Financial Aid, Tuition

Is Graduate School Worth the Investment?

At some point during your undergraduate career, you have to face the inevitable question of what you plan to do after you graduate. Are you going to go out into the world and look for a job? Are you going to take some time off to travel? Will you continue going to school for a graduate degree?Grad school / xkcd

Graduate school can be appealing for a number of reasons, and many students believe that taking their education to the next level will give them a competitive advantage in today’s tough job market.

If you take a look at statistics alone, going to graduate school seems to be worth the investment. The unemployment rate for those with a master’s degree is 3.4% compared to 4.0% for those with a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, those with a master’s degree make $221 per week ($11,492 per year) more on average.

Statistics and numbers aside, the most important question to ask yourself is whether a master’s degree makes sense for you and your career. If going to graduate school appeals to you, here are two key points to consider when debating if the investment of time and money is worth it.

Does graduate school make sense for your career?

Take a moment to browse through jobs that pertain to the major you’ve chosen or the field you hope to go into once you graduate. How many require a master’s degree as a qualification? Take note of the specific graduate degree each job asks for. If there are few or no jobs that require a master’s, grad school might not be necessary at this point in your career.

If you don’t have an idea of what your long-term career goals are, it might be a good idea for you to visit your college or university’s career resource center and schedule an appointment with a career advisor or counselor. Creating career goals will undoubtedly help clarify whether graduate school is a path that makes sense for you.

Most importantly, you should not pursue graduate school simply to put off having to look for a job. Instead of going straight back into school after earning your bachelor’s degree, consider getting real world work experience under your belt. If you determine later on that getting a master’s degree would help you advance your career, you can always go back and continue your education. Building your relevant work experience could be equally valuable for your career or might even point you in a new direction.

Is going to graduate school a financially wise decision?

Deciding whether going to graduate school is a financially sensible decision—that is, whether or the investment will pay off in the long run—requires a significant amount of research.

Take some time to research the average salaries for jobs you might want to apply for in the future. Having a clearer idea of what you can expect to make once graduate can help you determine if a graduate education will be worth the cost.

Similar to the wide range of undergraduate schools and colleges, there many kinds of graduate programs at both public and private institutions. You can get an idea for how much your graduate degree will cost per year by using Peterson’s graduate program search tool to compare tuition costs for programs you are interested in.

Once you have a rough idea of the tuition cost for a master’s degree, you can start figuring out how you’ll pay for school. The only kind of federal aid available for graduate studies are federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Be sure you know what these types of loans entail — any unsubsidized loans from your undergraduate studies will continue to accrue interest while you are in graduate school. Once you graduate from your grad program, you might be carrying a lot of loans if you aren’t careful. Smart financial planning and responsibility in college will have long-term positive benefits in your life.

By taking your estimated graduate degree tuition costs and how much your student loan debt burden will be, and comparing it to how much you can expect to make per year, you should be able to get a better sense of whether or not getting a master’s degree will be worth the investment.

The final word

Deciding to get a master’s degree should be an informed decision and backed by plenty of research. Continuing your education can be rewarding and enriching investment in your life. However, if the decision is poorly planned and not fully thought through, you might find yourself with an unbearable amount of student loans, and no guarantee of well-paying career once you enter the job market.

Photo Credit: xkcd

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.

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