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Should you go to graduate school?

Balancing opportunity cost against return on investment.

Photo of Tatiana Pilon
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As a follow up to the previous post “Master’s in Marketing as a more affordable option than an MBA” I would like to go deeper on the idea why so many of us see graduate school as a valuable opportunity.

As a matter of fact, during my interviews among graduate students I heard many recurring phrases about graduate school such as “provides management opportunities”, “enables a career switch”, or “expands network”. However, with a cost of attendance anywhere between $50,000 to $120,000 for a two year master’s programs in the US, is the graduate school experience worth it?

As a matter of fact, I would like to go deeper and to explore “Is graduate school indeed a valuable option?” After reading articles about the pros and cons on graduate degrees, I would like to share some of the insights why you shouldn’t go to graduate school:

  1. Time is money

Graduate school requires anywhere from 2 to 7 years of your life. This might cause financial distress for most of the students and family. As for families, married students might find a hard time finding student housing. Also, families with children will most likely struggle to find subsidized child care options or even decent graduate student health plans. Most of the programs are heavy on workload allowing students to work only part-time consequently earning minimum pay. To make matters worse, after graduating most of the students have only six months to find a job and to start paying back educational loans.

  1. Sometimes it takes time to find your dream job or salary

With this in mind, your first job out of graduate school might not surpass the cost of tuition and loan payments. On the same note, the return on investment and break even point will most likely take a few years to be achieved.

  1. “You are a great candidate, but we are concerned you might be bored with this job”

Even after all your hard work at graduate school, if you finish your program during an economic downturn you might find yourself hearing “you are too qualified for this position.” Additionally, academic positions could be limited and located in undesirable places.

On the brighter side, even with the financial distress and emotional burden, all my interviewees did not regret their choice to go to graduate school. As a matter of fact, they all responded “Yes” to the question “If you know what you know now, would you apply to graduate school?.”

Also, to illustrate the financial opportunities after graduate school I’ve attached a link to payscale salary report. It seems that there is a return on investment gap depending on the graduate major.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

If graduate school offers so many opportunities to some majors and less to others, should the price of tuition be equivalent to the average starting salary you would have after graduate school? I would like to hear your insights, all are welcome to share!

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Photo of Kevin Korte

I think you're touching on a subject that isn't properly address in the US today: What is the economic or societal value of a given academic track? I can't help but jump a few steps ahead and consider the outcome of this insight -> Students who pursue a liberal arts academic track would pay low tuition (corresponding to salary) subsidized through tax or sponsorship? Not a bad outcome, but potentially controversial in the US.

Photo of Tatiana Pilon

Thank you for your insight, Kevin. Also, I agree with you that this subject is controversial and not properly addressed in the US.
However, I believe that it should be discussed and we as a community have the power to brainstorm a better outcome. Additionally, we should create alternatives to relieve the financial burden for those of us who had choose a track with delayed return on investment. Perhaps, subsidized tuition and sponsorship are the start to alleviate the problem.
I hope this challenge will provide us clues to solve the puzzle called “college affordability”.

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