This article is on Grad School. Graduate school can offer great opportunities to further your skill set and increase your earning potential, but it requires significant investments of time and money. Considering the tradeoffs, is grad school worth it? The answer to that question lies in the difference between the promise of future career prospects and the burden of debt and lost income in the short term.
In general, people with advanced degrees do take home more income. And grad school does tend to set people on a successful career trajectory, if they know what direction they want to go. In this article, we detail the advantages of earning a graduate degree and list some steps to help you determine if grad school is worth it for you.
What is grad school?
Graduate schools are universities that offer advanced courses in specific subjects to prepare students for the career of their choice. The specific requirements to be accepted into graduate school vary by program, but typically you must possess a bachelor’s degree and an acceptable grade point average (GPA). Additionally, you may need to take and pass a standardized test that measures readiness for graduate school, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), or your aptitude for professional programs, like the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). If you are currently earning your bachelor’s degree and plan to pursue a graduate degree directly after graduation, consider preparing for and taking these tests during your junior year of undergraduate studies.
There are several different types of graduate degrees, such as:
Depending on your bachelor’s degree, you can pursue a variety of master’s degrees, including a Master of Arts (M.A.), Science (M.S.), Fine Arts (MFA), Business Administration (MBA) or Public Health (MPH).
Typically, students must earn a master’s degree in a related field or have a set amount of relevant work experience before they can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.). The usefulness of a Ph.D. varies depending on the field of study, but many use this graduate degree to teach at the collegiate level.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, some people decide to pursue a specialist degree where they can gain certification and training in a professional or industry specialization. Some examples of specialist degrees include a Master of Library and Information Science (MLS), Psychology Specialist (PsyS) and Education Specialist (M.Ed. or EdD).
You also have the option to pursue a professional degree after finishing your undergraduate studies. These graduate degrees are specific to and required for certain professions. Some examples of professional degrees include:
Juris Doctor (JD)
Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Doctor of Chiropractic (DC)
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
What are the advantages of going to grad school?
Here are some of the benefits of pursuing a graduate degree:
Better job opportunities
When you have higher education and more training in your field, it often results in better job prospects. Your graduate school could qualify you for upper-level positions that are unavailable to individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree. For example, depending on your field and industry, your graduate degree could make you eligible for leadership roles or specialist positions.
Higher earning potential
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a survey to compare the average weekly income of individuals with varying degrees. Those with a higher degree of education often had higher job earnings. Specific degrees prepare you to work in specialized fields that pay higher average salaries because of the extensive training involved with the industry or profession. Additionally, some employers value graduate degrees in their industry, so they pay individuals that possess them a higher salary.
Here’s a look at what the 2019 survey discovered about the average weekly income of individuals with varying degrees of education:
Associate degree: $862
Bachelor’s degree: $1,198
Master’s degree: $1,434
Doctoral degree: $1,825
Professional degree: $1,884
Certain careers require a graduate degree
Depending on the career path that you would like to pursue, you may need to earn a graduate degree to work in your chosen profession. Here are some examples of jobs where you need to have a graduate degree. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
National average salary: $79,375 per year
Primary duties: Audiologists are responsible for diagnosing and treating problems that occur in a patient’s ear, such as balance or hearing issues. Aside from earning a doctoral degree, audiologists must secure licensing before they can practice.
National average salary: $79,449 per year
Primary duties: A prosthetist designs and develops medical supportive devices, such as prosthetic limbs. To accomplish this, they measure and then fit each patient for the limb they need. Prosthetists can work in different places and industries, like hospitals, doctors’ offices, health and personal care stores or manufacturing. To become a prosthetist, they must earn a master’s degree, pass a certification exam and complete a residency.
National average salary: $83,117 per year
Primary duties: Speech-language pathologists work with adults and children to evaluate, diagnose, treat and then help them overcome swallowing and communication disorders. These professionals can be found in hospitals, health care facilities and schools. To become a speech-language pathologist, they must earn a master’s degree and, depending on the state, become licensed to practice.
National average salary: $87,665 per year
Primary duties: Physical therapists usually work in nursing homes, patients’ homes, hospitals, clinics and private offices, where they treat ill or injured individuals to manage their pain and improve their movement. Before they can enter this occupation, aspiring physical therapists must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and become licensed.
National average salary: $114,398 per year
Primary duties: Unlike registered nurses, nurse practitioners can coordinate and provide specialty and primary health care for patients. They work in a variety of settings, including physicians’ offices, hospitals and clinics. To practice, nurse practitioners must earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing degree, obtain state licensing and pass a national certification exam.
Potential to teach or research at the collegiate level
Most universities and community colleges require that the researchers and professors on their staff possess graduate degrees. You need a doctoral degree to teach or conduct research at most universities, while some smaller colleges may only require that you have a master’s degree.
Improves applications to professional school
If you would like to eventually earn a professional degree, such as an MD or a JD, you could get an optional graduate degree in a related field before attending one of these programs to develop industry-specific skills that may set you apart from other applicants. It can also allow you to practice advanced studying techniques and prepare for the more specialized writing, research and other program-specific duties required in professional programs.
How can you decide if graduate school is worth it?
Here are some steps to help you decide if earning a graduate degree would be beneficial for you and your career goals:
1. Analyze your career goals
Depending on the career, a graduate degree could be necessary to be successful in the field. Determine what roles and leadership responsibilities you’d like to have in your professional future to see which graduate school programs can help you advance.
2. Explore the professional possibilities
Research the opportunities that are available to individuals with the degree, and consider whether any of the careers seem like a good fit for you. You should also look into the demand for these skills and professions so that you can gauge how easily graduates can find employment within the industry.
3. Examine how much you can expect to earn after graduating
It’s important to evaluate how much graduates make when entering the field as well as how much you could potentially earn after gaining professional experience. Understanding the earning potential of a degree can help you choose the one that best suits your salary goals.
4. Evaluate the cost
The cost of tuition, books and additional fees for graduate programs is a financial investment. Additionally, depending on the degree, it can be a challenge for students to work while studying to earn a graduate degree, which may limit earning potential while in school. Analyze the costs and explore all of your scholarship options to ensure you’re ready for this investment in your education and professional future.
5. Compare the cost to your earning potential
Determine your potential salary so you can evaluate whether the graduate degree provides a good return on investment. Be sure to also analyze how long it may take you to pay off the student loans and if this debt is likely to affect your earning potential.
6. Consult friends and family
For some careers and professional goals, graduate school is worth the investment of time, money and effort. It can be helpful to present this information and your thoughts to a friend, loved one or mentor so they can help you make the best decision for your professional future.
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