Graduate School: Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?June 2, 2021
Is a master’s degree worth it? This is an important question to answer because attending graduate school can come at a hefty price. Ultimately, the answer will come down to your individual situation, your career goals, and the ways in which you finance your graduate program.
For many students, the answer to the question, is grad school worth it, is undeniably a yes. But to help you decide whether you should pay the costs of a master’s degree, there are a few key questions to ask yourself.
Is a master’s degree worth it? Here’s how to decide
A master’s degree may be worth paying for if it’s a prerequisite of the career you’re interested in. It can also be worth paying for if earning an advanced degree causes your salary to rise. But, the answer to the question, is a master’s degree worth it, may be a definite no if you have to go into a lot of debt to get your degree and you don’t see any return on your investment.
Here’s how you can decide if a grad program makes sense for you.
What does your program cost?
The cost of earning a master’s degree can vary substantially by program and academic institution.
Unfortunately, costs have been rising rapidly. In fact, a study conducted by the Urban Institute revealed average prices for a full-time master’s degree as an in-state student at a public university jumped from $7,780 in the 2005-06 academic year to $11,100 in the 2015- 2016 year. During that same time period, the average annual tuition costs for a master’s degree at a private nonprofit school went from $21,530 per year to $25,160 annually.
In more recent years, Peterson’s, an educational service company, reported that the average cost of tuition and fees for a master’s degree program at a public university is now close to $30,000 while private universities have average annual tuition fees of close to $40,000.
The more expensive your program is, the more benefits it will need to provide in order to justify its high price.
Is it necessary to have a master’s degree to find employment?
If you’re interested in entering into certain career fields, the answer to the question, is a master’s degree worth it, may be obvious. That’s because there are some jobs where you generally must have a master’s to be able to find employment.
Some examples include physician’s assistants, marriage and family therapists, speech language pathologists, and many other professions — especially in the healthcare industry.
If you’re passionate about a particular profession and you need a degree to be eligible to work in the field, you’ll need to attend a graduate program even if doing so comes at a high cost.
What type of salary bump comes from earning a master’s degree?
Earning a master’s degree usually results in a higher paycheck — and that salary bump occurs shortly after leaving school.
In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics found that among 25 to 34-year-olds who worked full time, median earnings were:
- $70,000 for those who had earned a master’s degree or higher
- $55,700 for those who had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher
- $35,000 for those who had earned only a high school diploma
That means workers with at least a master’s degree earn an average of 26% more than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees only. This big discrepancy in earnings can go a long way towards justifying an affirmative answer when asking is graduate school worth it.
Of course, these are just averages. In some professions, the salary increase that comes from earning a master’s degree is even more substantial. In others, there’s an inherent limit on how much you can earn due to the nature of the work, so earning a more advanced degree may not raise your pay as much.
You can research salaries for your particular career field to help you decide if grad school is worth it. A good rule of thumb is that if your total student loan debt will be less than the starting salary you earn after earning your degree, you can likely repay your loans in 10 years or less and taking on the debt probably makes sense financially.
How can you finance your master’s degree?
Your ability to finance your degree is also going to play a role when you’re answering the question, is grad school worth it.
If you can cover much of the cost of tuition through work study programs and savings, then it makes a lot more sense to attend than if you have to borrow the entire amount — especially if you can qualify only for a limited amount of low interest loans.
The reality is, graduate programs are increasingly being financed by student debt. In fact, the Center for American Progress reported that around 40% of all federal student loans issued annually are made to students enrolled in graduate programs. The total amount grad students are borrowing adds up to a whopping $37 billion annually.
You need to consider both the amount you’ll borrow and the cost of your loans. If you can borrow at a reasonable rate, you’re likely to get a very different answer to the question, is graduate school worth it, than someone who can’t qualify for favorable loans.
Ultimately, any debt you take on is going to add to the cost of your program — but if you shop around for the right loans, keep your borrowing to a minimum, and can increase your salary substantially by earning an advanced degree,a masters degree is most likely worth it. If you can’t do that, then you may want to think about pursuing a different path.
So is graduate school worth it?
Only you can answer the question, is getting a master’s degree worth it. The decision to continue on with your education is a big one. Be sure to research all of your options including affordable grad programs as well as career opportunities in your field when you make your choice.