Is there really a point to going to grad school in this day and age? Jon Fortenbury takes a look.
Laura Davila is trying to decide between law school, a graduate program related to media and technology or no grad school at all. She’s been debating it since she earned her bachelor’s degree in 2011.
“My hesitation to any graduate program is the low admission rate for prestigious schools, as well as the high cost of tuition and living expenses,” said Davila, who studied radio, television and film at the University of Texas at Austin. “I already have a large amount of debt I am worried about.”
Davila’s not the only one unsure of grad school.
With 53.6 percent of young college grads unemployed or underemployed, according to the Associated Press, and student loan debt averaging $26,600, according to The Institute for College Access & Success, many are wary of continuing their education.
So should they continue it? Let’s investigate if there’s a point to going to grad school in this day and age.
The point of grad school
Is there a practical reason to go to graduate school these days, given the current recession and job situation? Giulio Rocca, founder of Grad School Heaven, thinks there are many reasons to go.
“Completing a graduate degree offers a variety of personal and professional rewards,” Rocca said. “For the financially-minded, a graduate school education is attractive because it often results in improved career prospects and earnings’ power. Career-switchers also find graduate school appealing as a formative experience in which to acquire new skills and knowledge in order to effect a career transition. Some attend graduate school in order to obtain the requisite credentials to pursue a career in academia while others are primarily enticed by the intellectual stimulation.”
But do the numbers add up? Actually, they do.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national median weekly earnings for those with bachelor’s degrees in 2012 were $1,066. Compare that to those with master’s degrees ($1,300), professional degrees ($1,735) and doctorate degrees ($1,624). Pretty compelling reason to go to grad school, right?
Still, when Davila sees people with higher degrees struggle to find work and pay off loans, she comes back to a hesitation she’s been wrestling with for two years.
“This makes me nervous about whether it would be worth it to pay more for a degree that may still not guarantee the employment in my field of choice,” Davila said.
Grad school is a risk, since not every person who graduates is 100 percent guaranteed a job in their field. But it no doubt sets you apart from those with lesser degrees, according to Rocca.
“As higher education becomes increasingly widespread and democratized, a graduate degree retains cachet as a mark of distinction,” Rocca said.
Whether that mark of distinction lands you jobs and more money or is just a cool talking point at parties is another matter all together and something you should think about ahead of time.
Grad school: Worth the risk?
The risk factor of grad school is apparent: Will the money and time spent pay off in the long run? Some programs may cost little, like a master’s in a liberal arts field from a public university. But law school, for example, brings students on average to around $100,000 in debt, according to ABA Journal. Medical school and prestigious universities can be in the same ballpark.
Thus, Rocca doesn’t think the decision to go to grad school should be taken lightly.
“Attending graduate school represents a significant investment of time and financial resources,” Rocca said. “It’s critical for prospective students to carefully weigh the benefits and costs in order to reach a well-informed decision.”
Only you can decide if the risk is worth it.
Calculate how much the degree will cost you (estimating the interest you’ll pay if you’re taking out loans and how much you’ll be losing by not working a full-time job during school) and compare that to the average amount of money those in your selected field make. Keep in mind, you still might not make it in your selected field, so you must consider the job outlook for that field as well.
Once you’ve done that, ask yourself: Is the risk worth it? But don’t forget to think about the personal benefits to grad school in your decision, since there are many.
“While ignorance may be bliss, it’s also the case that education cultivates the mind and ultimately leads to a slightly if not substantially more complete understanding of life, the world and the universe,” Rocca said.
The point of grad school: Earning more money and landing better jobs or improving your understanding the universe. Not so bad, right?
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