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Is Graduate School Worth the Price?


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In tough economic times, many people turn to education. Colleges and universities are seeing record enrollments. Many adults return to college to finish bachelor's degrees that they put on hold years ago to enter fulfilling careers. Layoffs, extended unemployment, and the job security and financial fears that accompany a turbulent economy have made many adults flock to college as a way of gaining skills and credentials and safely weathering this economic storm. It is not just undergraduate institutions that are opening their doors to nontraditional, older and more experienced, students. Graduate schools are reporting high enrollments for the same reasons, plus an advanced degree is a credential that can make a job applicant more competitive.

Is a graduate degree really worth it? Or is it simply a good way to hide, be productive, and avoid a tough job market?

Cost of Grad School
We know that people with advanced degrees earn more, generally speaking, than those with bachelor's degrees and those without a college degree. But is the bigger paycheck enough to offset the cost of graduate study?

The first step in determining if graduate school makes financial sense is to consider the sticker price. The price of graduate programs varies dramatically and has increased over 60% in the last few years. In a public state college you might spent $10,000-$15,000 per year whereas at a private school or top tier university, you could easily spend $30,000 per year. The average masters graduate owes about $30,000. As you consider graduate programs, estimate what your monthly loan payments will be after graduation. Is it a scary figure? Although graduate degree holders are more likely to be employed and at higher salaries than other workers, nothing is certain, especially now.

Cost should not necessarily rule out graduate study. Financial aid is available, but it varies by school and by discipline. Students in the sciences can expect to receive scholarships and assistantships that cover their tuition and often offer stipends in exchange for work. Science students tend to be funded by research grants obtained by faculty members to conduct specific research projects. Students in the humanities receive little funding, largely because humanities faculty do not obtain grants as large as science faculty because they have fewer needs for laboratory space and equipment. Whether grad school is worth it might depend on what discipline you choose.

In addition to the cost of a graduate education, you must consider the money you won't make because you're in school. Many returning students are unemployed, so this piece of the equation may be moot; however, consider that you cannot look for a job or begin one and complete a graduate degree.

Benefits of Grad School
It is nearly certain that you will earn more with a graduate degree. How much more is questionable. Many students say that their decision is not entirely about money. There is a value to expanding your knowledge, learning how to become a better thinker. Graduate school can deepen your intellect and improve your appreciation of life.

Is graduate study worth it? I can't answer that for you. Consider your circumstances: Can you fund it? Can you deal with lost wages? How much do value the intrinsic aspects of graduate study? Above all, don't view graduate study as an easy or instant way to a better job and higher salary. Long term, yes. Short term? Questionable.

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