Is Grad School 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 degree 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 the cost of graduate school. Your unique situation could reveal that the benefits of a master’s degree significantly outweigh the costs.

If you are trying to decide whether or not to attend graduate school, it is crucial to understand the advantages and financial resources that are available. This will help you in determining if pursuing graduate education is a worthwhile investment for your future.

Types of Degree Programs in Graduate School

First understanding the different types of graduate school degrees is crucial in determining whether furthering your education aligns with your career goals and financial expectations. Therefore, here’s an overview of these options to help you determine if grad school is the right choice for you.

Academic vs. Professional Degrees

From master’s degree programs to doctoral studies, each type of degree serves a specific purpose.

For example, academic degrees, such as the Master of Science (MS) in Economics or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in English, are designed for professionals who want to deepen their expertise in a specific academic field. These programs emphasize theoretical knowledge and research to effectively prepare students for careers in academia, research institutions, or other scholarly settings.

Professional degrees, on the other hand, such as a Juris Doctor (JD), are targeted toward those hoping to enter or advance in specific professions. These degrees focus on practical skills and applications in areas like business, law, education, or healthcare. Programs often include practical experiences like internships or clinical rotations to prepare graduates for quick entry into their chosen fields.

Some common professional degrees include:

Choosing between an academic and a professional degree depends on your career goals. If you’re interested in pursuing academia or research, an academic degree might be more beneficial. However, if your aim is to climb the career ladder in a specific industry, a professional degree could offer more direct benefits.

Specialized Degrees

Specialized degrees in graduate school offer focused education tailored to specific fields, enhancing expertise and marketability in niche areas of the workforce. These degrees are designed to meet the demands of specialized industries that require advanced knowledge and skills beyond the general scope of traditional degrees.

Some common specialized graduate degrees include:

Students opting for specialized degrees typically seek to position themselves as experts in their fields, often benefiting from increased job security and higher potential earnings. Such programs are particularly valuable for those who have a clear career path in mind and wish to deepen their knowledge and skills in a specific area.

Dual Degrees

Dual degree programs in graduate school allow students to simultaneously pursue two distinct graduate degrees, providing a comprehensive educational experience that spans multiple disciplines. These programs are designed to be more efficient, typically taking less time than it would to pursue each degree separately.

Some common dual degrees in grad school include:

Dual degrees offer a strategic advantage by broadening professional networks, enhancing employability, and providing graduates with versatile skills that are attractive in a dynamic job market. This route is ideal for students with clear professional goals that overlap multiple fields, offering them a unique edge in competitive industries.


Graduate certificates offer a fast alternative to full graduate degree programs, allowing students to acquire specialized knowledge in a specific area of study without committing to a full master’s or doctoral program. These certificates are ideal for professionals seeking to enhance their skills, pivot careers, or gain a competitive edge in their current field.

Since certificates typically require fewer courses than a degree, they are often completed in less than a year. Courses taken for a certificate can also sometimes be applied later toward a degree if the student decides to pursue further education.

Popular graduate certificates include:

This path is particularly appealing for those who need to meet specific professional requirements, want to stay updated with industry trends, or simply wish to advance their knowledge and skills in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

Top Benefits of a Graduate School Education

Pursuing a graduate school education is more than just an academic pursuit, but a journey that deepens your professional growth in your chosen field. This journey equips you with advanced knowledge and specialized skills, making the benefits of getting a master’s degree incredibly evident. You will find yourself developing a more critical eye, honing your ability to think creatively and solve problems innovatively. Beyond these academic achievements, pursuing graduate school fosters a lasting love for learning, preparing students to navigate and thrive in their industries. Pursuing a master’s degree also provides more specific professional development opportunities such as increased career options, various opportunities to network, and an elevated earning potential.

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. 

Elevated 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 $1,432 per week while those with a master’s degree earn $1,661 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 not experience with a bachelor’s degree alone.

In many fields, having a graduate-level education can also make you eligible for promotions and advanced professional roles, which enhances your ability to maximize your earnings. Understanding these financial benefits is key to assessing the true value of a master’s degree in your personal and professional development.

Learn more: The 8 Highest Paying Master’s Degrees

6 Factors to Help You Determine If Graduate School Is Worth It

Deciding to pursue graduate school is a major decision that requires careful consideration of various factors. It’s not just about choosing the right degree program; it’s also about ensuring your education aligns with your professional and financial goals.

Here’s an overview of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether graduate school is worth it for you.

1. Accreditation

One of the most critical factors to consider is the accreditation status of an institution and its programs. This is essential to the value of your education because it acts as a stamp of approval that ensures the school meets certain standards of quality education.

Accreditation bodies assess the quality of:

  • Teaching
  • Faculty
  • Student services

This recognition is crucial since it validates your educational achievements and the rigor of your academic program to potential employers and other educational institutions. As a result, choosing a graduate school that’s properly accredited ensures your graduate-level education not only develops industry skills but also holds significant value in the professional world.

When researching graduate schools, make sure you verify the accreditation status of an institution as part of your decision-making process to safeguard your investment and secure a quality education.

2. Reputation

When determining whether graduate school is worth it, the reputation of the institution is a crucial factor to consider. This is largely because recognition and prestige associated with a reputable school can significantly enhance the value of your degree.

Attending a well-regarded institution can provide a mark of excellence on your resumé. Schools with strong reputations are recognized for high academic standards and exceptional faculty, which reflects positively on its graduates. This prestige makes your degree more respected by potential employers, academic peers, and professional networks.

One of the best ways to research a graduate school’s reputation is by exploring rankings from reputable sources like the U.S. News & World Report. Since these rankings provide a relative measure of quality compared to other institutions, reading reviews from current and former students on forums, social media, and dedicated review sites can offer additional insights into the real experiences of those who have studied there. 

Combining these sources provides a well-rounded view of an institution’s reputation that can ultimately make a difference in the strength of your resumé post-graduation—depending on the institution.

3. Alumni Success

Examining the success of past alumni can provide invaluable insights into the potential value of graduate school. In many ways, alumni achievements are a direct reflection of the institution’s ability to prepare graduates for successful careers.

For example, Vanessa Bush, Associate Director of Enrollment at Northeastern, shares her experience earning a Master of Education in Higher Education Administration.

“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,” Bush says. “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.”

According to Bush, the woman from Texas loved that the program allowed her to explore her passions in global student affairs. Through coursework that promoted new ways of thinking, she was able to enrich her personal and professional life, and, ultimately, advance her career.

The Virginia-based classmate was also able to advance her career immediately after earning her master’s degree. According to Bush, her classmate’s boss immediately gave her a raise. 

“For me, hearing these women describe how their graduate program was worth it made me feel confident that I made the right choice,” Bush says. 

All of these testimonials directly speak to the quality and valuable benefits of earning an advanced degree at a reputable institution like Northeastern.

“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,” Bush concludes. 

4. Industry Standards

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.

6. 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.

In addition, the pursuit of a graduate degree might require personal and professional trade-offs, such as delaying entrepreneurial goals or personal milestones like homeownership or starting a family. Weighing these against the potential long-term benefits is crucial—such as higher lifetime earnings and greater job stability.

How to Finance Your Graduate School Education

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 September of last year, U.S. student loan borrowers owed a collective $1.74 trillion.

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


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. 


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 Study

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.

The ROI of Investing in a Graduate Degree

When considering the ROI of a master’s degree, it is essential to balance the opportunity costs mentioned above against the anticipated long-term gains. This balance should consider the degree’s direct costs along with the potential for increased earning power and career progression.

Many find that despite the sacrifices, the long-term advantages of going to graduate school significantly outweigh the initial opportunity costs based on their career objectives, financial situation, and personal circumstances. By analyzing these factors, you’ll be able to determine if the return on investment of a graduate education is aligned with your long-term goals and aspirations.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is grad school hard?

Graduate school can be a demanding experience due to the advanced curriculum, intensive research requirements, and higher expectations for critical thinking, analysis, and independent study compared to undergraduate programs. The level of difficulty varies significantly among fields of study, individual programs, and personal circumstances, including balancing studies with work or family commitments. However, despite the challenges, many students find the intellectual growth and professional advancement opportunities to be highly rewarding.

How long does a graduate degree take?

Northeastern offers various part- or full-time programs to ensure students have the flexibility needed to finish their master’s degrees. More specifically, Northeastern allows master’s degree students up to seven years from the first term of enrollment to complete their program.

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