Back when I was in grad school, I discussed the value of a masters' degree as an investment. Now I'm more than 5 years out from grad school. Was it worth taking 2 years out of my life? Did I recoup the salary I'd missed while I was living on a poverty-level TA/RA?
As I'd suggested in that old post, the value of a Masters degree isn't that easy to quantify.
I didn't get a big salary bump after I graduated. But I was able to find work in my field a couple months after I finished my thesis, right when the bottom had dropped out of the job market. I didn't use what I'd learned in grad school right away, either. I ended up working on some high-impact, high-visibility, ridiculously stressful projects that I hated, but which looked impressive on a résumé. I also got a PG.
I leveraged the PG + the experience + the degree into a job that pays better and that I enjoy, where I do get to be a technical expert and use the stuff I learned in grad school. I don't think I'd be here without the degree. At some point, the client expects the technical expert to have proof of education and certifications, and I have those now.
And on a personal note, I had an awesome experience in grad school. I was surrounded by smart, super-motivated, interesting people of all ages from all over the world. I developed a close-knit group of friends and we had a blast together. I had grown so much since college, and I was able to really take advantage of all the opportunities available at a major research university.
So would I recommend grad school for other environmental consultants?
It depends on so many factors: is there a need (in your firm or elsewhere) for the subject you'd want to study in more depth? Can you wrangle financial support to go? Can you get into a program that is well respected in your chosen field and/or in the region you plan to work in? If you're going to work through school, how long will it take, and are you sure you'll be able to complete it? Grad school isn't usually an automatic ticket to the next step in environmental consulting, so even though it worked for me, it may not work for everyone.