The first question concerning an advanced degree is why do you want it? Will it raise your income? Your job possibilities? Help you establish a different career from the one you have now? Are you sure? Do some research. Exactly how much of a monetary difference will a degree produce? Will it help you to pass an exam or meet some other professional requirement? Is it worth cost to pursue an advanced degree simply for added prestige or personal growth?
Note: The very worst reason for going to graduate school (or doing anything for that matter) is because someone else expects you to. Be honest with your parents or spouse. If you really can’t stomach the idea of being a business administrator for a Fortune 500 company, say so. It will be waste of time and money to send you to school.
The Balance Sheet – Show Me the Money
All right, let’s get practical. What is the price tag? It’s high, about $10,000 minimum to as high as $30,000, plus fees, room and board. (Most schools charge about the same for a master’s or a PhD. Some schools calculate it in terms of two years’ tuition or more.) Online degrees are cheaper ($6000- $7000) but are not as well-respected – yet – as classroom degrees; ditto foreign degrees. On the bright side financial aid is available. Yes, you have to fill out another FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
How much will a degree raise your paycheck in relation to these costs? It depends on what it equips you to do. Except for teaching or other jobs in education, an advanced degree in liberal arts or social science will probably not pay for itself. In other fields a degree does make you more money, but jobs at the top of the ladder are harder to get. PhDs in psychology who go into private practice make more than school counselors with a bachelor’s degree, but there are more school jobs than there are private practice clients, especially at the prices such professionals must charge to pay for their degree and overhead.
On the other hand an advanced engineering degree will pay for itself 10 times over and more with the added income it produces. An MBA will also take you far, as will PhD, in science or computer science. Doctors and lawyers generally make the most actual income, but again, put against the price of their education, it may or may not even out, especially with cost of maintaining an office and the price of malpractice insurance.
This Is Your Life
Another consideration is where you are in life. Are you just out of college and a little sick of all that book learnin’? Maybe you should work or travel for a semester or two before you take the academic plunge again. On the other hand if you are seriously devoted to finishing your education as soon as possible and your finances permit, go for it. Now’s the time.
Is anyone dependent on you, spouse, children, aging parent? This may get you a break on your financial aid, but there are other considerations. Can you afford the time? What will it do to your family life? (Don’t you dare take your spouse for granted.) Figure out how much you will have to pay on your tuition and when, and compare it to your income and other bills. Tell the truth. Is it worth it?
Every situation is different. Talk to people. Ask your professors and counselor about what kind of future there is in the advanced degree you are considering. (Get specifics. Counselors in particular want you to stay in school and net the university as much tuition as possible.) Alumni of your school may also be source of information.
Find people in your chosen field and discuss your goals with them. Are these goals practical? Will a master’s or PhD help you to achieve them? Ask about internships, on the job training and other alternatives.
In the end the only one who can decide if graduate school is right for you is you. Don’t make an expensive decision on a whim or a feeling. Study up on the pros and cons. Put them in two columns on a piece of paper. Get some advice. Think. Go back to the paper. Well?