You made it.
You finished a four-year degree program.
If you’re like many millennial college grads, you’re stoked to be finished with the ol’ bachelor’s degree, but uncertain if that diploma will open the professional doors you so desperately want.
So…you consider graduate school.
You’ve heard it’s hard, really competitive, and quite expensive. You’re concerned about finding the right program, getting approved for financing, and spending another two, three, and even four years slugging away at another higher education endeavor.
Yeah, we’ve all been there, and it’s not exactly a fun place to be.
You’re anxieties were (sort of) right – when considering graduate school, there’s a lot to consider. It’s not always the best fit for every college grad, and in this post-Recession economy, it’s still not a guaranteed meal ticket. If you’ve started your grad school research by asking a few graduate students how they’d rate their post-graduate experience, you’ll probably collect more than a few sets of growls and grumbles. But how accurate is their assessment?
To help you make the right grad school decision for your professional path, here’s a few things every prospective academic should consider before enrolling:
Will you get your money back?
Higher education has never been this expensive, and the job prospects are still quite dismal in the wake of the Great Recession. It’s not exactly a “sure thing” to invest in a prestigious education and land a well-compensating job immediately after; instead, it’s become more and more like the risk and panic you may remember experiencing the first time you cannon balled off the community pool high dive – shut your eyes, hold your breath, and take one big LEAP!
To figure out if grad school is “worth it”, monetarily speaking, research reported earnings from recent graduates, preferably somewhere besides the school’s admission’s website. Industry forecasts, PayScale, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics may offer great insight into what you can expect to earn as a salary post-graduation. Compare these earnings against the estimated cost of graduate school (tuition, living expenses, etc.), along with its associated opportunity costs to determine your estimated return on investment (ROI).
What type of graduate program is right for you?
Graduate course delivery comes in all shapes and sizes – traditional classroom setting, online education, and hybrid courses are just a few of the learning options today’s students can select from. Finding a program that fits with your best-suited lifestyle can be key for students juggling “life” and school (what millennial isn’t?).
While both traditional and online classrooms present a variety of advantages and disadvantages, your individual learning style and current life season will inevitably direct you towards one type of graduate program over another. Many online graduate programs are part-time in structure, allowing students to work in addition to going to school. Meanwhile, most graduate assistantships are found through traditional graduate programs, as additional departmental work is required of selected students. Considering which type of educational delivery will work best for you, can greatly narrow down your list of grad school potentials, and can help determine whether or not continuing education is a fit for your career at this point in time.
How will you cover basic living expenses?
While some graduate programs provide graduate assistantships, and/or allow students to work, not all postgrad programs will provide such options. Identifying the financial resources you have available to finance not only your tuition, textbooks, and miscellaneous school fees, along with basis costs of living (food, housing, transportation, etc.) is an important part of determining whether or not graduate school is a good fit at this point in your life.
Unfortunately, Pell Grants are not available for graduate studies, so scholarships and student loans remain the top two methods of meeting today’s graduate student’s living expenses. Figuring out how much it’s take to live when you’re top pick grad schools are located, and budgeting accordingly can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. Scholly, Scholarships.com, and FastWeb are just a few popular fund finding directories you may find helpful.
Grad school changed my life, but not in the ways I initially expected.
My realized earnings weren’t drastically higher than my post-college ones, so that was a bummer; however, my grad degree opened up many doors – teaching, speaking, and writing – that I never before thought possible. I believe that the direct financial return on educational investments made mid-Recession, may take a few more years to truly realize.
Keeping in mind your overall objectives when planning your educational investment can be incredibly helpful as you navigate the halls of academia: What do you expect from grad school? How do you anticipate a completed graduate degree impacting your life? When do you think the optimal time for higher educational pursuits will be within your life?
By determining your end goal (and it doesn’t have to be “make more money”), today’s aspiring grad student can find the perfect program that can help springboard their career into a new world of professional opportunity.