May 14, 2018 ・ Written by T.J. Duane

The Eternal Question - Should I go to grad school?

The Eternal Question - Should I go to grad school?

Your education is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make, in terms of both time and money. Because of the magnitude of the cost, the decision to attend grad school no longer rests solely on your passion and aptitude.

These days, the choice can seem overwhelming. I’d like to offer two thought experiments that can drive your decision if you’re on the fence.

Examine Your Goals

Overachievers have the tendency to imagine their career as a straight line, a rocket ship to the moon propelled by prestigious institutions of higher learning. Let’s bust that myth up. Plenty of successful people follow a different path, and education doesn’t always equal career success.

First, think about your desired outcome. If the answer is to “Get out of my current position,” or “Escape my awful boss,” stop, do not pass go, do not submit any applications. That is not an awesome reason to incur tons of debt and forgo earnings for 1-7 years.

Let’s say your dream is to become a doctor. Obviously medical school is the only way into that position. But it’s still worth considering – why a doctor? Do you like helping people? Spending time with patients? Healing the sick?

While those are great reasons to become a doctor, but you might also consider nursing. My mom was a nurse for over 50 years - she touched more lives than I can fathom. With nursing, you’ll be helping people sooner, take on less debt, and enter a truly booming profession. It’s worth a second look.

This is just an example – the point is, you should spend some time imagining other jobs that might fit your skill set and your preferred lifestyle. You might just stumble on something that checks all your boxes without costing an arm and a leg.

There are many inexpensive grad school programs and free online learning tracks that can be performed at your own pace alongside a job. Let’s be real. If one of these can help you make your desired career shift, it might be a better bet than traditional grad school.

Do a Thorough Cost/Benefit Analysis

This is not just for econ majors. Look at what you’re earning now vs. what you will likely earn after your degree (that number is the median salary, not the mean). Figure out the difference between these figures, on an after-tax monthly basis.

Write that number down. Now write down the monthly payments on your anticipated debt load.

Now ask yourself honestly: Given your current earnings, expenses, and anticipated gains, does this make sense?

Before you answer, consider how long you’ll be making monthly payments. How much interest will you pay over the life of the loan? What if you don’t land a job for a year after graduating?

Remember – educational debt doesn’t go away by itself (unless you’re in the federal loan forgiveness program, which is on shaky legs). Student loans are difficult to discharge in bankruptcy. You have to be prepared to handle them.

I’m not anti-higher education by any stretch of the imagination (heck, I have a law degree and an MBA). What I’m arguing for is planning for the worst while hoping for the best. Grad school is a life-changing decision. You should make it with eyes wide open.

Did you make a tough decision about grad school? Shoot me an email and let me know about it.