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Is Grad School Really Worth it?

Is grad school really worth the time and money?

Upon finishing our bachelor’s degrees, some of us travel, some of us get our first job and some of us go to graduate school. However, unless your dream career is one that obviously requires a higher degree, like medicine or law, how do you know if you should spend more money and time on graduate school?

“Explore all your interests and look thoroughly at your options,” said Ann Trail, an academic advisor for undergraduate students at the University of Washington.

Master’s degrees include MFA (Master’s of Fine Arts) and MS (Master’s of Science) among others. These programs typically take one to two years to complete and offer education in a specialized field. In most cases, a Master’s degree is most beneficial when a graduating college student becomes interested in a new field or when he/she requires more specialized education in the same field.

A Ph.D.will give a student a much deeper expertise in a career field than a Master’s degree. The programs usually take five to seven years to complete and depending on the subject and the program, some schools will grant full scholarships to qualified candidates and an additional stipend to cover living costs.

According to the Princeton Review, students in a Ph.D. program will spend the first three years taking classes to fill degree requirements, learning broadly about the subject. Students then write a proposal for a dissertation, and at the end of the second or third year, take exams to see if they are qualified to continue in the program. During these years, most students will work as a teaching or research assistant to supplement their funds.

In the fourth through sixth years, students will usually take fewer or no courses at all, spending their time completing their dissertations with the assistance and guidance of a thesis advisor and other faculty in the department. At the end, a Ph.D. candidate will present and defend his/her work before a faculty committee.

Since a Ph.D. track is a large commitment in effort and time, students must be certain that they love the subject, and will not tire of learning and researching it for years to come. It’s an investment may be fruitful. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, median weekly earnings increased by nearly $300 between those who had just a Bachelor’s degree and those who had a Master’s degree. The earnings increased by more than $500 for those with a doctoral degree and the unemployment rate was reduced by nearly half.

However, this may not always be the case. Students must realize that available jobs after graduation from a doctoral program are usually in academia or research, and the spots are getting tighter every year with more graduates and fewer openings.

If your school does not offer an advising office specifically for those who might want to pursue graduate education, Trail suggests going to the department representing your career interest and speak to an advisor there.

“Or try an appointment with your school’s career center,” Trail said. Career advisers will also have the inside track on job outlooks and the benefits of a particular graduate education.

Once you decide that you indeed want more education, now comes the time to decide where you want to apply. There are universities whose programs are the best in the country, but an old professor once advised me that you should find the teachers who are doing interesting research in your field and apply to the schools they teach at, so you can work under them and be part of the research.

Just remember, before you decide on any graduate school path, you should look within yourself first to define your interests and career goals. It’s not wise to go to graduate school simply because you are unsure on how to proceed after graduation. If that’s the issue, put the money for better use instead of adding more to your mounting student debt. 

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