Many college graduates face the same question upon finishing their undergrad degree – what now? For some, the decision is already made for them, because their chosen career path requires a graduate degree. But if your field doesn’t require it, it may be time to ask yourself another question: Is grad school worth it?
I was faced with this question myself pretty early on in college.
In my sophomore year, I was nominated by a professor for a master’s degree program, which would allow me to earn my master’s in one year rather than the usual two. I went to an information session about the program, where myself and other undergrad hopefuls met with the professional writing graduate program director.
It all sounded great to me at the time. I get to skip the usual application requirements, get internship and networking experience, and earn a master’s degree in half the time? Sign me up.
But I never applied for that program. In my senior year, after hearing the opinions of my parents, friends and a very honest professor, I finally decided that grad school wasn’t for me. At least, not yet.
There are some things that didn’t occur to me at that information session. Before you dive headfirst into grad school, ask yourself the following questions.
Are you ready for the workload?
Everyone’s grad school experience will be different in terms of workload. Your grad program may require coursework, a project, thesis or a combination of the three. If you do take classes, you won’t take as many as you did as an undergrad, but they’ll likely be more intensive. Consider this, plus an internship or teaching assistantship you may be completing on top of your coursework.
The stress of grad school could be much the same if not greater than the stress of undergrad; if you find yourself feeling burnt out after four years, it may be a good idea to at least take a break before attending grad school.
It comes with a big price tag. Is grad school worth it?
The average cost of tuition in a graduate degree program is $30,000 at a public university and $40,000 at a private university. Consider the return on investment. Will you be making more money with a graduate degree than you would with an undergraduate? Will your projected salary be enough to help you pay off your loan debt?
Use a grad school calculator. It uses figures like tuition, loan amount and interest rate, projected salary and more to tell you how much more money you could make throughout your life by going to grad school.
This calculator from Quartz at Work will tell you how long it will take for you to see a financial return on your investment, and what your net worth will be after finishing grad school, compared to what it would be if you don’t go to grad school.
Will you be overqualified with a graduate degree?
While some professions require a graduate degree, others may only require a bachelor’s. And while a graduate degree may impress some employers, it may give others pause. Research your field to find out what’s typically expected of job applicants based on where you’ll work and what position you’ll have.
If a bachelor’s degree or higher is expected, a graduate degree might give you an edge against other applicants, but only if it’s relevant to your career. Plus, an employer may think you’ll expect a higher salary with a graduate degree, and, in an economic downturn, choose a candidate who is qualified enough with an undergraduate degree.
Check the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for which degrees people in your field typically hold.
Are you considering grad school for the right reasons?
There isn’t a single “right” reason for choosing to go to grad school. However, many college students finish their undergrad degree and immediately feel lost. To anchor themselves, they decide to stay in school and pursue a graduate degree until they figure out what they actually want.
Grad school is great for networking, building soft skills and studying a specific topic of interest in your field. It can open up the door to more career opportunities, or just be a chance to work closely with and learn from a professor or other faculty member. If you enter a grad program simply because you don’t know what else to do, you may leave it with a completely different idea of what you want, a degree you won’t use and a lot of debt. But, then again, you may find yourself exactly where you need to be.
Are you passionate about what you’re studying?
This is the question that could throw a wrench in whatever the previous questions have set in motion.
Sometimes students leave their undergrad careers with a burning passion for something – be it a career, cause, research topic or what have you – and can’t bear to leave it behind. Grad school can give students the tools they need to let that passion flourish. So, if you can make it happen, and you won’t be absolutely crushed by loan debt afterwards, don’t let fear stop you.
What do you think? Is grad school worth it? Tell us in the comments below!
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