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Is a Graduate Degree Worth the Money?

Posted By Miranda Marquit On 01/25/2012 @ 12:10 pm In Education | 14 Comments

One of the furious debates going on right now in the world of finance and money is the one over whether or not getting a college degree is “worth” it. [3] And, of course, the debate only intensifies once you start talking about graduate and professional degrees.

The reason that this is such a debatable subject is due to the fact that different degrees offer different advantages. Not everyone with a Master’s degree or a professional degree (such as a law degree or medical degree) is going to earn the same amount because the salaries you see when you are done vary widely. Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce [4] estimates that the median salary with an advanced degree is $73,738. However, that doesn’t mean everyone with an advanced degree. (Indeed, half of those with advanced degrees will earn less.) The Center also points out that payoff from getting an advanced degree can mean as little as a 1% boost to your salary, or as much as 190%.

What is Your Graduate Degree Worth?

Before you decide to spring for a graduate degree, consider how much it is going to be worth when you are done. Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Wage difference between bachelor’s degree and the advanced degree: Some professions pay well with a bachelor’s degree. Someone with a petroleum engineering bachelor’s degree is already going to be making a good salary. Getting an advanced degree won’t bump up your salary very much, because it’s already higher. In some cases, the advanced degree doesn’t pay much because the job market is always weak, or because advancement is based on factors beyond your education level. You rarely need to get an advanced degree in broadcasting — it probably won’t affect your pay as much as just having a bachelor’s degree and doing a good job while gaining experience.
  • Demand for the job: It might sound like a good idea to follow your bliss and get an advanced degree in something you enjoy, but what if there isn’t much demand for the job? If there isn’t a lot of demand for your degree area, then you won’t make much money, and getting further into debt with an advanced degree might not be worth it.
  • Saturation in the market: Payscale.com lists the averaging starting salary for lawyers at $62,000. That’s not bad, but consider that you might pay upward of $80,000 for that law degree. The problem is that the market is saturated with lawyers. And that means your degree, though worth something, might not be worth as much as you thought. Get a realistic view of the market before you get your degree. An advanced degree in a field where there is demand, but little supply, can pay off in a big way.
  • Where you go: Sometimes, it’s just not worth it to pay a lot of money [5] for a degree from a big-name school. If you can get an advanced degree for a lower price, thanks to scholarships, assistantships and going to a public university, you can get more bang for your buck.

In the end, only you can decide if an advanced degree is worth the cost. Make sure you weigh the pros and cons, and decide how much student debt you are willing to take on — and the salary you can realistically expect when you’re done — before taking the plunge.

(Photo: digitalkatie [6])

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[3] college degree is “worth” it.: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/college-degree-worth.html

[4] Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce: http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/whatsitworth-complete.pdf

[5] pay a lot of money: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/kids-money-encouraging-teen-pay-college.html

[6] digitalkatie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalkatie/30573097/

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