A common question amongst recent college graduates is “Is grad school worth it?” Despite the fact that grad school usually takes two to three years to complete, depending on your field of study, and costs an exorbitant amount of money, thousands of people go every year. If you love academia then grad school may feel like an obvious choice. If you’re trying to delay the nine-to-five grind then grad school may also feel like a good decision. Regardless of which type of person you are you should carefully consider whether the benefits of a master’s degree will outweigh the costs. Before making the time and monetary commitment to a graduate program ask yourself the following questions:
Why Are You Considering Grad School?
Are you passionate about furthering your education in a particular area of study? Grad school could be right for you. However, if you’ve finished your undergraduate degree, and aren’t sure about what you want to do with your life, then grad school isn’t the place to figure it out (unless you’ve got loads of money to burn). Be sure you’re attending grad school for the right reasons, and not just because you’re unsure about what to do next or feel it’s something you should be doing.
Can You Get Work Experience While Attending Grad School?
A graduate degree isn’t a magic carpet that can float you to a higher income bracket.
What’s more, holding a degree doesn’t always trump real-world work experience–something many employers value. Skills learned on the job are often valued more than skills learned in school because they’ve been used in a real world context. As a result, if you do pursue a graduate degree, look for ways to simultaneously build your work experience, so you don’t find yourself looking for entry-level jobs as someone with a master’s degree.
Is the Cost Worth It?
It depends on what you’re studying. According to research released this year by the New America Educational Policy Program those who went after an MBA in 2012 and took out student loans to do so, typically borrowed $42,000 and faced a monthly payment of $354 (And compared to other types of degrees, that was getting off cheap). Average monthly payments for those with master’s of arts degrees are about $500 per month, while those with advanced degrees in medicine and health sciences pay about $1365 per month toward their debt.
If you’re on your own financially, take a serious look at how you’ll be paying for grad school. Look into whether you qualify for a work/study program at the institutions you’re considering or whether your current employer offers a program to help pay for continuing education.
Most people can’t afford to pay cash for their advanced degrees, so calculate how much in student loans you’ll be borrowing. (Use this repayment estimator to help you do the math.)
Will You Suffer Lost Income?
Once you’ve figured out how you plan to pay for grad school, consider the other cost–your lost income. The time you spend studying is time you’re not spending in the workforce. How much of a salary can you forsake, in the hopes of earning a higher income in the future? (For example: If you’re making $40,000/year without a graduate degree, multiply that by the years that you’ll be in school. Can you afford to lose that much income?) If you decide you can make the sacrifice then to get the most out of this substantial investment in your education it is crucial that you be fiscally responsible to stay on top of loan payments and living expenses.
Is It Likely To Bump Your Salary?
Before you apply for grad programs, research how that particular graduate degree is likely to affect your salary after graduation. According to a Kiplinger study, finance, business, and mathematics degrees are worth the debt, while advanced degrees in the arts, communications, and journalism are less likely to come with financial rewards.
So is grad school worth it? The answer is it depends. But you don’t have to rush into this decision. Keep in mind you can always take a year or two or three after undergrad to find out whether getting a master’s degree is right for you. There is no time limit for getting an education, so take your time and do what is right for you.