It’s pretty much generally agreed that taking the time to attend college, putting in all of the academic effort and paying for school will pay off in the long run. We know that statistically people who graduate college will make much more than those who don’t. There are exceptions to this rule (i.e., Bill Gates), but on average people who graduate college know more and will make more money in the long run. The question of whether or not graduate school is worth one’s while is an entirely different question that has a much fuzzier answer. Is graduate school worth it? Let’s find out.
First, let’s examine the cost of a graduate program. The price of the graduate program will very dramatically from one institution to the next. I will be able to complete a Master of Science in Information Systems for around $7,000 over a course of two years at a public South Dakota institution paying instate rates. If I were to go off to a major top ten university, there’s a chance that I could easily pay $50,000 for the degree.
In addition to the actual cost of the school, you have to consider the money you won’t be making because you are in graduate school. Generally you won’t be able to work a full-time job while in graduate school, and will make a lot less money. Instead of making $40,000 to $50,000 right off the bat, I’ll probably make somewhere from $20,000 to $30,000 in graduate school. So I’m losing $40,000 or so from lost wages in not taking a full-time job. Of course this will be different for everyone.
Even though the costs seem a bit high up front, there are also a number of benefits. By having a masters degree alone, you are at least in the 95th percentile of educated people in the country. You know a lot more than everyone else. Some people value intellectual exploration and advancement much more than others, but there certainly is a value to knowing more about what you do.
There is also the added salary that comes with having a masters degree. Don’t be fooled, the degree alone won’t enable you to earn any more, it’s what you learned while getting that degree which will take you places. The degree it self is just a piece of paper, the knowledge you gained is all that matters. How much more you will make with a masters degree as opposed to just a bachelors degree really depends on your field. Someone with a masters degree in social work might only make $40,000, whereas someone with a Masters in Engineering could make very close to six figures.
So is it worth it? Unfortunately, there’s not a clear answer. If you just can’t get enough of what your learning and enjoy going to school, go ahead and find a good inexpensive graduate school and take another two years of college. If instead you are thinking about the exercise of graduate school as nothing more than a way to make more money, it probably isn’t the right thing for you.
Of course if you do decide to go ahead and go to graduate school, you should make sure all of the numbers work out before you go. It boggles the mind to go to an expensive top ten school and pay $50,000 so that you can get a job that pays $40,000. Yet many people do exactly this and find themselves between a rock and a hard place with their money after graduation. If the mathematics work out, and you are absolutely sure that this is something that you want to do, go ahead and do it! Put your best effort in and learn everything you can in graduate school, and good luck!