When Is Grad School Worth It?

By Ryan Morris
Aug. 22, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

Deciding whether or not to go to grad school is a tough choice. If you’re in college, it can often seem like grad school is a natural step, even if your plan is to start work soon after.

On the other hand, you don’t have to look far to find horror stories of people who have decided to go to grad school wound up deciding the whole thing was a mistake.

So how do you decide whether or not going to grad school is the right choice for you? We’ve put together a few tips to help you figure out how to make this tough decision on your own.

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important to think about why you’re considering grad schools, and to make sure you have specific goals that grad school can help you achieve.

  • Certain jobs do require master’s degrees or offer higher pay scales for applicants who have them.

  • Grad school is also expensive, though there may be scholarships or grants available that can help with tuition.

when is grad school worth it

Why Are You Going to Grad School?

Before you make any decision, you have to think about why you’re going to grad school. And if you don’t immediately have a good reason, then you should probably just skip it entirely.

The thing about grad school is that any amount of additional schooling is going to be expensive: The deeper you get, the more loans you’re going to be taking out, and the longer it will take you to start working and start paying those loans off.

There are a lot of excellent reasons to go to grad school. If you plan on being an educator, for example, you’re going to need at least a master’s for most positions, if not a PhD.

Additionally, certain jobs require master’s degrees, and even having one in an industry where it isn’t required can give you a leg up in terms of getting promoted or getting paid.

But if you’re not clear on all of this from the get-go, or you’re just using grad school as extra time to “find yourself,” then watch out. You’re going to find yourself getting in quickly over your head with an education you don’t need in an industry that’s just fine without you.

The Big Problem: Paying For Grad School

The biggest problem with getting additional education is, of course, having to pay for it. There is a student loan crisis in the US right now.

Student loan debts are rising dramatically, and defaulting on those loans can result in disciplinary action such as increased interest rates or even the cancellation of any certifications you might have until such time that you’re able to make payments again.

Student loan providers have a lot of power over the average debt-holder, so owing debt is not a situation you want to be in for long if you can help it. But there are a few things you can do to keep costs down:

  • Make a budget. Figure out early on what a school’s tuition will cost you, along with any hidden fees that might exist. Then put together a budget — can you really cover these expenses along with the ones that you’re going to have outside of these, like basic living or medical expenses?

  • Research career earnings. If the reason you’re getting additional education is purely to increase your earning potential, figure out what that potential is upfront.

    Will the increased earnings be enough to cover the additional debt payments you’ll be stuck with once school is over? And are the skills you’re going to be learning things that you would have picked up regardless while on the job?

  • Look into scholarships. If you can, just don’t pay for it at all — find a place where scholarships will totally cover all of your debts to the school, or where tuition itself is free. Those places are scarce, but they are out there.

  • Look into grants. Grants are need-based as opposed to scholarships, which are typically based on merit.

  • Work-study programs. Depending on the institution and your circumstances, you may be able to attain part-time employment on campus to reduce the cost of your education.

  • Consider becoming a teacher/research assistant. Many graduates teach seminars for large lecture classes. You can also become a research assistant and help a professor or team of professors with their work. You may receive a stipend for such work, or the cost of your tuition might be lowered.

  • Tuition assistance/reimbursement. If you already have a job, your employer might sponsor part or all of your education. Or, they may reimburse you once you graduate successfully. Talk to your HR department about whether this is part of your benefits package.

What Does Being “Worth It” Mean to You?

Ultimately, you are the ultimate decider of the “worth” of your graduate degree. That’s because the true value of an education is largely intangible — if the education itself is valuable to you, then it’s already worth the cost.

Of course, not everybody thinks about it in those terms — to many, education is just a stepping stone on a way to a good job. What’s more, the cost of getting an education today has made the whole process into something very high stakes.

To recap, here are a few good reasons to get graduate-level education:

  • If you’re reasonably sure that getting one will increase your earning potential down the line. Use salary websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Payscale, and Salary.com.

    Look specifically at the difference in earnings between someone with and without a graduate degree in your field, position, and geographical region. You’ll notice that some jobs have much wider gaps in earnings than others.

  • If you can go about getting this education in a way that doesn’t ruin you financially. If you can use one of the methods outlined above to offset some of the costs of graduate school, then you’re already in a good position.

    Alternatively, you could figure out a way to continue working part-time while going to school, or simply enter into graduate school with substantial savings.

  • If you require the education for a job you want. Some jobs like to see post-graduate degrees; other jobs require them. If you’ve got your heart set on a career path that demands a graduate degree, then it’s certainly worth the investment to achieve your dream.

  • If you want to work with specific people. Some graduates are drawn by the prospect of working alongside or learning from top-notch professionals in their field. If you can attend such a prestigious organization, the networking opportunities alone might be worth the price of admission.

    Getting a reference from a well-known name and building up relationships with people who know what’s what in your field will help start your career on the best possible ground.

  • If you really want to have the education. So far, we’ve been doing this from a pure dollars and cents point-of-view. But if you’re the type that values education and knowledge for its own sake, then it’s absolutely worth your time.

    However, we still recommend that you ensure your financial stability for the duration of your time at graduate school.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much do people with master’s degrees make?

    On average, people with master’s degrees make about $200 more per week than people with bachelor’s degrees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earning of a worker with a bachelor’s degree is around $1,300, while the median weekly earning with a master’s degree is around $1,500.

  • How much does grad school cost?

    Grad school costs an average of $30,000 to $40,000. At more high-end or prestigious institutions, grad school can cost up to $100,000.

  • What type of master’s degree pays the most?

    Engineering jobs tend to pay the most for master’s degrees. Other high-paying jobs with master’s degree include jobs in the medical and finance fields.

Final Thoughts

It’s perhaps a little underwhelming to answer “is it worth it to get an education?” with just the answer “if it’s worth it to you,” but it really is something that you have to decide for yourself. If you’re the kind of person for whom education is just an investment, then the answer is easy.

“Is grad school going to be worth the investment?” For the vast majority of job-seekers, no — the years of lost earnings and lost experience are likely worth more cash, even long-term (think about starting your retirement account 2-4 years earlier), than paying for graduate school.

There are obvious exceptions, but for the most part, you’re just going to accrue more and more debt while not working. And to be frank, if the only reason why you’re in grad school is to make more money later on, the people around you probably won’t want you there anyway.

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Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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