Is Graduate School Worth the Cost?

It used to be that a bachelor’s degree opened up a lot of doors for you. During high school, parents, teachers and guidance counselors all pushed us to go to college and get a degree — if not a four-year school, a two-year community college would do — and who knows, perhaps you’d continue on to get that four-year degree. That magical piece of paper that was supposed to open all the doors to a successful career and life.

But there was no talk about which degrees would lead to the better-paying jobs, or which degrees were fairly useless without going into a master’s degree program.

It seems that a bachelor’s degree is the ‘new normal’ for post-high school graduates. But does that mean you have to step up your game and go after a master’s degree? Credit hours for post-baccalaureate studies are more expensive, and the programs are fairly limited. The big master’s programs are in the areas of education, healthcare and business, as an advanced degree correlates to higher salaries because of the increase in skills. But what about master’s degrees in other areas?

When to Go for an Advanced Degree

— When it will increase your salary, such as if you’re an educator or employed by a company that will bump up your earnings when you bump up your education. Will your employer contribute to the cost of said master’s degree? Even better. Be sure to calculate how long it will take you to pay off the tuition, though. If your master’s program costs $30,000 and you’ll only see a $2,000 raise from it, it will take you 15 years to break even. And that’s not counting the interest you’re paying on school loans. Try for scholarships, grants or stipends (such as for being a teacher’s assistant) to cut down costs.

— If you want to change careers. You’ll need the education, and the master-level degree will be a nice addition to your resume.

When NOT to Further Your Schooling

— Unless you know for sure you want to become a doctor or a lawyer, if you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree, it’s highly recommended to get some real-world experience before deciding to jump right into a master’s program. Why? Because of the difficulty in getting a job after nearly 6 years of schooling. Sure, you’ll have the education, but experience counts for a lot in the job search. You’ll still be stuck in an entry-level position, if you can even get that, because many potential employers will see you as overqualified. Think about waiting a few years before moving on.

— If you can’t afford the debt. Don’t go into hock on the off-chance that you think you can get a better position with a higher salary. If you absolutely are sure that you want to go for a master’s degree, avoid this pitfall by doing your research first and choosing a program in an area that is projected to see growth in the near future. And, of course, be sure that it’s a field that you enjoy. Don’t go into a specific master’s program solely because you see dollar signs.

The “Best” Master’s Degrees

According to Forbes.com, the best master’s degrees in terms of salary and projected increase in available positions over the next decade:

1. Computer Science
2. Physician Assistant Studies
3. Civil Engineering
4. Mathematics
5. Physics

These aren’t your everyday advanced degrees. For me, I won’t get anything out of going for a master’s degree (except a big, fat debt). Don’t get me wrong — I love learning. I’ve always loved school, and I was an excellent student. But it’s just not financially wise for me to do so, since it really won’t further my career at this point.

Are you thinking about getting a master’s degree? Or are you against the idea? Why?

9 comments to Is Graduate School Worth the Cost?

  • I feel like one might be limiting his or herself by saying, “I won’t go to grad school until I see a job that requires one,” or “It’s too much debt.” If you never explored it, you wouldn’t know what kinds of grants/stipends/generous employers there are to fund your education. It’s easy to shove your head in the sand and poo poo the whole idea as being too expensive, but that seems so lazy. Live a little! And in the end if it isn’t meant to be, it isn’t meant to be. Granted I WILL be taking time off from school to work after college, but you better believe grad school is in my future!

  • Jim

    i am personally against the idea. i saw a statistic just yesterday that 25% of students don’t graduate High School. For me to get past that and the college mile stone was enough to want to work and not take a test for awhile.

    it is hard to justify the fact that you could have $20,000, $30,000, $100,000 of student loans. that is just crazy.

    I’m all for college degrees and getting a job.

  • I earned a Master’s degree in Economics and it has definitely opened doors for me. I’m considering going back for another Master’s – this time in Accounting, so I can sit for the CPA exam.

    Since I ultimately want to be a Financial Advisor, these degrees (and other certifications should pay off).

    I think for most non-professional degrees, it’s not worth it to get a Master’s unless you plan to go for a Ph.D. and take the academic route.

    For professional degrees, getting an employer to pay for it is probably the best option.

  • I’m not planning on getting a job in USA but whenever I see jobs listed it almost always says Masters Required these days…. Almost making believe it’s impossible to succeed without a Masters in USA now!!

    I don’t even have an undergrad as I left school at 16 (not a drop out, we could leave at that age in England when I left).

    My career has been going fine all these years and I have good work experience. I may go to uni one day but likely for something not related to my current career. I like the look of something like “Animal Behavior” or related :).

    My partner is currently doing her Masters in Gender and Women’s Studies here in Cairo and I must admit she is very worried about getting a real J.O.B when she is done!

  • The Yakezie

    What about an MBA? Pretty good return if u go to a top 20 school. Part time is the way to go!

    Sam
    The Yakezie

  • Jenna

    I’m planning on heading back to school to get my Master’s, I believe it will be beneficial when negotiating pay raises. Plus, I’m hoping to work for a company that will help pay for part (or all) of my program.

  • My husband went after a Master’s degree for Librarian Sciences since you have to have one to be a school librarian. My parents and a bunch of other people we know want me to get one, but I have no idea what to get it in, so I don’t want to waste the money. If I ever want a job and needed the advanced degree, I’d go after it then…

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