Is Grad School Worth the Cost?
Attending grad school can be incredibly valuable. Holding an advanced degree is often huge resume booster, opening up career opportunities with increased salary, too.
Of course, graduate school is a big investment as well. The average debt from graduate school ranges from $30,000 all the way up to $120,000 for some professional degrees. If you’re still paying off your loans from the first four years of college, the thought of tacking on even more debt might make you squirm.
There are many different factors that influence whether grad school is worth the cost, and many of them depend on your personal situation. Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding if the cost is justified for you.
How Sure Are You About Your Occupation?
Before earning an advanced degree, make sure that you’re ready to commit to the jobs your graduate degree are tailored to.
Many degrees are geared towards a specific career path with less flexibility than some bachelor’s degrees. If you earn a master’s degree only to quit that line of work later because you hate your job, you’ll have a degree that’s now much less valuable to you and a huge mound of debt to pay off with it.
To avoid this, get an internship or job in your desired field before grad school to find out if if this is truly your calling. You may discover your work is not how you imagined and decide to go another direction instead.
Even if you confirm it’s what you want to do, it’s not a waste of time, as you’ll have job experience you can add to your resume.
If you’re determined to get right to grad school, gather as much information about your desired occupation as you can by scouring the web and talking to others who hold the job you’d like to have afterwards.
Do You Need Grad School For Your Dream Job?
The importance of a graduate degree varies widely across professions. In some fields it’s required (think lawyers or doctors), while in others it might only provide a small advantage.
If you do need a graduate education to enter a profession, then there’s clearly no alternative. But if a grad degree is optional in your field, be sure to assess if it will really help you achieve your goals.
Will Another Degree Increase Your Salary?
According to a Georgetown University report, on average, a master’s degree will be worth about $400,000 more than a bachelor’s degree in lifetime earnings. No doubt, that’s a lot of money and would certainly cover the cost of tuition.
The same report goes on to explain that, within an occupation,”workers with higher educational attainment almost always make more than those with less.” According to the research, this is generally the case in health and professional fields. However, those in community service, arts, or retail sales may see very little benefit in earnings at all.
If you’re looking to grad school to increase your salary, as many people are, do your best to verify that an advanced degree will actually increase your salary (and enough so that you can afford to pay your student loans).
Don’t make assumptions. Check the stats for what others earn with an advanced degree in your field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of average salaries as well as projected growth for all occupations, so you’ll be able to get some hard facts about your career potential.
If you have a job already, you can also check with your current workplace to see if you’d be eligible for a raise. You can also ask colleagues in your industry for their opinion on a graduate degree.
What Will it Cost?
Even if you’re expecting big increases in salary, you should still assess what a graduate degree will actually cost you. Paying off $30,000 or more in loans will still take time and effort no matter what your new salary will be.
Schools vary in the financial assistance that’s offered, so be sure to check out and apply to at least a few different programs. While the retail price of an ivy league school may be the priciest, they may also have more scholarships and other financial aid to give than public universities.
There’s also the opportunity for jobs or assistantships that offer scholarships, stipends, and other awards. These benefits may depend on your major, so ask around early to find out if this is a real possibility or not.
Some employers may offer to pay for your graduate education as part of your job benefits. If you can get your company to cover the cost while you keep working, this is a huge advantage.
Depending on your professional needs, consider attending a public institution rather than a more pricey, top-of-the-line university. Some careers just require that you have an advanced degree and the school you earned it from may not matter.
If you’re confident that attending a prestigious university will give you a solid leg up in networking for future jobs and for increasing earnings, consider paying the extra tuition.
Are You Avoiding the Wrong Reasons for Heading Back to School?
One of the worst reasons to head to graduate school is because you simply can’t find a job or don’t want to get a job yet. Graduate school is an expensive and inadequate solution to these issues.
Grad school will often be different from your undergraduate years, so don’t expect several more years of partying. It’s hard work and social interaction is less of a focus for many students.
Going back to school for another degree can certainly be beneficial in finding a job you love as well as increasing lifetime earnings.
Nonetheless, don’t take the decision lightly. Be honest with yourself about your expectations for earning another degree. Making the right choice can be the difference between finding your dream job with a great salary and spending years to pay off a pile of debt you wish you didn’t have.