“Is grad school worth it?”
This might be a question you’d ask if you are considering going back to school to pursue an advanced degree. While getting your master’s degree can be rewarding and set you apart in your field, it’s also costly. In fact, the highest debt in terms of student loans – often six figures worth – typically comes from grad students.
So, before you decide to go back to grad school, here are some important factors to consider:
Ask Yourself if You Really Need a Graduate Degree
If you have your bachelor’s degree, going straight to grad school to get your master’s degree can feel like the natural next step. But a master’s degree isn’t the only way to level up your career.
It’s important to evaluate if you really need a graduate degree for what you want to do. Will a graduate degree open up more job opportunities? Will it lead to higher pay? Is it worth the cost?
Also, consider this: When you go to graduate school, you are missing out on working. So, let’s say you make $50,000 per year and your graduate program is two years long. You’re theoretically missing out on $100,000 in potential salary to go to school full-time. With this in mind, going to grad school isn’t a decision you should make lightly. Make sure it’s worth the financial investment as well as the time commitment.
Will a Masters Degree Elevate You in Your Profession?
A master’s degree should open up doors for you and not just saddle you with debt. But not all degrees carry the same weight. Of course, there are some professions that absolutely require an advanced degree. For example, you’ll need a master’s degree if you want to become a professor, physician, lawyer, or therapist.
Research your prospective field to see if your master’s degree will help you in the long-run and lead to more opportunities. In my case, I have a master’s degree in a fairly impractical degree — Performance Studies. However, my initial goal was to get a PhD and become a professor. Halfway through my program, I realized I didn’t want to work in academia.
So, think long-term and realize that things can change as well.
Will Graduate School Teach You Skills You Can’t Get on The Job?
In some cases, you might think that grad school will give you additional knowledge. However, you may be able to learn the skills you need through a paid internship and entry-level job in your field.
While it can seem like a master’s degree will teach you everything you need to know, an advanced degree may focus more on theory than practice. Many professions in the arts, for example, don’t require an advanced degree and you may be better off putting in the hours of practice on your own or with a trusted teacher, rather than enrolling in a formal program.
Jobs in marketing, business, and the creative arts are all possible without an advanced degree and “doing” rather than “studying” might be a better fit. Experience is often the best teacher.
Calculate the ROI of Graduate School
Getting a master’s degree doesn’t automatically mean you’ll make more money. Much depends on what jobs are available in your area and what employers are willing to pay.
Before committing to grad school, evaluate your return on investment. This is especially important if you’re taking out student loans to pay for school.
To start, go to Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com to research salaries for your profession and level of education as well as the overall earning potential. Then, seek out the answer to this question: How much does graduate school cost? Consider tuition, books, fees, housing, etc. On top of that, you’ll want to consider how much you may be losing in salary by going back to school.
After running the numbers, use an online calculator to see how much your prospective student loan payments will be and how much interest you’ll pay. Given your potential salary, figure out how much money is going toward your student loans.
Be realistic about the cost of a master’s degree and understand that you may or may not make the salary you want with a grad degree. The bottom line: Consider the ROI of graduate school and make sure it’s worth your time and investment.
How Are Other Graduates Doing?
When you’re researching graduate schools, it’s all very exciting. You dream of your new life and what it’ll be like after you graduate.
But, make sure you also research how current graduates are doing in their career after they left school. Try to get in touch with alumni from your program for informational interviews. Go on LinkedIn and find people who have gone to your school or have the same degree. Then, see if you can meet them for coffee or at least shoot them an email.
Reach out to recent grads as well as those who have been out of school for five years or more. What is their salary now? What is their overall earning potential? What opportunities have they had? Have they been able to secure promotions with higher pay? Overall, you want to find out how grad school impacted their careers and quality of life.
Can You Really Afford Graduate School?
When considering “Is grad school worth it?” you have to ask yourself this important second question: “Can I really afford graduate school?”
To start, look at your current financial situation. How much debt do you currently have? How much savings do you have? What impact will going back to school have on your finances?
On top of that, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll pay for graduate school. If you can afford it out-of-pocket or your family will pay for it, then great. But if not, you’ll need to look into federal student loans, scholarships and grants. If you can’t get it all covered through that, you might need to consider taking out private student loans.
If you currently have debt from your undergrad years, consider how going back to graduate school will affect your overall repayment. When I decided to go to graduate school, I had $13,000 left in undergrad loans. I had just that amount in savings and could have paid those loans off if I stayed at my job. But I then took on an additional $58,000 for graduate school. This had a significant impact on my debt load and my monthly payments after graduation were close to $900 per month.
So, look at what your finances look like now and what they will look like in the future. Consider how long it will take to pay back your student loans and how this will affect your quality of life and take home pay each month.
Why Do You Want a Master’s Degree?
Ponder this question again: “Is grad school worth it?” That’s a personal decision to make.
Graduate school can make a lot of sense in certain instances. For example, a graduate degree may be important if you want to be a professor or if it will change your career in a positive way.
Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Take a moment and really think about why you want a master’s degree. Dig deep. Is it really, truly about your career? Or is it because your family thinks you should go back to school? Or are you biding some time while you figure out your employment situation?
Graduate school is a big commitment of time and money. If you’re currently happy in your role but want a change, consider talking to your boss about other opportunities within the organization. If you decide grad school is the right move, exhaust all of your scholarship and grant options. Choose federal loans before private loans for protections like student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment.
Here’s a final pro tip: To start saving for school, you can use Chime to manage your money and make the process easier.