Rounding it up
A graduate degree can lead to over $1 million in additional lifetime income, per the SSA.
Graduate degrees can nevertheless impose serious debt burdens upon students.
Higher education could make you a more informed and well-rounded individual, however, grad students are uniquely susceptible to mental illness and depression.
Everyone's situation is different: Here are some ways to determine whether or not grad school is for you.
Pursuing higher education is a great opportunity to bolster your long-term income and financial wellbeing. For some. Today, it’s not always worth it to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, let alone an advanced degree such as a Master’s or PhD. Everyone eventually has to decide whether they want to pursue education, immediate employment, or some mix of the two, but not everyone will make the same choice – which is how it should be! If you’re considering grad school, it’s worth sitting down to thoroughly think through the pros and cons of that decision before you make it, and definitely before you hand in your two-weeks notice.
We’ll help you start that conversation with yourself by answering the questions: Is it worth quitting your job to go to grad school? What are the long-term pros and cons of higher education?
Here’s how to tell whether a Master’s or PhD program is the right move for you.
What are your motivations?
There are many different motivations for pursuing higher education. Determining why you want to go to grad school is an important first step. Consider some of the following common motivations:
Individuals with higher levels of education are statistically likely to earn more over their lifetimes. Attending graduate school could ensure you qualify for high-paying positions that many workers are unqualified for or position you for a substantial raise, depending on your industry.
Passion for a field
Grad school is more specialized than general undergraduate education, which is why students who are particularly passionate about a specific field often pursue an advanced degree. If you want to connect with some of the top academics in your field, grad school is a serious networking opportunity as well.
Attending grad school can also be a substantial step in a long career that’s oriented around higher education. If you can see yourself teaching students long-term, an advanced degree can equip you with the credentials and additional experience you may need. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the academic job market is quite competitive, and it’s very difficult to obtain a tenure-track position in this day and age.
Desire to publish research
Producing a Master’s research project or PhD thesis is a great opportunity for budding authors who want to produce a detailed and authoritative book or report on a specific subject. Those interested in pursuing full-time research or writing positions may find it helpful to obtain a graduate degree.
The cons of grad school
The immense costs associated with graduate school and student loans should be at the forefront of your considerations.
Pursuing a graduate degree is likely to be an incredibly expensive endeavor, which may require you to take out a student loan. This loan could be a financial burden for the foreseeable future, even if you secure a great job in the wake of graduation.
Graduate degrees in certain fields are particularly expensive; law students usually take on more than $100,000 in debt, and medical students often take on more than $200,000 in debt. Even with higher wages in the future, the short-term burdens imposed by such debts can be crippling. You should read up on how not to spend your student loan if you’re worried about managing your money when pursuing a degree.
For those who secure full-ride scholarships or attend a graduate school in a country where education is subsidized, there are still financial pitfalls associated with quitting your job in favour of earning a higher degree. Losing a steady stream of income can have a big impact on your life, and it may take years for you to regain the level of prosperity you enjoyed before you left your job.
Even if you make use of helpful budgeting tips, you’ll still find certain expenses are hard to stomach; textbooks can be extremely overpriced, for instance, and the cost of a computer and other digital devices necessary for modern studies will quickly add up. You will need to consider the basic costs of living you’ll still need to afford as well, whether you opt for dorm-life or reside in a home or apartment during school.
Finally, it’s critical to realize how stressful grad school can be. An advanced degree can put an emotional and physical strain upon the students pursuing it. Many graduate students suffer from mental health disorders and depression, according to one study. As you consider quitting your job to pursue grad school, assess your personal health and the ongoing pandemic before deciding if you have what it takes.
Are you mentally and financially prepared for grad school? Are higher wages a worthwhile benefit if they require taking on debt that might take decades to repay? Carefully weigh these cons against the pros as you consider graduate school.
The benefits of grad school
The most attractive benefits of graduate school usually have to do with earning more money. A StatsCan survey found that Master’s degree holders can earn up to $21,000 more per year than those with just a Bachelor’s degree.
Grad school affords you the opportunity to travel to a new, exciting city that’s packed full of students from around the world. You’ll meet and interact with experts in a wide variety of fields and will be exposed to a diverse set of viewpoints. While intangible, the experience in and of itself could provide you with incredible benefits, such as new friendships, a deeper appreciation of different worldviews, and more.
While it shouldn’t necessarily impact your decision, it’s worth noting that advanced degrees, PhDs, in particular, come with a level of notoriety and can qualify you as an expert in a particular field.
Another, more important benefit, perhaps, is how an advanced credential could allow you to switch to a new industry where you want to work. If you feel stuck and lack the credentials you need to pursue the career you want, pursuing a Master’s degree can help you pivot to a new field in a relatively brief amount of time.
If you’re seriously considering attending grad school, you may want to look into a program in a foreign country. International graduate school can offer you a unique experience that could greatly alter your perception of the world. International students face different financial challenges compared to domestic students. But if you manage your money carefully, attending school abroad may be incredibly rewarding.
Questions to ask before you decide
There’s no perfect formula for deciding whether grad school is right for you. By asking yourself important questions, though, you can determine if it’s truly something you’re interested in rather than a passing fad.
How will I pay for it?
Graduate school is often quite expensive, especially for those outside of well-funded STEM programs. Will you pay for it yourself, pursue a scholarship, find an employer to sponsor you, or take on debt? Once you determine how you would fund graduate school, you can feel more confident pursuing it or not.
How will I repay my debts?
If you’re taking out loans to attend graduate school, you’ll want to devise a debt repayment plan as early as possible. Create a timeline, set goals, and stick to them. When you graduate, you will have at least one thing going for you already: the discipline necessary to achieve something hard.
What are my top three schools?
You have to decide where you’re going to go to school before you can start applying. For those on the fence, listing your choice of graduate schools in order of preference can be a helpful exercise. If none of your options have a curriculum that suits your goals or seem well-worth the cost of tuition, graduate school may not be for you.
How will this help me achieve a job in the future?
Many graduate degrees can be expensive and time-consuming. You should outline how your degree will lead to real job opportunities down the road before you quit your current job to pursue it.
Who can I ask for advice?
If a family member, friend, or coworker has previously gone to graduate school, solicit their advice on how it went. Their personal perspective may help inform your final decision. Asking those who never attended graduate school if they’re satisfied with their decision not to also affords you a valuable perspective from the other side.
Can someone else pay for it?
There are a few ways to get financial support to fund your graduate education. For instance, military service can lead to educational benefits, and certain employers may be willing to sponsor your education in exchange for work commitments. Consider these options as you look into graduate programs as well.
What’s my Plan B?
Finally, have a backup plan in case you run into unexpected hurdles early on and have to delay your studies. If grad school falls through, what do you plan to do instead?
Determine your own future
At the end of the day, nobody else can make this decision for you. Whether attending graduate school is worth it depends on a slew of factors, such as what you’ll study, which jobs you’re interested in, and where you want to achieve your degree, just to name a few. Consider your financial situation carefully, including any current debt, as well as your potential post-grad school financial situation; but remember that the job market can be tough, even for those with advanced credentials.
It’s true that those who get graduate degrees are statistically likely to earn more money over the course of their lifetimes, but this varies largely based on the field of study. Plus, much of that earning power could be going toward paying off the debt taken on to get there. And if grad school isn’t right for you, you could end up taking on debt and never graduate with the degree at all.
While achieving a degree may grant you a certain level of professional prestige, it’s an emotionally and physically exhausting endeavor that won’t necessarily enhance your quality of life.
Pursuing an advanced degree is the right choice for some and the wrong choice for others. We wish we could give you a straight answer, but when it comes to making a decision about graduate school, especially if it means quitting your current job, only you can determine your own future. Learn how to be financially successful, regardless of which path you choose, by developing these traits.
Ryan Severance is a professional freelance author and the owner of American Scribe LLC. With degrees in political science and socio-legal studies, he writes about business, politics, and law for clients around the world.