Grad School:To Go Or Not To Go? That is the Question

February 11, 2011  |  

And like that brotha’ Hamlet, it’s something to seriously ponder. Getting a master’s degree is a wonderful achievement, no doubt. But is it right for you? I know it’s blasphemous to discourage furthering education (i.e. I won’t be telling my father about this article.) However, it’s important to really evaluate your reasons for returning to school before you spend your precious time and money getting another degree. If you have the luxury of going to grad school just because you love learning, you can skip the rest of this article. However, if you are going to graduate school to improve your financial situation there’s a cost/benefit analysis you should probably do. Real talk. I’ll use myself as a cautionary tale.

A few years back, I made the decision to go grad school. I applied to a prestigious private university and got in. Woo Hoo! THEN, I got the bill for tuition and I almost fell out. Over $40,000 a year and that didn’t include living expenses. I had serious doubts about going into that kind of debt, but I was honored to be admitted so I threw caution to the wind and went for it. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in school. I met wonderful people, had great experiences, and immersed myself in learning skills that I love. I also figured with my Ivy League education, I’d have higher earning potential. However, the truth is that I’ve had difficulty finding high-paying work and have accrued an obscene amount of student loan debt. I loved graduate school, but if I had fully understood the financial situation that I was getting myself into, I may not have gone.

Here are some things to think about before you make the decision to get that master’s degree.

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  • Wouldn't that put you in the same situation you are in now? You pursued a master's to rise above the rest but it didn't help. Wouldn't going for a PhD be doing the same thing?

  • This is such a great article! If only this advice was offered to me a couple of years ago. While in graduate school (the first time for my master's), I was blindsided by the truth. I was told that many people in my field had to obtain the advanced degree in order to get middle to higher level management positions. I have been out of school now for almost four years and I am only at a entry-level management job. My peers and people above me only got a bachelor's degree! That's really frustrating. What my graduate school advisors and professors forgot to tell me is of the work experience that you need to accompany the paper. So, on top of a three-year program and tons of debt (I still went into debt despite having my tuition paid for….couldn't get a job while I was in grad school so I used the loans to pay for living expenses), I now have to work a couple more years in order to get the job I was vying for with just the graduate degree?! I hope that graduate programs around the globe are listening (especially those in non-traditional fields such as nonprofit management, journalism, arts-related fields), remember to tell your students of the overall needs of the industry post-graduate school, not just what's necessary to get students to pay tuition. Going to graduate school is an investment. Taking seriously by the student and (sometimes) not by the institution. Grace, this article really hones on the importance of the student steering his/her own ship/experience in graduate school. Thanks for the advice, as I am in the process of applying for a doctorate degree (I'm not trying to avoid the real world, I just want a better paying job).

  • Charles

    Great! Everything mentioned is so true. But for me I NEED grad school to further my career and also gain a license. IF I didn't have to go back I definitely wouldn't. I applied twice and couldn't even get in so it's not always so easy to just apply and go. I wish I could have gotten into grad school. I would be further ahead now. Alas, I'm still unemployed after 2 years and can't get a job. I've done everything possible to enhance my resume. So if I need to gain more debt so be it..

  • Michelle

    Great Article! The advice I have gotten from financial people is that the total amount of your loans should be no more than what you would earn in your first year of working. It is funny that the other comments on here are about social work and counseling (I am applying for grad school in counseling). You need a license and certification to do all these things so you need to go to Masters, plus hours of supervision. Definitely do what you love, but make a plan (emotional and financial). After working for 8 years after undergrad, I realized that you can truly work yourself up the ladder or start your own business as well.

  • KRV

    I'd do it all over again, but I'm definitely feeling the pinch of these loans. I think it is hard to really understand what 10s of thousands means when you are young and considering college or grad school costs.

  • I appreciate this article since it is a first for the site, I believe though it's information I've already garnered from other resources. Grad school is something I know I have to pursue to achieve me career goals. My hope is that if I stay at it long enough while everyone else thinks "I no longer have a chance. I'm changing careers" I'll be able to continue on. The most important for me though is obtaining a fellowship and/or assistantship. I won't go back to grad school unless I can have one of these.

  • TEL

    Great article! I, too, made the decision to go back, and I've been questioning why ever since I left. Not that I didn't love it….but all that debt is debilitating! Thanks for writing this – hopefully it will make others really consider the decision!

  • KBJ

    Fabulous article!! I'm thinking about applying to grad school this year. This is just what I needed to read. =)

  • Real Talk

    You need your Master's in today's society. An undergrad degree is not enough. Get to it so when opportunities come up you're ready. Start networking about folks in your industry to get feed back. Ten years from now, you want to say you accomplished something not stayed the same. Education is investing in you. It's not a waste of time.

  • Jetaun Stevens


  • Dana

    I REALLY dont want to go to grad school but it seems it is my only option. I would like to pursue social work or teaching (but probably social work) and there's no way around it….

    • Real Talk

      I would not do social work. There's no money there. Too many women in the field. You'd be better off with a business degree or public health administration. I have a girlfriend who was a caseworker for many years. She went for a Master's in Social Work. She's retired now and still broke. She regrets it.

      • I'm in grad school now for a master's in counseling. Yes human service/social services fields don't make that much money. People don't go into this field because of the money. They do if because they want to help others. I could have got my MBA and made 3x as much money, but I hate business. I never wanted to work for corporate America. Helping others is what makes me happy. If you manage your money correctly, save money, and do not live above your means you should be fine. There are people in my classes who left business jobs to switch to human services fields. You could be making all the money in the world and hate your job. Do what makes you happy.

  • MsVisonary

    Wow…I'm in the process of applying to graduate school now. I'm terrified to go from working full-time to a student (and possibly a broke one). Nonetheless, I figure I can at least apply w/ the hopes of someone being willing to fund it. Thanks for posting…definitely appreciate the light being shed in this article.

  • Jayda

    As a grad student- I can definitely identify. You understand our struggle- education and debt! And most of the time you don’t even get to work in your field.thanks for the honesty & hope for those of us on that journey.

  • Liz

    Very good points raised, especially that of going to school to get away from something. I have a friend who is considering going back to school to avoid having to apply herself at work and get her career started. Unfortunately, she hates school, so her family is worried she will end up not completing her Master's and without a job being that she wants to let this one go…