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Should You Go to Grad School? Pros and Cons

Should You Go to Grad School? Pros and Cons
Jennifer Calonia
Jennifer CaloniaUpdated November 14, 2022
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While completing an undergraduate degree program is an achievement, some students seek out advanced degrees to further their education. In 2020, 3.1 million students were enrolled in graduate school in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Graduate school enrollment has trended upward over the decades. But if you are wondering, should I go to grad school, there are numerous factors to consider. Here's what you need to know to help make your decision.

What Is Graduate School?

Graduate school offers further learning to students who’ve completed their undergraduate degrees. These grad programs are an opportunity to focus on a specialty or discipline. They’re known for their rigorous application requirements and demanding academics and workload. There are various types of graduate-level degrees, including: a specialist degree, master’s degree, and doctoral degree. Depending on the graduate program you pursue, it might take up to seven years to complete your grad school journey.

Pros and Cons of Going to Grad School

As you ask yourself, should I go to graduate school, there are a variety of factors to weigh, including the costs and time commitment involved. These are some of the pros and cons of grad school to consider. 

4 Benefits of Graduate School

There are personal and professional benefits of graduate school, from prospective future earnings to career growth. 

1. Higher Pay

Acquiring an advanced degree in your industry or chosen profession might lead to a higher salary. According to the Social Security Administration, the estimated gross lifetime earnings of those with graduate degrees is $2.46 million on average. In comparison, the estimated average gross lifetime earnings of bachelor’s-degree holders is $1.93 million.

2. Love of Learning

If you have a passion for your area of study, completing a graduate program can satisfy your desire for knowledge on a much deeper level. The rigorous learning involved allows you to focus on the granular details of your subject matter.  

3. Your Employer Wants to Pay You to Go

Some employers encourage employees to pursue an advanced degree, and offer incentives, like tuition reimbursement, for those who do. Depending on your situation, a graduate degree might help you become eligible for a promotion. A company might also see a benefit to having employees with advanced skills and knowledge.

4. You Want to Make a Career Switch

One of the benefits of graduate school is that it could set you up for a significant career change. For example, let’s say your undergrad degree was in the humanities and you’ve worked as a project manager at a start-up company. If you want to switch industries and get into healthcare administration, a Master’s of Business Administration degree with a specialization in project management might give you an opportunity to pivot. 

4 Common Reasons to Skip Grad School

Although the benefits of a graduate degree are notable, you should also consider the downsides of going through a graduate program.

1. Cost

The average student loan debt of a graduate student is $78,118, according to EducationData.org. This figure doesn’t include any outstanding undergraduate student debt.Aside from the degree level you’re pursuing (for instance, certification, master’s, doctorate, or professional), the graduate school you attend also impacts cost. Here is a comparison between different types of graduate school and the amount of student loan debt acquired during students’ graduate program, based on information from Education Data. 
Institution TypeAverage Graduate School Debt*
Public$47,623
Private, Nonprofit$72,296
Private, For-Profit$67,474
*Doesn’t include undergraduate debt.Additionally, graduate programs are generally time-intensive, so not all grad students can maintain a paid job alongside their studies. This may make the cost of graduate school even more prohibitive for some.

2. Little-to-No Impact on Salary

Although some career paths might benefit from earning a graduate degree, an advanced degree might not substantially influence your earning ability. Certain industries might value on-the-job experience and learned skills, rather than academic credentials. If you’re pursuing grad school because you think it might give you an income edge, do your research to make sure that is the case. Calculate whether the potential bump in earnings you’ll get with a graduate degree justifies the cost of grad school.

3. Get Work Experience First

There’s value in getting work experience. In addition to learning real-world problem-solving skills, you’re also creating lucrative connections in your industry that might lead to opportunities later. Going to grad school might prevent this, resulting in an opportunity cost you’ll want to consider.Plus, when it’s time to pay off student loans from your undergrad program, if you’re working, you’ll have steady income to put toward that goal, instead of taking on new graduate debt.

4. You’re Uncertain About Your Field of Study

Graduate school has rigorous academic demands. If you’re not passionate about your area of study, whether it’s medicine or law, enrolling in a graduate program may not be worth it for you. Instead, take some time to think about what it is you really want to do.

Lucrative Graduate School Degrees and Careers

Getting a graduate degree may pay off for those in the following fields: 

Medical

A number of careers within the healthcare industry require advanced degrees including:
  • Doctors. Physicians and surgeons earn an annual starting salary of $208,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • Anesthesiologists. These specialized doctors earn a median annual salary of $331,190, according to the BLS.

Business

Business and financial occupations have different degree requirements. Many only require a bachelor’s degree. However, some employers prefer candidates with advanced degrees for certain roles, such as: 
  • Marketing Manager. The mean annual wage for marketing managers is $153,440, according to the BLS.
  • CFO. Chief financial officers and other other chief executives earn a mean annual salary of $213,020, based on BLS data.

Engineering

Engineering jobs may offer entry-level roles for those with bachelor’s degrees. However, some workers choose to pursue a specialized master’s degree to remain professionally competitive. Positions that can benefit from an advanced degree include: 
  • Petroleum Engineer. Petroleum engineers earn a median annual wage of $130,850, the BLS reports.
  • Engineering Manager. Architectural and engineering managers earn a median salary of $152,350 per year, according to the BLS.

Ways to Reduce the Cost of Grad School

Although the cost of graduate school can be considerable, there are ways to reduce your expenses as a graduate student even if you’re paying off student loans.

Scholarships and Grants

Apply for merit- or need-based scholarships and grants. This type of financial aid doesn’t need to be repaid, and can cover part or all of your graduate school expenses. 

Working While in School

In addition to selling college textbooks from your undergraduate studies, you can look into job opportunities. If you can balance it with your studies, a part-time job for college students might help you pay your way.

Undergrad Student Loan Refinancing

Another way to keep graduate school costs manageable is to explore student loan refinancing options for your undergraduate loans. Refinancing can potentially lower your interest rate and help you get repayment terms that are a better fit for your life as a grad student. Learn about student loan refinancing pros and cons to help decide if this option is right for you.

The Takeaway

Going to graduate school can be professionally and personally advantageous for some students, but the benefits of grad school aren’t worth it for everyone. Ask yourself why you want to go to graduate school, and research how an advanced degree might affect your career growth, job advancement, and future earnings. Comparing the pros and cons of graduate school can help you decide if it’s the best choice for you. 3 Student Loan Tips
  1. Refinancing your student loan can lower your monthly payments and help you adjust your loan term. Compare student loan refinancing rates to find a loan that works for you.
  2. Paying extra each month on your student loan can reduce the interest you pay and so lower your total loan cost over time. (The law prohibits prepayment penalties on federal or private student loans.)
  3. Depending on their income, qualified borrowers can deduct the interest they pay for student loans, both federal or private, up to $2,500 per year. The deduction phases out for modified adjusted gross incomes of $70,000 to $85,000 for single individuals and $140,000 to $170,000 for people married and filing jointly.

Photo credit: iStock/LumiNola
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice. LCSL0822008

Frequently Asked Questions

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About the Author

Jennifer Calonia

Jennifer Calonia

Jennifer Calonia is a Los Angeles-based finance writer who has covered the gamut, including student loans, credit card rewards, consumer loans, and debt. Her work has been featured in outlets like Bankrate, NerdWallet, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, and U.S. News.
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