Earlier this summer, one of Nav.it’s student employees (intern) said, “My dad told me I should just go to grad school.”
Just go to grad school? Are you telling her to spend years studying and paying thousands of dollars? For what?
As a millennial, I watched a lot of my friends follow their parents’ advice. They took out massive loans and joined the job market when wages were depressed. Now, they’re putting off having kids and struggling with rising interest rates to buy their first homes. Many live at home with their parents or other older family members.
So, sorry, Dad. We’re going to have to disagree politely.
The Nav.it take on grad school:
So, you’re thinking about graduate school. That’s great! But before diving in headfirst, you should consider a few things—namely, your career goals.
What do you want to do with your degree? What kind of career do you want to have? These are important questions to answer before deciding whether or not grad school is the right choice for you.
Before considering grad school as the next step, students and professionals should career planfirst.
What’s career planning?
Career planning is a process that can help you take stock of your skills and interests. With this information, you figure out what steps to take to achieve your goals professionally and financially.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
1. Will this degree actually help me get a job?
According to the research site educationdata.org, 9% of Americans have master’s degrees. However, graduate degrees increased their employability by less than 3%.
How can you tell whether or not the degree will help you get a job?
There are a few key ways to research whether your degree will help you get the job you want. The first is to utilize online resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This website allows you to look up specific careers and see their educational requirements.
Another way to research whether your degree will help you get the job you want is to consult with a career counselor. Career counselors are professionals who can help you assess your skills and interests and match them with potential careers. They can also provide you with information about specific jobs and industries.
Finally, you can talk to people who are already working in the field that you’re interested in. They can tell you firsthand whether or not a degree is necessary for the job and what kind of job market there is for someone with your qualifications.
2. Is the ROI worth it?
Grad school isn’t an excuse to avoid the real world or delay making important life decisions. It’s an investment. Whether or not there is a return on your investment depends on several factors.
First, let’s break down what ROI is.
What is ROI?
ROI, or “return on investment,” is a business and finance term that measures how much money you make in relation to how much you spend. In other words, it’s a way to gauge whether or not your investments are paying off.
There are several different ways to calculate ROI, but the most common is to take the amount of money you’ve made from your investment and divide it by the amount of money you spent on that investment.
For example, let’s say you invested $100 in a stock that went up by 10%. Your return on investment would be 10% ($10/$100).
Of course, ROI is not always that simple. In reality, a number of factors can affect your ROI, such as the length of time you held the investment, the fees you paid, and so on.
Examples of Graduate School ROI
Your ROI is the money you’ll make after graduation minus the cost of attendance. Attendance costs include tuition, fees, books, and other necessary expenses. It does not include room and board, which can vary depending on your living situation.
To calculate your ROI, you’ll need to know two things: the average salary of someone in your field with a graduate degree and the cost of attendance at the school you’re considering.
What you study (and which advanced degree you select) matters
The average salary of someone with a graduate degree varies depending on the field. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for an engineer with a master’s degree is $84,700 annually. Those pursuing a Master of Science (MS), Master of Business Administration (MBA), and Master of Law (LLM) can see an increase of up to 150%. According to U.S. News, those who received their MBA and accepted jobs before the pandemic received a median base salary of $115,000: nearly $10,000 more than those without an MBA.
Meanwhile, those pursuing Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) can typically see an increase between 19-25%, which isn’t nearly as much as their counterparts mentioned above.
The cost of attendance also varies depending on the school. For example, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of attendance at a public university for one year is $33,215 for in-state students and $58,135 for out-of-state students. The average private university attendance price is $43,589 per year.
Now that you know the average salary for someone in your field and the cost of attendance at the school you’re considering, you can calculate your simple ROI.
If you’re an engineer with a master’s degree from a public university, your ROI would be $84,700 – $33,215 = $51,485. If you’re a lawyer with a Juris Doctor degree from a private university, your ROI would be $118,160 – $43,589 = $74,571.
Other opportunity costs of graduate school
We tackled the most obvious cost (tuition), but other costs are also associated with getting a higher degree.
One of the non-monetary costs of going to grad school is time. It takes time to complete a higher degree, meaning you’re not working and earning an income. You may have to give up a job or an opportunity to work in your field while in school.
Finally, non-monetary costs are associated with a grad student’s lifestyle. For example, you may need to live in a less expensive area, move back home, or forego some conveniences and luxuries that you’re used to.
When you’re considering the ROI of going to grad school, it’s important to consider all of the costs, both monetary and non-monetary.
3. What are my career goals?
While it’s obvious that a doctor has to pursue post-graduate studies at medical school, some other career paths aren’t so clear. If you’re unsure whether grad school is right for you, there are a few things you can do to help figure out your career goals.
Start by defining your goals.
What do you hope to achieve by pursuing graduate school? Do you want to advance your career, change fields, or gain new skills? Once you know what you hope to accomplish, you can start researching paths to help you meet those goals.
Research your options.
Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start looking into specific paths. Talk to friends and colleagues who have gone through the process, and seek advice from current students and professionals in your field.
4. Can I achieve my goals without a graduate degree?
There are some fields where a graduate degree isn’t required, but it may still be helpful. If you’re unsure whether a higher degree is necessary for your goals, researching your desired field or job can help you make a decision.
What do alternatives look like?
Get experience in your field. The best way to learn about your chosen field is to get experience. Internships, volunteer work, and part-time jobs can allow you to explore your interests and gain valuable skills.
Network with professionals in your field. Meeting people already working in your field can give you a better sense of what it’s like and what kinds of opportunities are available. Attend professional meetings or events, or reach out to professionals you know personally.
Get a professional certificate. If you’re set on furthering your education, there are plenty of options besides grad school. You could get a professional certification or take classes at a community college or online.
Keep your options open.
Don’t feel like you have to make a decision right away. You can always change your mind later on. The important thing is to keep exploring and learning about your options.
5. How will I pay for this degree?
Few things in life are more expensive than furthering your education. And if you’re not careful, you can find yourself buried under a mountain of debt.
Fortunately, there are a few different ways to pay for grad school. You can take out student loans, self-pay, or utilize scholarships and employer-provided tuition assistance. Let’s take a closer look at each of these options:
Taking out student loans is one of the most common ways to pay for grad school.
Most students take out both private and public loans to finance their education. But what’s the difference between the two? And which one is right for you?
Let’s break it down.
Banks, credit unions, and other private lenders offer private loans. They typically have lower interest rates than public loans but also require a co-signer.
Public loans, on the other hand, are offered by the government. They typically have higher interest rates but don’t require a co-signer.
So which one should you choose?
It depends on your situation. If you have good credit and can find a private lender offering low-interest rates, a private loan might be the better option. But a public loan might be your best bet if you don’t have good credit or you can’t find a low-interest rate.
Of course, there are other factors to consider, like repayment terms and deferment options. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which type of loan is right for you.
Also, if you go this route, you’ll need to be diligent about making your payments on time and in full. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself saddled with a ton of debt that could take years to pay off.
If you have the resources, self-paying for grad school is an excellent option. Not only will you avoid taking on any debt, but you’ll also be able to focus on your studies rather than worrying about how you will make your loan payments each month.
Another great way to pay for grad school is by securing scholarships. Different organizations and foundations offer scholarships specifically for graduate students. Doing a bit of research can go a long way in helping you find the right scholarship for you.
Employer-Provided Tuition Assistance:
Many employers offer tuition assistance programs to help employees pay for grad school. If your employer offers this benefit, take advantage of it. The catch? You may be required to maintain a certain grade point average or work a number of years.
6. Do I have the time to commit to a graduate program?
Different programs have different time requirements, and it’s important to be aware of these before you make any decisions.
According to a recent survey, the average part-time graduate student spends about 2-4 hours per day on their studies. This includes time spent in class, working on assignments, and studying for exams.
Full-time graduate students typically spend between 8 and 10 hours per day on their studies. This includes time spent in class, working on assignments, and studying for exams.
We talked to a few current and former grad students to find out. Here’s what they had to say:
“I was a full-time student, so I spent most of my day in classes or studying. I spent at least 6 hours per day studying, and often more on days when I had exams or papers due. The unique thing about my program was the number of hours we spent in a lab. Some semesters, we spent most of the day in the lab and still had to go home to study.”
“My program took three years of part-time attendance for me to graduate. It’s hard to say exactly how many hours per day I spent studying because it varied a lot. Some days I would only study for an hour or two, and other days I would study for most of the day, sacrificing vacation time and weekends. It really depended on my class schedule and how much work I had to do.”
Here, we break down the typical time commitments of different post-graduate programs.
A master’s degree typically requires two years of full-time study. However, some programs may allow you to complete your studies on a part-time basis, which would extend the duration of your program.
A doctoral degree generally takes four years to complete, although this may vary depending on the program and institution. Some programs may also offer the opportunity to study part-time, which would again extend the duration of your program.
A postdoctoral fellowship usually lasts two years, although this may vary depending on the program and institution. Fellowships are generally research-focused and provide the opportunity to gain experience in your field.
As you can see, the time commitment required for post-graduate studies varies depending on your chosen program. It’s important to be aware of this before making any decisions, as it can significantly impact your life.
7. What is the admissions process like?
The admissions process for grad school can vary depending on the program you’re applying to. For example, some programs may require an entrance exam like the LSAT, GMAT, or GRE, while others may not. Account for the time you’ll need to study to achieve an acceptable entry score.
There are also some general things that you can expect when applying to grad school, like submitting transcripts, recommendations, and a personal statement. Your application will likely include transcripts, test scores, and a personal statement. You may also be required to have an interview.
8. What are the requirements for this degree?
We all know that grad school is no joke. It takes years of hard work and dedication to be considered for admission into most programs. But what exactly do schools look for when they’re reviewing applications? Let’s break it down.
First and foremost, schools want to see that you have the academic chops to handle graduate-level coursework. This means having a strong GPA, preferably from a well-respected institution. They’ll also be looking at your GRE or GMAT scores to get an idea of your quantitative and verbal reasoning abilities.
In addition to your academic credentials, schools will also be interested in your professional experience. Many programs require several years of work experience under your belt before applying. They want to see that you’re capable of handling the rigors of graduate-level work and have the maturity to cope with professional career challenges.
Finally, schools will also examine your personal statement and letters of recommendation. These provide insight into who you are as a person and why you’re interested in the program.
TLDR: Deciding whether or not grad school is worth it for you
Deciding whether or not to pursue graduate school can be a difficult one. There are many factors to consider, and it’s not always clear what the best path forward is. If you’re unsure whether grad school is right for you, there are a few things you can do to help figure out your career goals.
1. Define your goals. What do you hope to achieve by pursuing graduate school? Do you want to advance your career, change fields, or gain new skills? Once you know what you hope to accomplish, you can start researching programs to help you meet those goals.
2. Consider your timeline. How soon do you want to start grad school? Are you looking for a full-time or part-time program? Do you want to attend classes on campus or online? Answering these questions will help you narrow your options and find programs that fit your schedule.
3. Research your options. Once you know what you want to achieve and how much time you have to commit, you can start looking into specific programs. Talk to friends and colleagues who have gone through the process, and seek advice from current students and professionals in your field.
4. Make a decision. Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to decide. If you’re still feeling unsure, don’t be afraid to talk to a career counselor or advisor. They can help you weigh the pros and cons of different options and determine what’s best for your career.