Graduate school is an investment in your future. When it’s time to pay for it, look for money you don’t have to pay back first, like scholarships, fellowships, or grants. Explore federal financial aid next. Finally, consider a private student loan to cover any gap between the money you have and the money you need.
Is graduate school worth it?
Two-thirds of graduate students say a grad degree is the new standard for professionals. Nine out of 10 believe that grad school is an investment in their future; and 9 in 10 expect they’ll make more money after they get their degree. See How America Pays for Graduate School.
Your degree’s return on investment (ROI) will depend on what you study and what you want your degree to do for you. If your goal is to land a job you love, your ROI could be measured by how happy and fulfilled you feel in your career. If you want to increase your earning potential, you could use your salary to gauge your degree’s ROI. The National Center for Education Statistics has found that young adults with a master’s degree or higher make 18% more on average than those with a bachelor’s degree. The 25 top-paying master’s degrees right now are almost all in STEM fields, as noted by Forbes.com.
Master’s degrees with the highest salary potential, 2016-2017
Mid-career salaries shown
- Nurse anesthesia, $156,000
- Computer science & engineering, $134,000
- Operations research, $130,000
- Electrical and electronics engineering (tie), $129,000
- Taxation (tie), $129,000
- Technology management (tie), $127,000
- Electrical engineering (tie), $127,000
- Electrical and computer engineering (tie), $125,000
- Computer science (tie), $125,000
- Computer engineering (tie), $125,000
- Chemical engineering (tie), $125,000
- Biomedical engineering, $122,000
- Applied mathematics (tie), $121,000
- Telecommunications engineering (tie), $121,000
- Nuclear engineering (tie), $121,000
- Finance (tie), $121,000
- Engineering, $120,000
- Software engineering (tie), $119,000
- Industrial engineering (tie), $119,000
- Industrial and systems engineering (tie), $118,000
- Aerospace engineering (tie), $118,000
- Materials science and engineering (tie), $116,000
- Mechanical engineering (tie), $116,000
- Economics (tie), $115,000
- Physics (tie), $115,000
- Systems engineering (tie), $115,000
Even in traditionally lower-paying fields, a graduate degree can pay off. Teachers with master’s degrees can earn 24% more than their coworkers with bachelor’s degrees, while counselors see a 35% increase in their pay once they earn a graduate degree.,
One way to figure out how you can benefit from your degree is through research. Start by checking job search sites to find the average starting and mid-career salaries for your field. Make sure to search in your city or state to get a more accurate estimate. Then talk to people who are working in the field and ask them about the value of their degree and even about what they wish they’d done differently.
Full-time vs part-time graduate school study
Whether you choose to attend graduate school part-time, full-time, or online will be a decision based on your personal goals and circumstances.
Full-time graduate school
A full-time graduate program allows you to immerse yourself in your studies for a year or more. You’ll also finish your degree faster than if you had studied part-time. One thing to consider: Full-time graduate degree programs delay or disrupt your progress in your field, meaning you will lose at least some potential income while you’re in graduate school. But you may make up for that loss quickly after graduation because your degree could enable you to earn a higher salary.
Part-time graduate school
If you’re fresh out of school, a part-time graduate degree program gives you the opportunity to gain work experience, either in your field or in a professional setting. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced professional, a part-time graduate program lets you continue working at your current job while furthering your education. Your company may also offer tuition reimbursement for any courses you take that relate to your work. In either case, you may be able to spread out the cost of graduate school over several years as opposed to one or two. However, you may find yourself working hard to strike the balance between a 40-hour work week and your classwork.
Online graduate school
Many schools now offer online graduate degree programs, in which students can enroll part-time or full-time. These programs offer busy students more flexibility to fit in their studies because students don’t have to worry about commuting to a class after work. However, these online graduate classes often offer fewer opportunities for face-to-face learning and networking with your peers and professors.
You may have personal factors that impact the type of graduate program you choose. If you have a family, that may affect your plan. If you want to work before you start graduate school, you may want to save part of your salary to help pay for school. If you live near colleges that offer in-state tuition or if you went to an undergraduate college that offers a discount for graduate degrees, you may want to consider these options before you decide where to apply.