Should I Go to Grad School? The Pros and Cons

To go to grad school, or not to go to grad school? That is the question.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Should I go to grad school?

Going to grad school is a life-changing decision, and one that comes with financial debt for most. As such, it’s not a decision that’s taken lightly. You’ve already undertaken higher education in the form of an undergraduate degree, so is spending more time studying the right choice for you?

Well, only you will know the answer to that question, but we’re here to make it a little easier for you. In this article, we’ll give you an in-depth look into what grad school is, how much it will cost, and the pros and cons of embarking on a new educational journey.

So, let’s dive right in!

What is grad school?

A grad school is essentially a higher education institution where you can obtain a postgraduate qualification such as a master’s degree or a doctorate like a PhD. To get into a grad school, you should have already completed an undergraduate degree.

Grad schools are typically found within academic departments of universities, colleges or separate educational institutions dedicated to postgraduate degrees. More often than not, students tend to follow the same subject that they studied at an undergrad level and choose to advance or specialize within that field. However, you can choose to study something else entirely, depending on the rules of the university and course.

How much does grad school cost?

The cost of grad school can vary depending on the subject of choice, the school, its location and various other factors. That said, a grad school tuition typically costs approximately $100,000 for a two-year program. A doctorate, medical program or law school will cost more.

In addition to tuition fees, you’ll also need to take into consideration living costs and other expenses such as books and transportation, which can add an extra $2,000 per month onto your monthly overheads.

If this all sounds like a bit much, there are ways you can lower your expenses with scholarships and grants, so be sure to check what you’re entitled to before embarking on your postgraduate journey.

Things to consider about grad school

Going to grad school is a life-changing decision, and one that has many factors to consider. Here are a few of the most common factors to evaluate:

  • School reputation: The more reputable the school is, the more value your degree will hold, so do your research before applying for your postgraduate degree.
  • Quality of research facilities: Will the school have everything you need to complete and succeed in your studies, or do they have outdated and mediocre research facilities?
  • Financial aid availability: Some institutions offer financial aid, while others don’t; so, if you can’t afford to pay your tuition, it’s essential to research financial aid plans. Consider calling the school to speak to their admin department and get all the information that you need.
  • Campus location: Is it easy to get to? Is it in the town center with access to parking? If you don’t live near campus, how will your commute be? These are all questions that you should ask and factor in before settling on a grad school.
  • Cost of living in the area: If you’re in an expensive city, you’ll find it harder to get by. So, it’s important to research the cost of living and see if it matches your budget. If not, you may need to consider a school in a cheaper area.

The pros of grad school

If you’ve made it this far, then you’re serious about going to grad school. So, here’s a list of pros for furthering your education.

1. You want to go

What better reason is there to study than simply because you want to? If you love what you do, you’ll want to learn as much as you can so that you can be the best at the job. So, having the drive to excel and learn new things is the number one reason to study and widen your knowledge within your field.

2. You get more qualifications

The most obvious pro is that, at the end of grad school, you’ll have obtained a postgraduate degree. Naturally, with more qualifications under your belt, it will be easier to bag yourself a higher-paying job. So, essentially, you’ll be investing in your future by going to grad school.

In certain fields, gaining a postgraduate degree is compulsory to advance within your career. For example, you can’t do much with a bachelor’s degree in law. Indeed, a JD is expected if you want to qualify as a lawyer.

3. You make connections

Besides getting a qualification, you’ll also make vital connections during your time at grad school. You’ll get access to experienced professionals who have in-depth experience and knowledge of the field that you’re trying to break into, and an alumnus of people to contact.

In addition, you’ll be in a class with like-minded people who will be able to inspire you and who you may potentially stay in contact with for years to come. And you never know when you will need to connect with them later on down the line.

4. You pursue your interests

An undergraduate degree is great, but it’s more of an overview of a certain subject. If you want to pursue it in more depth, you’ll need to study it further. This is where postgraduate study is extremely beneficial; it gives you insights into a topic of interest and allows you to fully explore every avenue within it.

A postgraduate program puts you in a place where you need to study all aspects of the topic through projects, research and extracurricular activities. My master’s degree project allowed me to create my own magazine (back to front), which gave me all the tools I needed to succeed in print journalism.

5. You get academic recognition

If you’re someone who wants to be recognized for their achievements, then a postgraduate degree is the way to go.

Higher education can help you reach your goals faster through your contributions to your projects. Grad school provides a forum for research and allows you to advance your knowledge, theories and ideas. You may be lucky enough to attend conferences, too, as well as get involved in published pieces of work that add credit to your name.

6. You learn something new

Whether you’re continuing from an undergraduate degree or taking the leap to study something outside of your area of expertise, going to grad school allows you to learn something new. Indeed, you may have 10 years of work experience under your belt but suddenly decided that you’re not interested in that field anymore. So, exploring a postgraduate degree is a way to start over and give yourself a helping hand in changing positions.

That said, even if you’re staying in the same field, going to grad school will teach you new skills and qualities that you probably won’t learn elsewhere!

7. You work with the best of the best

As mentioned above, your university professors in grad school will either be successful professionals within the industry or people who have had successful careers and have now decided to share their knowledge with the world.

So, by going to grad school, you’ll get hands-on experience and wisdom from the best. You’ll learn their methods and receive a great advantage over students who only have an undergraduate degree. For example, when I completed my postgraduate degree, I was taught by ex-fashion editors and well-known journalists who were able to share useful insights into the industry.

8. You can enjoy travel opportunities

With many postgraduate degrees, you may be required to complete a portion of your program abroad. Alternatively, you might choose to study abroad at a more renowned university. So, not only will you advance your knowledge and gain an additional qualification, but you also have the chance to travel and experience different cultures.

9. It helps you change careers

If you’re looking to change careers, going to grad school may be a great way to do so. Like reinvesting in property, if you want to be the best in your industry, you’re going to need to reinvest in yourself. This is even more vital when it comes to entering a field that you don’t have much experience in.

So, instead of starting from the bottom with an entry-level job, going to grad school can give you a boost if you’re an already seasoned professional with years of work experience under your belt.

10. You could go for free

While this doesn’t apply to everyone, there is a chance that you could obtain a postgraduate degree for free. Tuition reimbursement programs are popular in the US, with 47% of employers offering free education in 2019.

That said, you need to meet specific criteria, so don’t bank on being offered free education. If you also complete an educational program via your workplace, you will normally have to work there for several years, otherwise you will have to repay them.

Explore your loan options with Ascent Funding

Though different factors (such as the college you select, the program you choose and its duration) can affect the cost of your graduate degree, they generally tend to be more expensive than undergraduate degrees. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, on average, graduate degrees cost $19,749 a year.

Having said that, the US is still considered one of the best countries in the world for higher education — not to mention that a graduate degree can greatly boost your lifelong earnings.

So, if you’re leaning towards doing a postgrad, make sure you start exploring your grad school loan options early, such as the ones provided by Ascent Funding. Ascent offers various cosigned and non-cosigned options that cover up to 100% of your tuition and school-related expenses (up to $400,000 for graduate loans*). Some additional benefits include flexible repayment terms and no penalty should you repay your loan early.

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The cons of grad school

We’ve looked at the advantages, and now it’s time for the disadvantages:

1. It’s expensive

Going to grad school costs a lot of money, and you’ll accumulate a lot of debt during your studies. So, before applying, you’ll need to consider how you will pay for school and whether you’ll have private funding or a student loan. You should also calculate your repayments and how long you will need to pay off your education. Although grad school gives you a chance to earn a higher salary, it’s not guaranteed, so you should bear this in mind before enrolling.

If you can’t financially afford grad school, you could consider attending a bootcamp; they cost significantly less than postgraduate degrees and also take less time to complete. So, you could end up with the same knowledge within half the time!

2. You’ll need to commit time to studying

To obtain a postgraduate degree, you’ll need to commit another one to two years (if not longer) to your education.

For some, this is tiresome, as you need full focus and dedication — it will also increase stress levels, and some students may want to put their studies behind them and jump into the workforce. This time studying will also take you away from earning a salary if you don’t have the time for a part-time job alongside your studies.

3. It's stressful

As mentioned above, going to grad school is stressful. You’ll have more intense assignments, exams and deadlines to meet. The level of commitment will be higher than that of your undergrad. You will also have more independent study and will need to have the dedication and work ethic to study on your own and get your work done in the time that you’re given.

4. It’s competitive

Securing a spot in grad school is typically harder than it is for an undergrad program. There are limited spaces, and you’ll need a great track record to get in — especially if it’s with a prestigious school. So, although this shouldn’t put you off going to grad school, it’s a point that you’ll need to bear in mind if you’re considering it.

5. It’s often unnecessary

Some professions, like clinical psychology and occupational therapy, require applicants to hold a master’s degree. Unless you’re looking to pursue a career path that requires you to attend grad school, doing so can be a needless commitment of your time, money and effort.

This is especially true at a time when skills-based hiring is on the rise. According to a ZipRecruiter survey of 2,000 employers, more than 70% of hiring managers are currently prioritizing relevant skills over qualifications and certificates.

Depending on what profession you want to break into, therefore, building your skill set and work experience might be far more beneficial.

6. It might not boost your earnings

Having a postgraduate degree might not boost your earnings by much. According to some reports, having the same undergraduate and postgraduate degree could decrease your earnings. So, before embarking on your grad school journey, it’s important to do your research and ensure your time will be beneficial.

7. It could delay your professional journey

Finishing university and jumping straight into the working world is beneficial in many aspects. You add vital experience on your résumé and start learning technical and transferable skills that will be useful for years to come. And although you’ll learn industry-specific skills during your studies, you could essentially learn the same things with on-the-job training.

8. It might not give you a purpose

You might be feeling lost after completing an undergraduate degree and think that the only way to find purpose is to continue your studies — but if you feel lost, grad school probably isn’t the answer. To embark on such a huge educational journey, you need to be sure about it. You won’t magically find purpose through your studies; you need to have that goal before beginning.

9. Once you commit, there’s no changing courses

Unlike an undergrad program where you can easily swap subjects, it’s much more difficult once you commit to a postgraduate degree. This is because a postgraduate is more specified and specialized, whereas an undergrad covers a wider area of the topic. So, before committing to grad school, you must be certain about the subject that you want to study.

10. It can be hard to take time out of your career

If you’re already working, it can be difficult to take time out of your career to study. You may also be worried about how it will look on your résumé and to future employers. You will also be accustomed to receiving a monthly income and may find it harder to adjust while studying.

So, although it’s not a direct negative since you’re enhancing your knowledge, it’s still important to assess how it will impact your lifestyle if you stop working to go to grad school.

Key takeaways

To sum up, here’s everything that we’ve learned about attending grad school:

  • There are many advantages of going to grad school, including gaining additional skills and qualifications that can be a great steppingstone for your career.
  • On the flip side, it can be expensive and time-consuming to pursue a postgraduate degree, especially if you need to take time out of a career.
  • That said, more qualifications can be beneficial. So, if you can afford it, why not enhance your knowledge and obtain an additional degree?

Are you thinking of going to grad school? Let us know your pros and cons in the comments section below.

Originally published on December 29, 2017.

Disclosure: Ascent Funding, LLC products are made available through Bank of Lake Mills or DR Bank, each Member FDIC.

*The final amount approved depends on the borrower’s year in school, credit history, certified cost of attendance, and is subject to credit approval and verification of application information.