Many new graduates and even those who have been in the workforce for a few years consider returning to school for advanced degrees. But several recent articles, including those in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, questioned the cost-to-benefit ratio of graduate school.
When looking at the costs associated with pursuing an advanced degree, it’s important to remember that there are myriad factors to consider, all which have their own pros and cons. M.B.A. programs, for example, are often pursued full time over the course of a year to encourage development of strong networks in addition to academics, but this often requires students to sacrifice a paycheck while working on their degree. However, the payoff may be worth the steep short-term costs as many business students see an increase in pay after receiving a M.B.A. Alternatively, there are many other programs, such as M.Ed. or M.S. degrees, which can be pursued part time, often through evening or online classes. This type of schedule allows the student to continue working part or full time while pursuing their degree.
Another important factor that weighs on the overall cost of a graduate degree is where the degree comes from. For some careers, particularly business and legal professions, the brand recognition of a particular school on a degree may have a greater payoff—but come at a steeper cost—than the degree itself.
If you’re thinking about pursuing an advanced degree, there are several factors you should consider as you begin analyzing the ratio of costs to benefits. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Who has the job that I want? Do they have an advanced degree? (You could even ask to meet with them to discuss how important they feel their degree is to the role they have.)
- Which schools offer the degree I’m interested in? What types of program options—full time, part time, online only—are available to me? Is there an industry standard (e.g., M.B.A.s pursue degrees during one-year full-time programs)?
- Does it matter what school my degree comes from? What are the costs associated with those institutions?
- Can I cover the expenses myself or will I need to take out loans? What loan options are available to me?
- What would be the overall cost to achieving this degree? (Remember to include not only class and program fees but transportation, materials, and other associated fees as well.) What is the short-term financial benefit? What is the long-term financial benefit?
- Are there other ways I can achieve similar benefits (promotions, increase in pay, different career path) without an advanced degree, such as certificate programs?
Remember, in addition to the pure financial costs and benefits associated with earning an advanced degree come many other factors that may be more difficult to analyze, including work/life balance.
Some advanced degrees have very high costs, but they may also come with big rewards. You’re the only one who can decide if a particular advanced degree is worth the cost to you.