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should you go to grad school

To make assumptions about the return on your degree based on the past experience of others is, in language not approved by the APA, CRAZY! In the world of graduate degrees and earnings, choosing to live and die by statistics is a recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Statistics do not represent individuals but collections of people and how well an individual performs in any measure of success is up to the individual.

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Never underestimate the value of education. I’m sure someone more notable than me has said that but I can not find it so I will let it stand there on its own. Attribution, notwithstanding the fact remains that underestimating the value education is never a wise course of action.

Mark Twain Said…

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Twains comment about never letting his schooling interfere with his education and any successful graduate of the school of hard knocks will further assure you of the veracity of the claim. Of course anecdotal evidence abounds of the outliers who never graduated college let alone attended graduate school and have achieved success almost beyond comprehension.

That’s all well and good but in the work-a-day world of work and career where total strangers judge your potential value based entirely on a single sheet of paper (including digital representations of such) education has a decided value. Job postings that include a master’s degree as a requirement are often supported by software that scans incoming resumes for references to an advanced degree and when they are not found discards the resume without the benefit of human review.

The Big Reveal

So do advanced degrees translate to higher salaries? Drum roll please… almost always yes. With very few exceptions an advanced degree will net a higher salary than a bachelor’s degree. But, there’s always a but, how much of a difference in salary depends on the field. Like bachelor’s degree salaries the earnings potential of a master’s degree or higher depends on the career you are in. Following are some examples from a GeorgetownUniversity study titled Select Findings from What it’s Worth:

  • Engineering
    • Bachelor’s $75K    Master’s $99K
  • Business
    • Bachelor’s $60K    Masters $80K
  • Physical Sciences
    • Bachelor’s $59K    Masters $90K
  • Arts
    • Bachelor’s $44K    Masters $55K
  • Education
    • Bachelor’s $42K    Masters $57K

Is it Worth It?

The cost of obtaining a Master’s degree varies widely from under $20,000 for in state tuition at some public universities for some advanced degrees, to $100,000 or more for a law degree from a prestigious private law school. PhDs are even more expensive with less significant income increases with exceptions.

As a value proposition an advanced degree is a matter of timing and occupation. A $40,000 degree at age 50 that yields a $15,000 salary bump might not be worth the effort when you factor in the time remaining for your work life and add in student loan interest and the time spent earning the degree.

On the other hand earning an advanced degree at 50 may also open doors to a new career path when a former occupation becomes obsolete or downsized into oblivion. For those on the younger end of the spectrum who enjoy the benefit of a greater number of years to recoup the investment even a small increase in salary may be worth it.

Value Judgments

Cost is not the only value judgment there is to be made when considering an advanced degree. Career ceilings play a role as well. Gaining $15,000 a year in salary from one job may render you overqualified for other positions in your field which can be a serious problem if you need to change jobs.

The best advice about an advanced degree is probably to never underestimate the value of education which in this context means educating yourself about your career prospects, opportunities and make an educated decision based on your circumstances.

Photo Credit: michellemorley

Frank Addessi Born and raised in the center of the known universe, Brooklyn NY, and currently hiding out in the bucolic hills of northeast Pennsylvania writing about personal finance. His expertise includes personal loans, credit cards and retirement. It's not easy living the American Dream but someone has to do it!
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