Is Graduate School Worth the Cost?

grad school worth the cost

One of the million-dollar questions is whether or not to pursue higher education. Completing a long-term goal, advancing a career, using the time on one’s hands, or pursuing a passion are all good reasons to continue or return to graduate school. Quarantines and a weakened economy, due to Covid-19, are working together to bring these goals to the front of many Americans’ minds.

According to statistics, the number of people pursuing higher education has doubled since the turn of the century. More recently, grad school applications have gone up between 15% and 60%, depending on the discipline, in the year 2020. Although this means steeper competition to attend graduate school, it also means more competition in the workplace.

Employers may have deemed a bachelor’s degree to be a pre-requisite for certain positions 10 years ago; however, they may expect a master’s degree now. As the stakes are raised corporately, they are raised personally as well. Evaluating whether graduate school is a good idea is not an easy answer for most of us.

Additional Information: The 50 Best Scholarships For Master’s Students and 50 Best Scholarships For Ph.D. Students

Career Goals

First, in order to slough off undesirable motives, it is advisable to lay out career goals in order to see if graduate school is worth the cost, time, and effort. Is the goal to advance in one’s career? Will obtaining a graduate degree affect this advancement? Is the goal to change careers? Will taking a couple of classes or learning on one’s own have the same effect? Writing out career goals and seeing them starkly will allow one to realize the goals one has for pursuing graduate work.

Doing the Math

When researching the pros and cons of beginning a graduate degree, be sure to do some careful math. And remember, just because the math doesn’t make perfect sense doesn’t mean one shouldn’t pursue higher education. It’s far better to know ahead of time what one is getting into than just to hope that things work out. Some aspects of the financial effects of higher education to consider when number-crunching are:

  • The cost of the degree – Although the advertising price of a graduate school may look intimidating, the actual cost may be far less than it seems. Many graduate students, especially doctoral students, are able to obtain assistantships and fellowships that actually put money in their pocket for living expenses. The higher the reputation of a school, the more money they are usually endowed with, so don’t be intimidated by high school cost – just know how much you will likely have to pay.
  • Financial loss from working less – Some amazing individuals can attend graduate school as well as work full-time. However, that is a feat that should rarely be undertaken unless the graduate program has an option for extending classes over more years. Some graduate programs even disallow students from attempting to work full-time while pursuing a degree, especially if the student has been granted a fellowship or assistantship. Either way, make sure to calculate the loss of income that will ensue from pursuing a graduate degree.
  • Current work income vs. future work income – Contrast and compare your current work salary vs. your future work salary and what it will look like after earning a graduate degree. According to statistics, graduate school will increase a salary by anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 a year on average. However, those numbers can vary depending on one’s field of work.
  • Paying off loans – A recent article in U.S. News and World Report states that “loans issued to graduate students account for 40% of all federal student loans issued each year, and these borrowers are subject to practically no limits on borrowing and fewer informational resources.” Though it may be hard to gain information, student loans also can be refinanced. Gain as much information as possible on what will be owed after graduation.

Envision the Future

Though it may have been a childhood dream to become an architect, dreams and ambitions change as life shapes us. Actually doing a job may be quite a bit different than what we dreamed it would be like beforehand. Check job requirements for the career of choice and envision everyday life in that career.

Checking job requirements and imagining the future may clarify whether or not obtaining a graduate degree is really necessary. It also may be the case that one is already qualified for a job without a graduate degree. Work experience, as well as personal skills, may fill in what a graduate degree would have supplied.

Another way to find out if graduate school is the right decision for the future is to talk to colleagues and friends or read the testimony of people who have completed a graduate degree. If one is planning to apply to a school, talking to graduates of the school will help to clarify goals, evaluate the feasibility, and provide a tangible outline of what lies ahead.

Set Up for Success

If you’re not sure what career path to choose, evaluating wisely will be more likely to land a job at the end of the degree. Choose according to what will be in demand in the future not just what is in demand now.

Also, the school one attends could easily set the path for success. Apply to the most highly regarded schools available to you. Often, excellent and reputable schools grant the most financial assistance making them a real option.

Don’t Ignore your Passion

Most advice given to those seeking higher education, even in this article, is to evaluate the cost and pursue the degree that will grant the greatest return. However, there are some individuals who have a strong desire to pursue an interest for its own sake. Though it may not pay off as well as it could or even at all, pursuing a strong passion for a subject and sticking with it may lead to a much more enjoyable life than always making ends meet. Surprisingly, being excellent in a subject because you love it may make you very desirable to certain employers as well.

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Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor