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When to Consider Graduate School

Consider these factors before pursuing a higher degree

Students go to graduate school for many reasons, for example, to enter a new career, advance their current one, or pursue a subject they're passionate about. Overall, workers with master's, doctorate, or professional degrees (such an M.D. or J.D.) earn more over their careers than workers without them. In recent years, however, the cost of graduate school has risen, while job opportunities in some fields have declined. Should you pursue a higher degree? To help you decide if graduate school is right for you, consider the following scenarios.

When to consider grad school

  • Your chosen profession requires it. Of course, many careers — doctor, lawyer, professor — are simply not open to those without advanced degrees. For other careers — social work, counseling — the requirements may vary according to where you live. To find out more, speak to professionals in your area, or search online for your state's requirements.
  • You can advance your career. While a bachelor's degree is all you need to start working in some professions, a master's can improve your chances of being promoted and earning more money. In some fields, like education, it can even be required.
  • You can afford it. Before starting a graduate program, make sure you'll be able to pay for it. If you're absolutely certain you'll find a high-enough-paying job after graduating to repay your loans, great. If not, look for programs that offer funding through fellowships, assistantships, research grants, and other means. See if your employer will pay for part or all of your tuition costs. In some fields, earning a degree online through a reputable school can also save you money.

When to consider other options

  • You can achieve the same goals by other means. Many professionals move up in the corporate ladder without advanced degrees. Others earn graduate degrees and don't see the career benefits they had hoped for. Before investing the time and money that graduate school requires, consider whether training classes, certificate programs, or even switching jobs can provide the boost you're looking for.
  • You're not sure of your next step in life. The path to a higher degree can be long, expensive, and very demanding. By some estimates, as many as one-third of all students who enter graduate school end up dropping out. Before you go, make sure this is truly the path you want to pursue.
  • You will finish your degree with high debt and few job prospects. Managing a student debt load of $50,000, $100,000, or even $150,000 while earning an average salary can be a scary prospect. While federal student loans offer repayment plans that can ease the burden of high monthly payments, working in a field other than the one you sacrificed so much time and money for can be very dissatisfying.

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