Pros and Cons of Going to Grad School
As the end of college approaches, you may be thinking about extending your education. Or, perhaps you’re well into adulthood and considering ways to advance your career, or even eyeing a career change. In any case, the road you’re on may be leading to graduate school.
Of course, grad school is a significant investment of both time and money. Deciding whether to invest in that higher level of education is a tough choice.
To make it a little easier, this article will examine the pros and cons of attending graduate school. Weigh them carefully to determine whether grad school is right for you.
Pros of Going to Grad School
Graduate school offers several advantages, including:
More Career Opportunities
Many careers require a more advanced degree. For this reason, stopping at a bachelor’s degree can limit your options. A master’s degree often opens the door to more opportunities in your field of choice.
In many fields, advancing to a leadership position requires an advanced degree. And if you’re unsure about the career track you’re on with your undergraduate degree, grad school can help you transition to a more desirable career.
Additionally, a master’s degree can set you apart from peers with a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the field, continuing your education may make you a more competitive job candidate.
A Higher Salary (Potentially)
Generally, more education leads to a higher salary.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration can expect to earn a starting salary of $57,133. Meanwhile, a graduate with an MBA is projected to earn $84,850. That difference is close to $27,500.
Similarly, a bachelor’s in computer science will lead to an average starting salary of $68,103. A master’s degree in the same field can increase your earning potential by $14,000, with a starting salary of $82,275.
According to Monster.com, other careers in which a master’s degree really pays off (literally) include software engineering, marketing, financial advising, graphic design, and database administration.
Specialized Study in Your Field
In graduate school, you’ll gain increasingly specialized knowledge in your field while enhancing personal and professional skills. Not only is this helpful in your career, but it’s also enjoyable and interesting if you’re passionate about your area of study.
You’ll take higher level courses and gain access to equipment, technology, and laboratories you likely couldn’t use as an undergraduate student. In addition, you’ll work closely with professors who are experts in the field, often on important research projects.
The research you conduct in graduate school can earn you awards and recognition in your industry, even before graduation. For many students, these advanced learning experiences are invaluable.
In graduate school, you’ll build relationships with professors who are already experts in your field. You may complete internships or participate in partnerships with local businesses and major corporations. As a result, you’ll frequently mingle with people who can give you a leg up.
Your classmates, too, are likely future leaders in your field. The more you network with professors, peers, and other industry leaders, the more opportunities you may unlock in the future.
Cons of Going to Grad School
You should also consider some disadvantages of going to grad school, such as:
If you’re already in debt from undergraduate school, grad school will increase this debt. According to the New America Foundation, the median debt for grad students is $57,600. One in four borrowers owe $100,000 or more.
You’ll have to consider how much more money your graduate degree will earn you and if taking on additional debt is worth it.
What is the average salary in your field for someone with a master’s degree? Many experts suggest limiting your debt to this amount.
Let’s say you’re a social worker with a bachelor’s degree earning the job’s average salary of $46,000, and you’re thinking of pursuing a master’s in social work. You have $30,000 in debt from undergrad. You discover that a master’s will cost about $70,000, and will bump your salary up by somewhere around $15,000 per year. Assuming you’d have to borrow the full cost of your program, the return on your investment is debatable.
Of course, this only accounts for the financial benefits of a grad degree, and you may have other reasons that the cost is worth it to you.
Several Additional Years
Attending graduate school also delays or stalls your entrance to the workforce. Depending on your field and the type of degree you pursue, you could spend an additional 2-7 years in school. For some careers, like becoming a surgeon, you’ll be in school even longer.
With these years comes the opportunity cost of earning a salary and gaining work experience. In some fields, work experience is more valuable than an advanced education. In other fields, the opposite is true.
Do your research on how important a graduate degree is in your field, and make a wise investment with your time.
Graduate school is certainly not easy. It’s more time-consuming and typically much more stressful than undergraduate school.
You may also have to write a dissertation or thesis and complete comprehensive exams. In many programs, you’ll encounter exams that you must pass in order to continue with the program.
The amount of reading, writing, and studying in graduate school far exceeds what you experienced in college. Think carefully about whether this is a commitment you’re willing to make.
No Guarantee of Higher Salary or Better Opportunities
Finally, attending graduate school does not guarantee a higher salary or better opportunities. As mentioned above, work experience can be more valuable than a master’s degree in some fields.
Additionally, a master’s degree will probably earn you a higher salary than a bachelor’s degree. However, while you’re in school for several years, your working peers will be climbing the career ladder. By the time you complete grad school, they may be earning a salary that’s about the same as yours, and you’ll still have grad school debt to pay.
Of course, if you can work while you’re in graduate school, that will help mitigate some of this gap, but that’s not always a possibility, and even when it is, it can make for high-stress lifestyle. That said, many adults go this route, and that may be an option for you as well.
Again, it all depends on the career field you’re planning to enter. Look into the opportunities and salary you’re likely to have with a bachelor’s vs. master’s. If you have friends in the field, talk to them about whether graduate school is a wise investment.
Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons of Going to Grad School
If the career you’d like to pursue requires a graduate degree, your decision is already made. Grad school it is!
If an advanced degree isn’t required in your field, do some research to determine whether it’s worth it.
- How much will your grad school program cost? How much total debt will you have?
- After graduation, how much money will you likely earn?
- Are there career opportunities you’ll have with a graduate degree that you wouldn’t have with a master’s degree?
- Do employers in your field consider advanced education or work experience more valuable?
Before investing your time and money in graduate school, you should be confident in your decision. Do your research, talk to friends or acquaintances in the field, and think about what you really want to do.
Unless your choice of career dictates your decision, there’s no right or wrong answer.
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