Is graduate school really worth it?

Graduate school’s necessity depends heavily on a student’s future career goals.

By Anastasia Macdonald

According to Graduate Admissions, USD is home to approximately 2,800 graduate students. For many USD undergraduate students graduate school is at least an option, if not a certainty.
However, Given that student loans incur high interest rates and cannot be forgiven, or in some cases cannot even be refinanced, is it really worth it to sacrifice years of work experience for more schooling?

The number of students attending graduate school has increased 8.3 percent between 2008 and 2012, while student loans have reached an all-time high, averaging at $24,301 per student. Federal budget cuts have removed the subsidized loans that were offered for graduate students. Despite these grim numbers, many remain determined to pursue an advanced degree.

Certain careers like law and medicine require graduate school, but 51 percent of all graduate degrees in 2010 were given out in business or education. USD’s School of Leadership and Education itself offers 18 graduate degree programs. Anne Mumford, director of Admissions and Outreach in the SOLES, is currently a graduate student at USD.

Mumford received her bachelor’s degree in 2010 from Johns Hopkins University and was encouraged to pursue a graduate degree for career advancement. She stated that graduate school is worth it, but the major of the student and career goals must be taken into consideration.

“USD, along with most graduate schools, offers assistantship programs to students, giving them stipends to help pay for half or more of tuition; the programs vary for the different degrees” said Mumford.
Mumford balances work and night classes in order to earn an advanced degree. This method allows students to pay for at least part of graduate school themselves, while receiving valuable work experience. Some Ph.D. programs around the country are fully funded through graduate assistantships, in which a student’s education costs are half to fully covered, sometimes with additional health care benefits.
To ease the process of receiving a degree, schools are offering online advanced degrees, which are cheaper and more flexible. USD will soon offer its first online masters for the department of Learning and Teaching.

Even with flexible options, a graduate degree does not guarantee a job, and students might be forced to take out student loans to afford the schooling.

The national student loan debt has hit the 1 trillion mark, with graduate school loans making up to one third of that amount. To avoid facing major debt, it is vital to consider the value of an advanced degree in a specific area of study; the return rate for advanced degrees varies greatly across the board.

Some USD students do not see the necessity in attending graduate school if it is at the cost of gaining experience in the workforce. However, this is dependent on the student’s major.
“In business and associated fields employers can value experience over education, and knowledge, especially in the business world; [graduate school is] not worth it monetarily, especially if you have to take out loans” said junior Jasmine Martirosyan.

The graduate degrees with the highest returns include Medical, a master of public health, and a doctor of pharmacy, with the average income of those being around $150,000 and average loan payments of $400 to $1000 per month.

An M.D. is the doctoral degree for physicians. Medical Brigades President Patrick Smith is pursuing this degree, and planning on attending medical school in 2014. “Work experience gets you a job, but graduate school increases pay” said Smith. “ Graduate school is worth it. The return is greater than the investment as far as future salary. You are worth more, and there are better benefits, for example a stock pension”.

In contrast, the lowest earning degree on average is Masters of Fine Arts. Diane Hill is a recipient of this degree and currently works as a high school art teacher. “Art is a field where experience is valued much more than the amount of education, and the situation is different for every major” said Hill.

In general each graduate program offers different opportunities for different career paths. On average, with a bachelor’s degree students can earn $2.1 million over a lifetime, which increases to $2.5 with a masters, $3.4 with a doctoral degree, and an average of $4.4 million with an medical or law degree.

While the numbers seem promising, there is no guarantee that an advanced degree will land you a better job or a higher salary.

It is nearly impossible to generalize whether an advanced degree is worth it, at least in economic terms. The benefits of receiving an education range from better health to being a happier individual.
There are many USD students who are planning on going to graduate school after they complete their four undergraduate years here. “I hope to earn a graduate degree in the future” said freshman Jared McCarthy. “Any type of education is beneficial, especially when it results in a job you love.”

The SOLES website offers student profiles of current graduate students. There are many resources on campus, including the graduate admissions office in SOLES that can offer information and advice to anyone interested in a graduate degree.