Is Grad School Worth It? Essential Tips to Help You Decide
By Brian Soika
If you’re trying to determine the best way to navigate your career, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Is grad school worth it?”
The answer depends on your individual goals. Many people use grad school as a way to earn more money and advance in their field. While these are worthwhile outcomes, you should weigh them against the investment of time, money and potential personal sacrifices that come with earning a master’s or doctoral degree.
To help guide your decision, we’ve outlined useful tips for prospective students interested in applying to the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education (although many tips in this guide apply to other graduate programs as well).
I. Is Grad School Worth it? – Considerations
Determine the Long-Term Value of Your Degree
Graduate school is a significant financial investment. And while scholarships and financial aid are available to grad students, you’ll likely need to make a plan to afford your education.
How do you decide if your program is worth the cost? Evaluate the long-term benefits.
You may save money up front by choosing a program focused on job skills. However, remember that industries can rapidly change, and you might feel pressure to acquire additional skills in the future to keep up with evolving demands.
If you want to potentially increase the value of your degree (and your own value in the workplace), consider institutions equipped to provide lasting benefits such as educational reputation, professional network, as well as research and critical-thinking skills.
Build a Professional Network
Graduate school can be a powerful tool to expand your professional network. There’s a good chance that the people in your cohort currently work or will go on to work in your industry.
The relationships that you build now may be helpful in the future. Diane Yaris Adkins is the Senior Organizational Development Partner at USC, and earned her MSW at the USC Suzanne Dworack-Peck School of Social Work.
“I still see [my cohort] supporting each other,” says Yaris Adkins. She cites a Facebook group started for her cohort after graduation. Recently, someone in the group posted about losing a job, and several people responded with offers to help.
In addition to your class, grad school also lets you build relationships with faculty, who can draw on their years of experience to advise you.
Connect With Your Alumni Community
Alumni can offer valuable guidance and career advice, and USC is renown for its supportive alumni community. In addition to regularly-sponsored events designed to connect current and former students, Trojan alumni are known to go out of their way to offer professional guidance.
Yaris Adkins mentions that she herself received help from alumni a few years ago after posting on LinkedIn that she was in-between jobs.
Here are a some alumni resources for USC Rossier students:
- USC Rossier Alumni page. Connect with the school’s career network as well as USC’s alumni association.
- The Trojan network. Sign up as a student to receive mentorship from USC alumni.
- The USC LinkedIn page. Visit this well-organized resource to view alumni and research job openings.
- USC Alumni Benefits. Use this resource once you graduate to access Trojans across the globe, career services, and special discounts.
Potentially Increase Your Salary
While there is no guarantee that a graduate degree will lead to more money, many individuals do see a boost to their income. An analysis by The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) found that those who earned a master’s degree in education received a 28% average increase in salary.
The BLS also estimates postsecondary education administrators earn an average of $95,410, while elementary and secondary school administrators earn an average of $94,390 (note that data for the former is more current than the latter).
The BLS notes that a master’s degree is typically required for entry into these professions.
Gain a Competitive Edge
Reputable graduate school programs are demanding. You’ll be expected to complete challenging coursework, effectively collaborate with your classmates, and depending on the program, perform fieldwork and/or a capstone project.
But while the work may be difficult, you’ll graduate with deep knowledge and high-level skills. As a result, you’ll likely stand out among other applicants once you graduate and hit the job market.
Estimate the Time Commitment
Do you plan to keep your current job and attend school part-time? Or would you rather earn your degree as fast as possible in a full-time program? While some programs offer optional timelines, others may not. So if you’re committed to a specific program, you may need to be flexible.
Additionally, in a part-time program, you also spread out your financial obligations over a longer period. If you’re paying out of pocket, you can ease the short-term financial burden by taking fewer units each semester.
Make Sure Grad School Meets Your Professional Goals
Identify what you want to accomplish with grad school.
Previously, Yaris Adkins served as Associate Director of Career Services at the USC Marshall School of Business, where she advised students about the school’s masters’ programs.“If [students] just graduated undergrad and they didn’t know what else to do… I would usually tell them to work for a few years and see,” she says.
Typically, graduate school is ideal for people who have clearly defined professional goals. While some programs are designed to support those early in their career, others are meant for mid-career professionals who aspire to leadership positions. One of the first things you should check when researching your program is the intended audience.
II. Is Grad School Worth it? – Resources to Guide Your Decision
The Admission Office
Schools typically have admission offices that oversee their graduate programs. These can be great resources for questions that can’t be answered by visiting your school’s website. And depending on the school, the admissions office may be able to offer you guidance tailored to your situation, or give you helpful application tips.
Student ambassadors are graduate students who are currently enrolled in a program, and volunteer to assist the admissions office with advising prospective students. They offer a unique insider’s point of view of coursework, faculty and school experience. They may also share their background and personal journey, which helps some prospective students envision themselves in the program.
Alumni can offer a big-picture perspective. In addition to sharing their experience in the program, they can describe how their degree has impacted their career.
Alumni may also be able to offer advice on how to navigate the program, which professors they found to be especially helpful, and how to build and utilize your professional network. If you’re not sure how to connect with alumni, contact your school’s Admission office.
Your Academic Advisor
If you’re currently an undergraduate student and trying to determine if grad school is worth it, talk to your academic advisor or educational counselor. They’ll help you identify which graduate programs align with your goals, and prepare you for the experience of graduate school.
USC Financial Aid Website
If you’re curious about attending the University of Southern California and want financial guidance, visit the graduate student page of the university’s financial aid website. You’ll find an overview about how aid works, as well as practical information like dates and deadlines.
Additional USC Rossier Resources
Curious how USC Rossier can support you once you graduate? Visit our Career Management 101 website for networking resources, job search strategy, resume tips and more.
Our blog also has loads of relevant information just for prospective students.
Additionally, the USC Rossier admission staff can help you navigate the decision process to ensure that you make the right decision about grad school.