In today’s competitive job market, a graduate degree can almost be seen as a necessity. But is it worth it? In some fields, it’s necessary for more senior positions. In others, it can help you to stand out from the competition. For example, certain careers in fields such as law and psychology may require a grad degree.
To decide whether graduate school is the right choice for you, it’s essential to know as much about the field, your career goals, and the grad programs available. This is a big decision.
Does Graduate School Play a Role in Your Career Goals?
Perhaps the biggest first step is to understand whether graduate school is a necessary step in your career goals. Some degrees require a graduate degree, while others may require one for you to advance to a higher position.
To decide, consider a few key steps. First, what career do you want to pursue? If you’re not sure, make a list of the potential options. Research each one to learn what you’ll be doing. Then, determine if those fields require an advanced degree.
Always have a good idea of what the day-to-day work in any career field will be to ensure you understand what your life will be like. If possible, try to get a job within that field to see if its right for you. Another good idea is to find someone who is working in the field and talk to them about it. Discuss the tasks they handle. You may even be able to shadow them for a day to get a clear indication of what your job will be like.
If the career path doesn’t require a graduate degree, do those with advanced skills and education (i.e., graduate degrees) do better or get paid more? Do they hold more advanced positions, perhaps in leadership?
Factor in the Cost of a Grad School Education
The next step is to determine if the cost of grad school is worth it for you. To help, here are a few key points to consider when deciding:
- Look at local schools offering the grad program. How long is the program? Many programs take about two years to complete.
- Consider the average cost of the graduate degree program. This ranges widely between schools. The Urban Institute says that, the average tuition and fees for those attending a full-time master’s degree program is $25,160 per year in a private nonprofit school or as low as $11,100 in a public, in-state school.
- Now, look at your career goals. Use the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to research your career path. What is the starting salary for someone in the field? What do they earn, on average, in the state? Comparing future salary and cost of attendance gives you a good look at the return on your investment and if grad school is worth it to you, especially if your chosen career doesn’t require one.
This can give you some insight into the financial viability of getting your grad degree. Ultimately, only you can decide if it is the right choice for your needs. Cost isn’t the only variable; there are many other things to consider before deciding if grad school is right for you.
Financial Savings Options May Help Defray Some Costs
You don’t have to give up on your dream career because of the added cost of this more advanced education. Remember, there are numerous ways to reduce your costs. You’ll want to look into them all. Here are a few examples:
- Scholarships are available through many grad programs. Many schools have endowments that can help you pay for your education. Scholarships from organizations in your chosen field may also be available.
- You may qualify for financial aid through the government. Federal programs can reduce costs. You can learn more about options at The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site. You’ll also need to fill out the FAFSA to learn about your eligibility for federal aid. These are accessible to many students hoping to pursue a degree in most areas. Grad PLUS loans are also an option. You can also borrow through federal Stafford loans for your grad degree.
- Private student loans may also be available. Even some local banks and credit unions offer these.
- Grants are an excellent way of reducing your costs. Seek these out from organizations outside of your school in the field you’ve selected.
- Consider asking your current employer or seeking out a specific degree related program for financial help.
Is There Demand for These Positions?
As you consider a graduate program, it’s important to know there will be jobs available to you at the end of the learning period. Research job openings available now in the field you’re interested in. This will give you a better understanding of demand and job outlook after graduation. Be sure to consider the types of skills grad students will obtain. Is there a demand for those who have more modern skills?
The Benefits of Going to Graduate School
When you take all of this information into consideration, it comes down to knowing the value of a graduate degree to you. Every eld is different. Depending on the field you’ve selected, you could see benefits such as:
- Having better access to higher paying jobs with more advanced skills
- Networking opportunities in school and within organizations associated with your desired field
- Being better suited and skilled for the position you want to work in long term
- Advancing your skills so that you can start your own business in the field
- Being in demand from companies or organizations who need more modernly trained professionals
A graduate degree can be very useful in some fields, depending on what you hope to do down the road. By taking the time to answer tough questions and doing the research, you can be more comfortable with your decision.
With all of this information, you can see the value of a graduate degree. It may open the doors you have been unable to get through until this point, allowing you to have the type of job that is most valuable, interesting, in-demand, or well-paying that you want to have.