With tuition costs on the rise, it’s only natural to want to assess what kind of a return you’ll get on your investment in grad school. So, how do you determine if it’s worth the money?
There is no one answer to that question. Your path to grad school—and the value you gain from it—can vary greatly. You may be set on going to a renowned and pricey school, or you may choose a more economical option. You may be eligible for a scholarship that will defray a lot of your costs, or maybe your employer will sponsor part of your schooling.
Before you make the big decision, ask yourself the following big questions.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Going to Grad School
Why do I want to go to grad school? Prioritizing your reasons for attending grad school is an important first step. After all, it’s hard to assess the value of a degree if you don’t first determine what you want to get out of that degree. Is your number one goal to increase your earning potential? There’s certainly data that would indicate this is a worthy endeavor. According to a Forbes article on the subject, more than 20 percent of open positions in the U.S. prefer or require graduate-level education, yet only 11 percent of the US population holds an advanced degree.
What do I want to do with my degree? Studies show that earning a master’s degree increases your earning potential, but that potential varies depending on your field. Take a look at some of the highest paying graduate degrees. Check out payscale.com and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to get a sense of how in demand your skills are and what your earning potential is.
What is the net price to attend my grad school of choice? It’s easy to get sticker shock when looking at tuition costs, but before you panic, remember that you aren’t likely to have to pay full price for many schools. Talk with the financial aid office at the university to see what they offer for scholarships, grants, and other aid. Be sure to find out the criteria for maintaining that aid and whether that aid is renewable each year that you’re enrolled. Also, you might want to explore opportunities to become a teaching assistant or research assistant to help pay for school.
How soon do students graduate from my top school? If the average student takes an extra semester to graduate, they could be paying a hefty cost to do so. Take that into consideration when you make your calculations.
What are some additional ways I can save money? Check out some “best buy” schools. As Author Edward B. Fiske explains, “One of the lesser-known facts of life about higher education in the U.S. is that price and quality do not always go hand in hand. The college or university with the jumbo price tag may or may not offer a better education than the institution across town with the much lower tuition.”
What percentage of students are gainfully employed in their chosen field the year they graduate? This is particularly important if you have student loans coming due soon.
What connections will you gain through your time at the university? There are certainly institutions where the prestige and alumni network can serve you well in your future, if you choose to tap into them.
When should I go to grad school? Some students prefer to spend a few years gaining real-world career experience before they attend grad school so they can put the principles they learned while earning their undergraduate degree to use in their work. In addition, many master’s degree programs want students who have career skills, so gaining work experience may help you get into grad school.
If you’re considering delaying graduate school, you might want to talk with the admissions counselor at the school you’re considering to discuss the pros and cons and think about when to apply. For example, there are some universities that will allow you to apply now and defer admission for one to two years.
However, the value of higher education doesn’t always come down to strictly financial benefits.
Getting a degree isn’t just about earning potential. Look at the intangibles. You don’t just want an education that will help you pay the bills. You want one that is intellectually stimulating—and adds value to your life. Many studies have found that those with a thirst for knowledge not only have greater opportunities for advancement but also tend to be happier in their jobs.
Ultimately, grad school should give you a wealth of skills that make you a more well-rounded individual, personally and professionally.