefits package.

Talk to your employer about tuition reimbursement, even if there's no set policy in place. You never know until you try. A caveat to this tactic, however: many companies will require a certain term of employment as a condition of reimbursement. Be sure you know all the details before agreeing and enrolling in your first master's level class.

A master's degree can be a resume builder and develop your skills, leading to a nice income cushion. It can also be a drain on your brain and finances. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of going back to school before making any big decisions.