It’s a quarter of the way through senior year. A student suffocates under the pile of schoolwork and responsibility. The classes are harder and the stakes much higher, as her future looms on the horizon. As the weight on her shoulders isn’t too much to bear already, everyone starts asking her yet another question: Are you going to graduate school? She struggles to search schools, programs, tests and to compare tuitions.
But even as she frantically researches graduate school, this student, like many others, is left with a lingering concern — is it even worth it in the end?
Graduate school is an option that many college students choose to pursue after receiving their bachelor’s degree. According to Inside Higher Education, over 2 million applications were sent out to graduate schools in 2014. About 480,000 first-time students enrolled in master’s programs that year. However, going to graduate school is not like going to Rider. The prices are different, the work is more difficult and depending on your desired field, it may not even make a difference.
According to Peterson’s, the test prep company, the average tuition cost for a graduate program at a public university is around $30,000. Private school can reach around $40,000, if not higher. In my own research, some Ivy League schools have a tuition nearing $60,000. This is not including housing fees, transportation or the cost of books and supplies. To put that in perspective, Rider’s tuition for this past year was around $39,080.
A Forbes article on the return investment of graduate school also points out that the primary source of financial aid while in graduate school is “debt,” meaning that most aid is provided through loans. Meanwhile, US News reports that nearly one quarter of graduate students borrow up to $100,000, and one in 10 borrow closer to $150,000.
Of course, loans are not the only option. There is also the possibility of receiving teaching or research assistantships and fellowships from the university you attend. Sometimes, employers will also pay for your tuition if you pledge to work for them for a set number of years. However, these opportunities are not extended to every single graduate student in every single graduate program.
Graduate school is clearly expensive, especially without any help and with only loans on the table. Choosing to enroll in a graduate program is the equivalent of choosing to undertake a large investment. But in this case, the return on the investment really depends on a variety of factors.
First off, find out what graduate schools you’re interested in. From there, find prices and start considering how you will fund that education if you choose to pursue it.
Then you should see how job prospects are in your field. The job market may appear to be a bleak, barren landscape, but this may not always be the case. For example, if you are an accounting major, see how many accounting jobs you can find and if they require a master’s degree. Try networking. Ask your professors or any professionals you know in the field of accounting if they needed their master’s to secure their job. Ask if the job market has changed and what they recommend. If they say that a higher degree is necessary, then start planning for grad school.
Next, do a little math. Forbes recommends adding together your undergraduate debt to your graduate debt, and subtracting that from a projected first salary after you graduate with your master’s.
For example, the average undergraduate student loan debt is about $29,400 according to US News. Adding that to the estimated $100,000 of graduate school loans places your debt at around $129,400. From there, if your first year salary is not more than $129,400, then you may be paying too much for the total cost of your education. If it isn’t, try doing some research and figuring out what your total lifetime earning would look like if you did and did not receive your master’s degree. Also remember that graduates with their master’s degrees reportedly make around $400,000 more in their lifetime.
And of course, remember that there are some skills that cannot be quantified monetarily. For example, you can’t compare the education you can receive at law school to anything you can learn from the Internet. That’s a necessary component to your preparation for the workforce. However, for fields like journalism, fine arts, etc., the value of going to graduate school can be debated.
If you can afford graduate school, there is no harm in pursuing higher education. Regardless of what the laziest student may say, more knowledge and a stronger education never hurt anyone. However, if the numbers scare you, then it really depends. The return of investment on a graduate school education is purely situational.
Don’t wait until senior year to start making decisions. Do the math and the research ahead of time. Don’t be afraid to ask the people around you questions. And more than anything, remember that your future is your choice — you are the only person who can decide what will help you reach the career goals you aspire to.
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 10/19/16 issue.