With the cost of a graduate degree skyrocketing and more and more jobs that used to require one no longer have it as part of the job requirements, does it make sense to take on the debt to get one?

Pros and Cons of going for a Graduate Degree

Who should still go after the graduate degree? It’s helpful to think through that decision process carefully.

Certain fields will always require a graduate degree.

Certain professions, like medicine, law and some teaching positions will always require a graduate degree. There are certain STEM fields which will also need at least a master’s degree to break into that field. However, many companies are changing their job requirements to one that is more skill-based rather than degree-based. In other words, having the skills to do the job is now more important than having a degree that says you can do the job. Many graduates fresh out of grad school have the degree in hand, but not the experience or skills to go with it.

A hedge against inflation means weighing different factors.

In this tight job market, employers are changing the education requirements to fill empty slots. Many companies are still trying to ramp up their company during this post-pandemic period and are looking for people that can quickly walk into a position and start performing. Using a skills-based hiring model accomplishes that much faster than hiring a recent grad student graduate with no experience.

But the question is “Will this hiring model last?” Some economic experts think not and in that case having a graduate degree could help you find a good paying job if the current economic tide turns back the other way. And while any post-secondary degree is a good buffer against unemployment, graduate degrees have shown to be even better that associate or bachelor degrees.

Graduate degrees come with potential higher debt.

If you are using loans to pay for your graduate degree, it is easy to rack up a high degree of debt. Unlike undergraduate degree loans, which have stricter limits on how much you can borrow, Federal Grad Plus and private loans allow the students to borrow up to the cost of attendance, so the debt can end up being much higher than with a lower degree. And your earning power after graduation will largely be determined not only by your degree but the field and employer. Keep in mind that a full 40% of master’s degrees do not pay off at all, so selecting your degree field is critical to get a job that will offset the cost of getting that degree.

Not all degrees are created equal.

Where you get your degree can matter. Starting salaries can be lower if you got your degree from an online-only school, versus an online degree program that also has a resident campus. While the pandemic changed the course of online learning, many employers still prefer graduate degrees from well-known schools.

Selecting a graduate degree program

When researching a graduate degree program, use these three steps:

  1. Research the cost of the same graduate degree at several different schools taking information off of the schools’ websites.
  2. Due your due diligence by researching entry-level requirements and earnings on potential occupations by using data tools and the Occupational Outlook Handbook (listed under Publications) on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website.
  3. Sift through other tools that list program types and outcomes by degree level using tools such as the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Whether a graduate degree is worth the expense to you or not is only something you can answer. But by walking through the three steps to research wages and occupations, you can make a better-informed decision whether a graduate degree is worth the expense or not.


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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.