Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

If you’re considering attending graduate school, you might be wondering: “Is grad school worth it?” Given the cost of earning an advanced degree, this is a common question for prospective students to have. Whether you are still paying off student loans from your undergraduate experience or you have a new family to provide for, nearly everyone wonders how they will manage to pay for a graduate education.

There are, however, more pros and cons to weigh than just those about finances. Depending on your unique situation, it’s very possible that the advantages of earning a master’s degree will outweigh the costs. 

To help you determine whether or not going to grad school is the best option for you, here’s a list of five considerations you should take into account when weighing your options.

Is Going to Graduate School Worth It? 5 Things to Consider

1. Paying for Grad School

The first question that likely comes to mind when considering grad school is, “How much is this going to cost?” With student loan debt continuing to grow, it’s easy to understand why. As of June 2020, U.S. student loan borrowers owed a collective $1.67 trillion.

Fortunately, there are many options available to help make a graduate education affordable. Options for paying for graduate school include:

  • Scholarships: A wide array of scholarships are available to help make a graduate education attainable. Graduate scholarships can be need- or merit-based and are granted by private and nonprofit organizations and colleges and universities. For example, students at Northeastern are eligible for a variety of graduate scholarships specific to the university. 
  • Grants: Like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid upon completion of a degree program. Grants are typically need-based and are awarded at the local, state, or federal level, or by individual schools or private organizations. 
  • Military Benefits: If you’ve served in the United States military, you’re likely entitled to benefits that will help you cover the cost of your education. Institutions that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program will contribute some or all tuition for post-9/11 veterans. Other benefits offered through the Post-9/11 GI Bill and US Department of Veterans affairs can help cover the remaining cost of tuition, as well as living expenses and supplies.
  • Work Opportunities: Students who have filled out the FAFSA and demonstrated need might be eligible for Federal Work-Study, a program that provides part-time employment to students to help lessen the financial burden of graduate school. Depending on the specific university and program you enroll in, you may also be presented with full-time co-op opportunities
  • Teaching or Research Assistantships: Depending on the institution, students in some graduate programs can apply for several kinds of assistantships. These are often in the form of teaching or research assistantships and Stipend Graduate Assistantships for doctoral students. 
  • Tuition Reimbursement: If you are currently working, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement as part of your employee benefits package. If you are unsure whether tuition assistance is available to you, be sure to talk with the human resources department or with your boss to explore your options.
  • Student Loans: It is not uncommon for students to turn to student loans to supplement the financial aid options listed above. These are federal or private funds that must be repaid with interest upon completion of a degree program. 

Earning an advanced degree is an investment, but be wary of simply assuming that it’s unattainable. 

2. Increased Earning Potential

Although paying for graduate school is a concern for many students, the increased earning potential that accompanies an advanced degree can offset the cost and provide long-term financial benefits. 

Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates the value of a master’s degree. Workers over the age of 25 who hold a bachelor’s degree earn a median of $1,334 per week while those with a master’s degree earn $1,574 per week—an increase of nearly 18 percent. Over the course of your career, this can amount to significantly greater earnings and financial stability than you might experience with a bachelor’s degree alone. 

Learn more: The 8 Highest Paying Master’s Degrees

3. Opportunity Cost

While it’s true that you’re likely to increase your earning potential by earning a master’s degree, it’s also important to weigh the opportunity cost of going back to school. 

For example, if you’re thinking of pursuing a full-time degree program, you will most likely need to make some sacrifices to accommodate a full academic schedule. Some students choose not to work during this time to devote their full attention to their studies. As you decide whether or not going to grad school will be worth it for you, be sure to consider the opportunity cost of not working if you plan on studying full-time. 

On the other hand, you may also consider maintaining full- or part-time employment while pursuing a part-time course of study. In this case, you will need to find a balance between grad school and work to ensure success in both areas of your life.

4. Increased Career Options

In many fields, earning a master’s degree is a great way to give yourself a competitive advantage in the job market. Having a graduate-level education on your resume demonstrates your skills and expertise pertaining to your area of study and can help you stand out to future employers. If you’re looking to advance in your current role, investing in your education can also show your current employer that you’re serious about your job, potentially making it easier to move into a more senior position. 

5. Networking Opportunities

Along with increasing your career options, enrolling in a graduate degree program will also provide you with networking opportunities in your field. Programs that emphasize experiential learning, such as those offered by Northeastern, are specifically designed to give students hands-on experience in their fields of study and cultivate key relationships with industry professionals. 

Building strong connections with people in your field can be a powerful tool to have throughout your career. These connections can often be useful in the form of recommendation letters, mentoring, and even job offers. 

At Northeastern, students have countless networking opportunities with peers and industry-aligned faculty, as well as through various internships and co-ops. These experiential learning opportunities have proven to be beneficial—roughly 90 percent of graduates who complete a co-op at Northeastern have full-time employment within nine months of graduation, and 50 percent of graduates who complete a co-op are offered a job by their co-op employer.

Alumni Perspective: Why Grad School Was Worth It

Below, Vanessa Bush, Associate Director of Enrollment at Northeastern, reflects on her journey toward earning her Master of Education in Higher Education Administration, and how she knew it was a worthwhile decision.

At my graduation ceremony in 2016, I sat next to a couple of my classmates who I knew only virtually, since the program was 100 percent online. My classmates were from all over the US: one woman was from Texas, one was from California, and another was from Virginia. As we got to talking, all four of us could point to obvious ways that our master’s degrees in higher education administration were worth the investment.

The woman from Texas mentioned that, over the course of the program, she had the opportunity to write about topics that piqued her interest so much that she ultimately led to her taking a role working in global student affairs. She also mentioned that a few of her courses opened her eyes to a whole different way of thinking, giving her new perspectives that helped her both personally and professionally. Perhaps most valuable of all, she felt this degree was a pathway to advancing her knowledge, and ultimately her career,  in the field she loves most.

My classmate from California agreed that the program helped advance her career; she was now better equipped in her role and was able to take on additional responsibilities and skills. She enjoyed being able to collaborate with so many talented and enriching educators across the globe, and she now had contacts in other fields and states. We all agreed that the power and extent of the Northeastern network were among the greatest benefits of the degree, opening the door to many future opportunities. The exposure to different types of jobs and departments in higher education also opened her eyes to other areas of interest she could move into as her career progressed.

My Virginia-based classmate mentioned that as soon as she received her master’s degree, her boss immediately gave her a raise—what a direct return on investment! She saw an increase in pay as a result of her hard work and commitment to education. She noted that it was inspiring to see all our classmates’ accomplishments and how far we had all come since stepping into the classroom on our first day.

For me, hearing these women describe how their graduate program was worth it made me feel confident that I made the right choice. I shared similar perspectives and thought the program made me more knowledgeable, proficient, and confident that I could advance myself and my career to the best of my ability.

Is going to graduate school worth it for you? To learn more about how a graduate education from Northeastern University can help you advance your career, explore our 200+ degree programs to find your right fit.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2018. It has since been updated for thoroughness and accuracy.