Graduate school admissions increased 18% during in the past year. As a result, the debate of whether or not attending graduate school is a good investment has intensified over the past year as the number of graduate school applications continues to rise.
It is no secret that graduate school is a costly investment. The cost of your master's degree depends on what type of school you attend and whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student.
Generally, the cost of a master's degree at a private college is twice as expensive as a degree from a public college. According to the 2011 National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for an in-state graduate student at Illinois State University is $6,319, while the average tuition for a graduate student at Robert Morris University Illinois is $19,800. It's also possible for tuition to go even higher; Northwestern University, also in Illinois costs $39,840.
Finaid.org reports that the cumulative debt for a graduate degree ranges from $30,000 to $120,000.
It’s important to be aware of these figures because the first step in maximizing the return on your grad school investment is to understand why it is important that you earn a masters degree or Ph.D. Supporters of both sides of the issue can spurt off statistics in their favor, but the answer to the question, “Is graduate school a good investment” is really a person-by-person decision. However, there are specific actions you can take to ensure that you leave school with the least amount of debt, and the greatest chance of gaining employment.
- Have clear career goals. If you don’t know why you want to pursue a masters degree or doctoral degree, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. On the other hand, if you have a clear goal in mind and have done the research to understand realistically which jobs you might be able to land upon graduation, you will be in better shape.
- Do your research. Make an appointment with your grad school’s career center to find statistics on the job placement rate of students from your major. In addition, research what jobs are available in the area that you plan on living after graduation. Make sure that there is a demand for your prospective career.
- Determine if school is a better option than work. You need to know that the degree you are looking for is something that will return a greater profit than if you decided not to attend grad school. If you know that you will be going into any amount of debt, make sure that you calculate the cost of the debt with the salary that you expect to be making after you earn your masters degree or Ph.D.
- Research scholarship and grant opportunities. Scholarships and grants are the best form of financial aid because you do not have to repay the money you receive. The best places to look for scholarships and grants are from your state government, the school you are attending and community organizations and associations. Browse through Campus Explorer’s comprehensive list of financial aid by state to determine what programs you are eligible for. In addition, performing an independent search of private scholarships through a scholarships search engine is also beneficial.
- Live as cheaply as possible. To minimize your debt when you graduate, you should cut costs wherever possible. This may mean selling your car and taking public transportation for the two years you are pursuing your masters degree, or forgoing that expensive meal out, when you could just cook at home.
- Internships and Assistantships. Completing an internship while you are still in graduate school will provide you with contacts and potentially a job offer. Assistantships are offered through graduate schools and offer students the chance to teach undergraduate courses in exchange for a cheaper tuition.
- Check with your employer about tuition assistance. Your employer might have a tuition assistance program already in place. If there is not already one in place, you may be able to get your boss to create one. Employee tuition assistance programs will typically pay for classes related to your current job. Check with your human resources manager to find out what options are available to you.
- Understand your loan options. Student loans should be your last financial aid option, as these need to be repaid. In addition, there aren’t as many student loans available to graduate students as there are for undergraduates. Some professionals who have decided to return to school and determined that they will need loans to help pay for the costs of their tuition and related expenses find that because FAFSA bases its award amount on the previous year’s salary, they are being turned down for federal student loans. If this describes your situation, file a special circumstances form that allows you to explain that you are no longer making the same income that you were the previous year. This form can be found online or at your school’s financial aid department.
- Get a part-time or full-time job while in school. In addition to cutting costs, having a part-time job can ensure that you do not need to take out money for your living expenses or book related purchases. It may be more difficult to hold down a full-time job while attending graduate school, but online school and graduate programs that have night courses allow professionals the time to attend graduate school while working full time.
- Network with your peers and professors. It’s this simple: the more contacts you make, the more career leads you will have once you earn your masters degree or Ph.D.
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