How Do You Know When It’s Time to Get a Graduate Degree?June 7, 2019
The most recent data from the Digest of Education Statistics show that over 54% of those completing graduate studies take on student loans, and the average loan amount for grad school is over $70,000. With so much at stake, isn’t it worth a serious analysis of the value?
Develop a Decision Matrix to Help You Decide
A decision matrix is an analytical tool that helps you compare different factors when making a choice. If you are about to take on more student debt to continue your education, a personal decision matrix that weighs the following questions can help you clarify your values and decide what makes both personal and financial sense.
- Why do you want a graduate degree? Motivation is a complex process, and you may not know what is driving you to continue your education. A little self-analysis is in order. Do you think graduate work will elevate your prestige, make you an industry authority, or help you find a more challenging job? Or are you afraid of leaving your college comfort zone and entering the workforce?
- Do the jobs in your field of study match your talents and disposition? Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment or enjoy working with the public? Perhaps a predictable or solitary workplace suits you more. If you’ve never been employed in your chosen field, it might be wise to work for a while after completing your bachelor’s degree. You’ll get a better understanding of employment opportunities and personal satisfaction levels before investing more time and money toward an advanced degree. Working before pursuing a graduate program has two other distinct advantages:
- You can make progress toward paying off undergrad student loans.
- You will have time to solidify your life and career goals.
- Will a graduate degree improve your employment and earning potential? Before committing to graduate school, do your research. Monitor the job market on sites like Indeed, Monster or Study job requirements, salaries, and the number of job openings. Talk to individuals in your field—both those with graduate degrees and those with four-year degrees. Will an advanced degree make enough difference in job availability, career stability, and earning potential to offset the time and money required to obtain it?
- Are there alternatives for enhancing your employment value? Explore professional or specialized certifications that could make you more valuable to an employer. Obtaining certificates is usually less expensive than continuing with graduate studies, and added training indicates to employers that you take the initiative and possess advanced skills.
- How will you pay for your advanced degree? If you already have student loans, adding more debt for graduate school could further delay your ability to achieve many financial milestones: marriage, purchasing a home, traveling, or starting a family. Often, grad school loans come with a higher interest rate and greater accumulated balance than undergraduate loans. You’ll need to determine whether the added earning potential of an advanced degree justifies the payments and payback period. It may also be worthwhile to explore alternatives like part-time studies and employer educational benefits to lessen the student loan burden.
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