Liz Pulliam Weston provided these words of wisdom regarding the value of graduate degrees on the New York Times' Room for Debate blog last week. Recession or no recession, it looks like Liz agrees with me that you should consider the return on investment before impulsively deciding to go back to school.
“Graduate school has traditionally been a great place to wait out recessions while honing your skills for a better job. But sometimes, the payoff doesn’t justify the cost.
In some fields, such as business or engineering, a graduate degree typically boosted income by more than enough to justify the cost. In others — the liberal arts and social sciences, in particular — master’s degrees didn’t appear to produce much if any earnings advantage.
Advanced education has many other, non-economic benefits, of course. But if you’re borrowing to pay for your schooling — as 60 percent of graduate students do, accumulating an average $37,000 in student loan debt, according to the 2003-2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study — you want to make sure you can pay those student loan bills when they come due.
Otherwise, you could quite literally spend the rest of your life scraping to pay off your debt. Student loans typically can’t be erased in bankruptcy court, and student lenders have extraordinary powers to pursue borrowers, up to and including taking a portion of their Social Security retirement checks.
Those in the worst shape are often the ones who took on private student loans, which have fewer consumer protections than federal student loans and which come with higher, variable rates. The prevalence of so many strapped borrowers is why I recommend students borrow no more for their educations, in total, than they expect to make the first year out of school.
This rule of thumb won’t work for everyone — heaven knows, you may be the rare literature M.A. who writes a best-selling novel and pays off her debt with one check — but it’s a good starting point for anyone considering strapping herself to more education bills.”
I’m so glad that Liz has done the research to back up this point of view. Too many of us feel that a master’s degree is essential, when really it’s a nice-to-have that shouldn’t necessarily be your priority at this point in time.