By Julia Tebben, Assistant Director, ASU's Career and Professional Development Services
Have you been considering the possibility of furthering your education? Graduate school can provide significant benefits including career advancement, an expanded professional network and increased earnings. It can also come with a hefty price tag. Before you apply, read on to be sure you will reap the rewards (and not just the cost) of graduate studies.
Know your reason: Graduate school can be of great value if you are looking to gain more specialized experience or advance your career. In some fields – medicine, law and social work – graduate school is a requirement for advancement. However, attending graduate school because you are weary from the job search or looking for direction can be a risk, especially when considering the costs.
Do the math: Attending graduate school is an investment in your future, and very seldom does it come cheap. You may need to look into funding options such as scholarships, teaching assistantships, fellowships and grants. These can be competitive, and most people who attend graduate school end up taking out some form of additional debt or paying out of pocket for at least a portion of their tuition.
While it is generally true that workers with a graduate degree earn more over the course of a lifetime than those with a bachelor’s degree, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Different professions tend to yield different returns on a graduate degree, so it is smart to weigh the benefits and costs of your program of interest. For example, perhaps your salary is $30,000 and you know that professionals in your field with a master’s degree earn upwards of $45,000-$50,000. In this case, a graduate degree that costs $40,000 may be worth the additional expense, but one with a price tag of $100,000 or more – not so much.
Consider the commitment: For some people, the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies can be jarring. Graduate school tends to require more independent research and work than undergraduate, most of which is done outside of regular class time. If you are employed, you may want to think about you will balance your work, school and other commitments. For those that take time off from their jobs or go straight from undergraduate to pursue graduate studies, it is important to be sure that two or more years away from the workforce will be worth it in the long run (i.e.: provide the necessary tools to advance in your career).
Think about your career journey: Do you already have experience in your field, either after university or from work/internships during your undergraduate career? These can be great to call upon, both in your applications to graduate programs and during your time as a graduate student. If not, you might consider taking some time to gain real-world exposure to your field. This not only has the potential to make you more competitive to future employers and graduate admissions committees, but can also validate whether the field is the right fit for your interests.
Finally, make use of the resources available here at ASU! You can schedule an appointment with a career advisor to discuss your options, or attend a graduate school seminar. Whether you’re in the beginning stages of applying to graduate programs, trying to determine next steps after graduation, or need assistance with writing your statement of purpose, there are people and resources available to help you be successful every step of the way.