Is Grad School Your New Year’s Resolution?

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New Year’s is a time when we resolve to do things put off. Is this the time to get that advanced degree you’ve been thinking about?

The pros and cons of further schooling are individual, of course. But there are some facts that apply generally to the consideration of an advanced degree.

The Dollars and Cents Case
The Federal Reserve in 2012 found that virtually all of the wage growth in the wake of the Great Recession was the result of master’s degrees and doctorates. The unemployment rate for those holding master’s degrees has remained roughly half the rate of the general population.

This doesn’t hold true for all professions, of course. The entry requirement for physicians, lawyers, physical therapists and college professors is a doctorate, whereas journalists, real estate agents, and actors are not particularly advantaged by formal education beyond a bachelor’s degree. STEM fields all but require them.

Beyond the entry into practice is the wage premium. A Census report revealed that over 40 working years a master’s is worth nearly half a million dollars more than a bachelor’s.

Mariam Kaldas of Mount Pleasant knows all about that. She earned a Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs, but along the way, she discovered that her passion for counseling extended beyond students. She landed a job with the U.S. State Department for $30,000 more because of her advanced degree.

“I also qualified for a wider range of positions due to my master’s degree,” she notes.

Supply and Demand Tips Towards Grad Degrees
Forbes reports that the U.S. supply outstrips demand for workers with advanced degrees. Twenty percent of positions require or prefer them but only 11% of the population is so equipped.

It’s about more than money, of course. Besides being more marketable, professionals with advanced degrees have a broader perspective in their discipline. Graduates of programs whose classes are offered at the Lowcountry Graduate Center regularly report they come away with a more systemic or global view of their profession.

“You come away with a different mindset when you graduate,” said Avona McHenry, a graduate of South Carolina State University’s MBA program at the Lowcountry Graduate Center. “You have a holistic view of business and how you can add value.”

Beyond the Financial
For many, the decision to return to school transcends a cost-benefit analysis. They are simply lifelong learners, driven to educate themselves as much as possible. Graduate school for working professionals exposes students to higher-level learning, fellow professionals in the field with their own expertise and other learning opportunities like internships and field research.

An unintended consequence of graduate education is happiness. The World Health Organization found that individuals with advanced degrees report higher quality scores on physical and psychological health, social relationships and environmental factors than those without.

There Are Costs Too
Obtaining that degree does require some inputs. The average master’s degree costs about $10,000/year at a public university and $20,000/year at a private one. Those are for full-time matriculation. For a two-year program, you’re investing $20,000 to $40,000, not to mention wage opportunity costs if you postpone or interrupt working to attend school.

For someone in financial services, where the estimated average premium is $80,000 annually, it’s an easy calculation. For someone entering the early childhood field, the pure numbers might not work. It’s a calculation each individual must do.

For adult students, there are social and familial considerations. Will you be unavailable for ballet recitals and Little League games for two years? Will you become a book hermit at the expense of friendships? Will this put pressure on a spouse or significant other at a critical time in their life? These are all considerations.

A rational cost-benefit analysis can lead to a good resolution, one generally validated by the job market. Says Kaldas, “it was a worthwhile investment.”

What is your resolution? Whatever it is, Happy New Year!