Are you looking to attend graduate school? Undoubtedly, a graduate degree holds many benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that workers with an advanced degree can earn on average of $315 a week more than their counterparts without the degree. That’s good money. Moreover, a graduate degree can open more doors and provide more career options. With that in mind, thousands of students eagerly pursue graduate admissions every year. It seems like a smart thing to do.
It can also be a not-so-smart thing to do. Graduate school costs money. It many cases, it can cost a lot of money. Additionally, the time spent back in the classroom can take you away from valuable time and money you could be earning at a current job. In a way, you would be sacrificing income now for a chance to make more income in the future. Is that smart? That depends. For some it might be while for others it might not.
Before you make the decision to put your career on pause and return to graduate school, here are five things to keep in mind.
- The government allows you to borrow a lot more money to go to graduate school than it did for your bachelor’s degree. Many schools make it awfully easy to get that money. You simply sign and the dotted lines and the checks start coming in. Let the buyer beware! The average student loan debt for those pursuing a graduate degree is over $57,000. At some point, that money has to be paid back— plus interest. Figuring a typical ten-year loan payback, $57,000 at 7% interest will be a monthly payment of over $660. Is that something you can afford?
- Scholarships are just as available for graduate students as they are for undergraduate students. There are many of them out there and billions of dollars go unclaimed every year. Chances are, nobody is going to hand you a scholarship. You must apply for them. You have to seek them out, fill out the application, write the essay, and submit everything in a timely manner. That takes work but it is well worth the effort. Anything that can reduce that $660 a month payment is a good thing.
- Don’t rush into your decision. Take your time and shop around, just like you would probably do if you were to buy an expensive new house or a car. Look over all your options. Don’t automatically apply for what is easy. An easy admission process is probably an expensive one. The time you put in during the front end is time well spent and can pay dividends down the road.
- Take the graduate board exams. This can be very difficult for many people. If you did not do very well on the undergraduate entrance exams, or if you are returning to school after a long time, graduate exams can be a painful and depressing experience. That being said, it is well worth your time to diligently prepare and review for these exams. Find yourself an inexpensive tutor. Discipline yourself to relearn the math and analyze complicated reading passages. A good score on graduate boards will open doors for better schools and more scholarships.
- Consider a hybrid program. Hybrid degree programs combine the face to face traditional learning experiences with online learning. You will have several traditional classroom experiences supplemented with computer based learning. If your schedule limits the amount of physical time you can sit in class, consider this option over a traditional online program. It combines the valuable, more personal interactions you can have with your classmates and the convenience of working from home. You will get to know the professor a bit better and be more than just a digital student. Hybrid classes can be less expensive than traditional programs while still providing valuable learning experiences.
When asked, most graduate students say they are happy with their decision to go back to school. Over time, most get rewarded through bigger paychecks and better careers. They don’t like, however, the large price tag that came with the experience and the increased monthly debt load. You can avoid that by being smart and following the guidelines above.