Is a Master’s degree worth it? Not always.
For some people, going to graduate school is a no-brainer. If you’re committed to becoming a doctor or lawyer, then you must spend several years studying for your M.D. or J.D.
But for others, there’s no clear answer to “Should I go to grad school?” In fact, there are plenty of circumstances where getting a Master’s degree doesn’t make sense.
Should I go to grad school? 7 reasons to skip it
1. The degree has a low return on investment
When attending graduate school, you’ll spend a lot of time and money getting your degree. Plus, you’ll miss out on a year or more of income that you would have earned if you’d been working full-time instead.
All of these costs can be worth it if the graduate degree has a high return on investment. But what if you end up spending a lot more than you’ll earn back?
If your investment exceeds the returns, then a Master’s degree could be a poor use of your time and money.
Of course, this framework leaves out the non-tangible benefits of graduate education. But unless you’re independently wealthy, you can’t ignore the financial realities of attending graduate school.
2. You’ll have to take out major student loans
The average graduate student can expect to leave school with $40,000 to $60,000 in student loan debt — and that’s not even including the costs of living, books, and other fees.
Most students take out student loans to pay for grad school and many of these students already have debt from college. All of this loan debt could take a lifetime to pay off.
Before taking out student loans, ask yourself if your first-year salary will exceed your loan balance. Will you make more than you borrowed? If the answer is no, then the graduate degree may just bring you financial hardship.
3. You don’t need a Master’s degree
If you’re going to devote a year or more to graduate school, you should see specific benefits to your career. Perhaps you’re meeting requirements for a new field, like a psychologist or lawyer. Or maybe the graduate degree will land you a promotion or pay raise in your current job, as it would if you’re a public school teacher.
But if the degree is unnecessary, it’s probably not worth it. Computer engineers, for example, can earn six figures without ever going back to school, according to U.S. News.
Plus, you run the risk of becoming over-qualified for a position. If your target jobs don’t need a graduate degree, employers may prefer candidates who match a lower pay scale.
4. You’re avoiding the job hunt
Sometimes college graduates go to graduate school as a way to delay entering the workforce. When you’ve been going to school for 17 years straight, it’s tough to transition away from being a student.
But wanting to stay on a college campus isn’t a strong enough reason to get your Master’s. If you’re not pursuing academia, you’ll need professional experience on your resume.
Most employers prefer candidates with skills they can only learn on the job, so your graduate degree may not take you very far if you don’t have on-the-job experience to back it up.
5. You feel lukewarm about the field
Graduate school is demanding. Before you even set foot on campus, you’ll spend months preparing your application, writing essays, and studying for exams such as the GRE.
Courses are tough and many programs include an internship, too. It’s especially hard to get back into student mode if you’ve been out of college for a few years or have to balance work and family with your studies.
If you’re going to make this commitment, make sure you’re passionate about the field. If your interest is only lukewarm, you’ll struggle to make it through the program.
6. Other people are pressuring you into it
Your decision to attend grad school shouldn’t come from your parents. For one, your career choices are totally up to you. Secondly, the job landscape looks a lot differently now than it did a generation ago.
People often offer well-meaning advice, but it’s not always well-informed. Even if it is, the advice may not be right for you.
Attending graduate school is a big decision. Make sure you’re fully behind it before applying.
7. You’re still exploring your options
Graduate school isn’t about exploring your options. It’s about deliberately choosing a specific course of study to get a degree you need for your career.
This career-oriented mindset is clear when you apply. To get into graduate school, you’ll write a statement of purpose. Admissions officers want specific reasons why you’re applying. They want to see what relevant experience you have and how the program will advance your career.
If you’re still exploring, you’re not ready for graduate school. Only until you can write an honest, goal-oriented application essay are you prepared to apply.
Is a Master’s degree worth it? Find out before applying
A Master’s degree is a significant investment of your time, energy, and money. Before pursuing one, do your research. Consider where the degree will lead you and how your starting salary will compare to your student loan debt.
Reflect on your specific reasons for attending and your career goals for the future. This will help you answer the question of “Should I go to grad school?” If your answer is yes, you’ll be ready to put together a compelling graduate school application.
Which graduate degrees have a high return on investment? Check out these 10 lucrative graduate degrees that will make you $100k or more.
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