So, you are thinking about grad school. Maybe you’ve finished your bachelor’s degree and your peers are encouraging you to keep going. Maybe you have reached a ceiling at your job and you can’t keep advancing without a higher degree. Or maybe you just have a thirst for knowledge. But grad school is expensive, time consuming and difficult. In the end, it may not yield the results that you had hoped.
Here are four critical questions to consider when deciding.
1. Why do I want to go to grad school?
Before racking up tens of thousands in debt, do some soul searching and determine exactly why you want to go to graduate school.
If you are honest with yourself, don’t consider graduate school if you:
Don’t like what you’re doing now
Don’t know what else to do
Are avoiding family, financial, or personal obligations
Are being pressured by parents or others
Are trying to put off starting to make payments on your student loans
Your ultimate goal is to become a university professor
A graduate degree will enable you to advance in your career and/or increase your earning potential
You have a love of learning, passion for your field, or desire to do research and write a thesis/dissertation
You want to stand out from your peers in the midst of the “academic inflation,” or the fact that more people have bachelor’s degrees, making them less valuable.
2. Do I need and advanced degree?
If you have a specific position in mind, check what is required for the job. How is graduate education viewed in your field? Take a little time and look at LinkedIn profiles of professionals in your field and see what they did to get to where they are now. Perhaps you should pursue more education, or perhaps it would be just as beneficial to get more work experience. Work experience is a better option if possible, because it pays you, instead of you paying it.
3. How will I pay for grad school? Will it pay off?
It’s no secret that grad school costs a lot of money, so before you move forward, determine exactly what the costs will be and how you will pay for them. A master’s degree can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000. And while tuition is usually the largest chunk of money, it isn’t the only cost you need to consider.
Look into all of these expenses when figuring out the total cost of going back to school:
Travel expenses for interviews
Books and other materials
Living expenses due to not being able to work full time or at all
Try out this grad school budget sheet from TheMuse to help you calculate all potential expenses. Then, look into what options you have to stay afloat through these years of education. Find out what financial aid is available, what loan options you have and how and when you could pay them back, if you could work for your school teaching or doing research during your degree, etc.
Consider a few years down the road too—what is your expected salary after you earn the degree? Determine your return on investment. Will you earn enough afterwards to repay your loans? The answer could easily be yes. Increasingly, the answer is no. Just because you are more educated in a field doesn’t mean you will automatically get paid more. Grad degrees that don’t pay are centered around, not surprisingly, education, social work and the arts.
4. How is the job market in that field?
Employment prospects vary depending on the field you choose to enter. Some industries are over-saturated with educated people looking for work, making it more difficult to have a really successful career. Others are booming and need more qualified job seekers to fill positions. Before putting time and money into a degree, be sure to research the job market in your field of interest.
Now, if the market is tough, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to grad school and pursue your field of interest, but you should be aware that the job hunt might be challenging. Take into account the time it may take and include that in your projected budget and expectations. You may have to work in a restaurant at night and job search during the day. If you really feel strongly about your field, it will be worth it in the end.
Grad School is a Big Decision
Go over your options with people you trust and respect. Determine what your real motives are, and follow your career goals with an informed and measured methodology. It’s possible that you can reach the heights of your field with minimal formal education, an option that means less time and energy and a lot less debt.
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