Should I Go To Grad School?

By Tessa Cooper

Published on July 28, 2021

Should I Go To Grad School? is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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How to Determine if Grad School is Worth It

Grad school requires a substantial time and financial investment. However, in most cases, the investment pays off. Many employers offer raises when workers earn additional education, and some workplaces even pay for a portion of a master's or Ph.D. Self-employed individuals can increase their client network with a new educational credential, and others can apply for new positions with advanced education requirements.

Whether to pursue additional education is a personal and sometimes difficult decision. Below, we offer six guiding questions to help prospective students make the best choice for their situation.

Master's Degree vs. Ph.D Degree

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Master's Degree?

Students must first earn a bachelor's degree to enroll in a master's program. A master's degree takes 2-4 years to complete, depending on the program pace and the learner's enrollment status. Master's degrees require 36-54 credits. 

Most master's programs equip students with career-oriented knowledge and classes will cover a variety of subjects. Professionals who want to emerge as working leaders in fields like a business may benefit more from only earning a master's degree. For lower tuition master's students can pursue a graduate assistantship.

Master's DegreePh.D. Degree
Education PrerequisitesBachelor's DegreeBachelor's/Master's Degree
Time to Completion2-4 Years4-8 Years
Required Credit Hours36-54 Credits90-120 Credits
Program CulminationThesisThesis or Dissertation

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Doctorate Degree?

Before earning a Ph.D individuals must earn a bachelor's degree. While it is common for students to earn a master's degree first, many Ph.D. programs will allow students with a bachelor's degree to enroll. A Ph.D. typically takes eight years to complete.

A doctorate requires 90-120 credits. Since most schools charge tuition on a per-credit basis, a doctorate can end up costing much more than a master's degree. Doctoral programs encourage learners to develop critical research and analytical skills. Ph.D. students generally conduct more research than master's students.

In many cases, doctoral students can apply for a fellowship or research assistantship in exchange for pay or lower tuition. Individuals who want to contribute research to their field or work as a college professor may benefit from pursuing a Ph.D.

6 Questions to Determine If Grad School Is Worth It

Factors like specific job requirements and cost versus increased earning potential can influence the decision to pursue further education. In some cases, learners may not benefit by investing in additional higher education. But in other cases, lack of additional education can limit opportunities and earning potential.

So, is grad school worth it? It depends. Prospective students should reflect on a few factors before enrolling in a Ph.D. or a master's program. See below for some questions prospective learners should consider.

Most schools increase tuition annually, so the more time students spend earning a degree, the more costs they incur. Colleges and universities usually extend reduced tuition rates to in-state students. Sometimes, online students can benefit from the same tuition rate as in-state students.

Prospective students should also consider miscellaneous costs like books and transportation. Many Ph.D. programs require conference attendance and research funding.

Luckily, students can explore many options to pay for school. Some learners work part time to pay for their living expenses while others rely on loans and scholarships. Many schools offer free or reduced tuition for graduate assistantships or fellowships. Ph.D. students can also apply for grants to fund research projects.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists educational requirements for various career fields along with salary and career outlook. Looking at current job postings can also help prospective students identify how much education a position requires.

The BLS reports that computer and information research scientists need a master's degree to practice in most cases. However, similar professionals, like computer and information systems managers, only need a bachelor's degree.

Jobs that require research, analysis, and critical thinking usually require a Ph.D. Professionals with a doctorate work to fill knowledge gaps in their industry through research and often publish their findings in scholarly journals. Task-oriented jobs and leadership positions often require a master's degree or pay more to candidates with a master's degree.

However, the job market could change drastically within the few years it takes to earn the degree. For this reason, prospective students should look at job outlook data. The BLS provides information about job outlook for various positions.

For example, the BLS projects a 7% decline in jobs for computer programmers between 2018 and 2028. This position only requires a bachelor's degree. While computer and information research scientists need a master's degree to practice, they benefit from a projected 16% increase in jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Specializing in a generalized bachelor's degree can position individuals to earn not only higher-paying positions but also jobs with better job outlooks. However, the opposite could also be true. Pursuing a graduate degree that leads to a position with a low job outlook could result in unnecessary debt.

In most cases, a graduate degree can increase earning potential. For example, most public school districts increase a teacher's salary for every additional year of graduate studies they pursue. Additionally, a graduate degree can help an individual switch careers, which can also lead to increased earning opportunities.

The BLS provides salary averages for specific jobs, including what type of degree each career requires. This can help prospective students determine if a high-paying job requires more education.

While the BLS provides useful information about pay rates for specific jobs, PayScale also provides average salary information for various degree levels. According to PayScale, individuals with a bachelor's degree earn $62,057 per year on average while individuals with a master's degree earn $74,850 per year on average. Those with a doctorate earn $98,196 per year on average.

PayScale also provides information on how years of experience influences salary. Professionals who attend graduate school to change careers may need several years of on-the-job experience to benefit from higher earnings. Geographical location can also impact salary, so keep this in mind when using sources like the BLS and PayScale.

Students who cannot fund their education and living expenses entirely with graduate assistantships, fellowships, and grants typically must take out loans. Some loans do not accrue interest until after the borrower graduates, but others begin collecting interest immediately.

Prospective students should research their field's terminal degree. A Ph.D. typically serves as the terminal degree for most fields, including education, science, and arts. A master's degree is another common terminal degree. For example, an MBA is the terminal degree for business-related careers. However, some career fields, like vocational jobs, may feature a bachelor's degree as a terminal degree.

Earning a terminal degree does not automatically ensure that graduates immediately qualify for increased earnings. Understanding the maximum level of education needed for a career is important, but individuals should also familiarize themselves with the maximum level of education employers prefer. To determine this information, individuals can either study job postings or contact ideal potential employers directly.

Decide What Works Best for You

So, is grad school worth it? The answer varies from person to person. Not every field requires additional education. Plus, by joining professional organizations, attending conferences, reading scholarly journals, and watching webinars, anyone can increase their knowledge.

Some jobs require traditional graduate education, and certain students can get their education funded entirely by an employer or through scholarships and work-study opportunities.

Prospective students should weigh the pros and cons, considering the cost, time commitment, and future outcome before enrolling in a graduate program.

Portrait of Tessa Cooper

Tessa Cooper

Tessa Cooper is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to international and regional publications focused on education and lifestyle topics. She earned a bachelor's in public relations from Missouri State University and is passionate about helping learners avoid high student loan debt while pursuing their dream major. Tessa loves writing about travel and food topics and is always planning her next meal or vacation.

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