If you love academia, grad school may feel like a match made in heaven–especially if you want to bypass the nine-to-five, working girl life for a few years–but pursuing a graduate degree may not right for everyone. To to figure whether a masters degree is worth the expense and benefit, give yourself the fifth degree by asking 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.
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 experience–something many employers value. If you do pursue a graduate degree, look for ways to build your real-world work experience at the same time, so you won’t find yourself looking for entry-level jobs after graduation.
Is the Cost Worth It?
It depends 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 typical monthly payment of $354. (And compared to other types of degrees, that was getting off cheaply.) Typical monthly payments for those with masters 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?)
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 like the arts, communications, and journalism are less likely to come with financial rewards.
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