By Matt Lehrer, Career Coach
Why are you considering a graduate degree?
Career Goal: You need to have a clear understanding of what you want to do with your career (no doubts!) — and how earning a graduate degree will help you reach that goal. If you have any doubt at all about your professional goals, consider putting off graduate school and, instead, go to work. This will allow you to begin to understand what you like and don’t like about about a particular “path.” If you go to graduate school without a clear goal, you may end up wasting both time and money.
While certain careers definitely require an advanced degree — doctors and lawyers, for example — many other careers offer plenty of job opportunities with an undergraduate degree. In fact, in some situations having an advanced degree can actually hurt you in a job search, if you also have little or no job experience.
Compensation: Most studies show that people with advanced degrees earn more on average than people with bachelor’s degrees. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 the average worker with a bachelor’s degree earned $56,665, while a worker with a master’s degree earned $73,738. Furthermore, a worker with a professional degree (JD, MD) earned $127,803, while a worker with a doctorate (PhD) earned $103,054. (Obviously those salaries are slightly higher today; the key is the difference in salary by education level.) It is important to note that you probably will not make enough more in the first three years to offset the tuition you spend on grad school. The payback should be viewed from a long-term perspective.
Staying Marketable: While a graduate degree is not required for many “entry-level” jobs, you may need to earn an advanced degree to keep your training and skills current — and make you more marketable for career advancement.
Career Change: A graduate degree can often make sense for a job-seeker who is looking to make a career change, In this case, you would be earning the graduate degree in the field you plan to enter.