Grad school is not cheap. Attending post-secondary education, even if it is just a bachelor’s degree, is expensive. While most people can justify spending the money to get an undergraduate degree, some people worry that they won’t have such a successful return on their graduate school investment.
Another problem is that while research shows that those who attend graduate school typically earn more money than those who don’t, it doesn’t immediately ensure a higher salary.
Here, we will discuss how to get the best return on your academic investment.
Four Things to Consider Before Going to Graduate School
The idea that you will become more marketable after going to graduate school is not always true. Here are some considerations to remember before going to graduate school
1. Do you want to increase your education or your career skills?
Understand the difference between upgrading your education versus upgrading your career skills. Getting an academic graduate degree may increase your education, whereas, a professional graduate degree is more profitable to your reputable career skills.
2. Figure out what you want to do after graduate school.
Before going to graduate school, determine whether you want to pursue a career in academics or not because it might not be worth the investment if you don’t want to work in academia.
3. Consider the cost of the degree and how much you are projected to earn after graduation.
This means figuring out the cost of living expenses, tuition costs, and any other associated payments toward your degree, and comparing it to a conservative salary projection.
4. Think about why you want to go to graduate school.
Is it because you aren’t getting a job? Are you trying to avoid getting a job? Do you love learning? If these sound familiar, going to graduate school might not be the most economical option. If you need a graduate degree for your field or if you are making a career change are both excellent reasons for getting a graduate degree.
How to Maximize Your Graduate School Investment
1. Be ready to compete on a whole new level
You might think that once you leave the world of undergraduate studies, the competition is over. Well, think again. Individuals who pursue academic graduate programs are known to be tenacious and competitive. Everyone wants to be at the top of the class, be the most liked by supervisors, and be the most active in extracurricular activities.
This does not suggest being ruthless and mean, it just means that everyone is trying to maximize their investment, so you should also get involved and take actions that could help you in the future.
2. Work on your soft skills
During your undergraduate degree, your intelligence is at the forefront. It determines the classes you are able to take and the opportunities you get. Yes, your soft skills are still important, but since there are way more people in undergraduate classes, it is much easier to focus on how you do on tests.
In graduate-level programs, intelligence is still valued, but things like diligence, rigor, and networking are also important skills to have. You got into the program, of course, you are intelligent. If you can demonstrate intelligence on paper, doors will open, but if you can show confidence, persistence, and assertiveness, you will surely be successful in the future.
3. Make as many connections as possible
The competition, discussed above, also comes down to making connections. Graduate school is not just about getting another degree, but about networking and finding your place in the academic world.
You should network professionally and avoid being sleazy. Genuinely make friends and talk to people in your field every chance you get. Help people when they need it, stay in touch with people, and just be a good person. This could be the difference between having a good interview and having a great interview after you graduate. Remember the time-old phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.
4. Get out of your comfort zone
Even while networking and making connections, you shouldn’t only make friends with the people directly in your program. Break out of the comfort circle of home-school-home-school. Join extracurricular activities and clubs, do something that is different or something that you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t think you had the time or skill. This will help widen your network.
Getting out of your comfort zone also goes for your study program. If your supervisor presents an opportunity that isn’t something that would directly help your work, or something you wouldn’t really consider doing, just do it. This might open your mind to other areas of interest and it might help you find a specialized niche that you hadn’t considered before. Having unique experiences and skills can help you stand out after your graduation.
5. Dig deep into your niche
Work intensely on your passion. Since you’ve found your niche, really connect with it and the people involved in the specific research. Offer your time, shadow people, or try to get a teaching assistant position with an undergraduate class. This can be extremely helpful in the future when you are looking for jobs and research positions in your niche.
6. Save as much money as possible
This might seem obvious but it is important. Try to save as much money as possible because you may need it right after you graduate. Graduate school is expensive and most of the time (unless you get a part-time job or a good teaching position), you aren’t going to be making that much money while in school. Coming out of graduate school with debt might seem normal and easy to handle, but the less debt, the better.
Set a budget for yourself and stick to it. Don’t spend money unnecessarily.
7. Be patient
Graduate school isn’t the same as it used to be. Getting a graduate degree doesn’t necessarily equal a job right after graduation. It can certainly open doors, but the competition for academic positions is high and it might take some time before you land a job.
If you go into your graduate program with a patient mindset, you will escape some of the anxiety and worry that comes with applying for jobs and research positions. Otherwise, you may miss it and your degree may lose worth to you. While waiting, appreciate your progress and accomplish little goals that will support your graduate degree and career.
Regardless of why you plan on attending graduate school and regardless of whether you have to take out a complete loan or just a partial loan, it can be a rewarding experience. Even if you have enough savings to pay for the entire program, it is still beneficial to consider how you can maximize this investment.
Here is a good calculator simulator to determine the costs associated with your graduate program to help you determine if it is worth the investment.
- Henry, A. (2014). Seven things I wish I knew before going to graduate school. Lifehacker. https://lifehacker.com/seven-things-i-wish-i-knew-before-going-to-graduate-sch-1609488711
- Legatt, A. (2017). How to decide if graduate school is worth the investment. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivalegatt/2017/07/10/how-to-decide-if-graduate-school-is-worth-your-investment/#58349d9b4f02
- Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2020). Should you go to graduate school? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/01/should-you-go-to-graduate-school