Is that graduate degree worth the money?

During the last three years, a wave of my colleagues rushed back to school — a few pursued a different undergraduate diploma while most sought out master’s degrees.

But one friend did the math for an MBA program that runs $42,000 a year, realizing there was no guarantee he’d both recoup that money plus the hit he’d take from starting over in a new field. Another guy I know went through med school only to realize later he wanted to be a teacher. He’ll be paying off his loans for the rest of his life.

This begs the question, which graduate degrees give you the best ROI? Most grad or professional degrees cost substantially more than undergraduate programs, so the risk is higher, but the payout could be tremendous.

This article from Kiplinger looks at a few specific degrees and their status in the market right now:

New hires of law-firm associates, which plummeted 40 percent in 2009 from the previous year, are creeping back up. More than 87 percent of law students who participated in law-firm summer programs were offered jobs in 2010, an 18 percent bump over 2009, according to the National Association for Law Placement. Still, hiring remains significantly below pre-recession levels, and competition for jobs will be fierce as law schools continue to churn out more lawyers than the market can bear.

Was the ROI on your graduate degree worth it? Which grad schools truly give you the most bang for your buck — both in the metro area and across the country?

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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34 comments Add your comment

WG

July 22nd, 2011
7:27 am

Going to grad school is a decision that should be made with deadly seriousness. Even programs that cost you nothing in tuition fees (because you have a fellowship or agree to work as a teaching assistant) actually cost you dearly. Grad school requires precious years of your life when you could be establishing yourself in a career. By the time you finish, you are well behind your friends who chose to take a chance on the real world, you probably have no savings or substantial assets, and no job experience (except in academia, where the job market is outrageously competitive).

Grad school can turn into a terrible trap. You can get a sense of the misery of those caught in it by reading blogs like 100 reasons NOT to go to grad school: http://www.100rsns.blogspot.com/

When you add debt to the equation, the misery just gets worse.

Mark

July 22nd, 2011
7:47 am

I disagree with WG. It really depends on the economy and the condition of the job market. I graduated in 2009 when hiring was just about at a standstill. Instead of dedicating my time and effort to look for a job, I applied for two jobs and to grad school. I went to one interview, didn’t like the job and got accepted into grad school. Applied for a TA position and got it. Overall, graduate school cost me $3,000 to get my MBA.
What were the opportunity costs? Hard to say really. Well I could have found a job paying $10,000 a year plus commission. This was not an option because of the economy; commission wasn’t going to get me anything.
Because I could concentrate solely on my degree, it only took me a year and a half to get my MBA. I ended up getting a full time job during my graduate degree. So, I think you really have to look at what you have to work with. In my case, graduate school was a no brainer.

SC

July 22nd, 2011
7:54 am

I believe it depends on the field you plan to work in. Teachers always get an salary increase with an advanced degree. Some nursing jobs pay around the same. Its not an ig salary difference.

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
8:00 am

Do both… get a job and go to school…. I got my MBA. while working for Marathon Oil… collecting GI benefits ( Vietnam vet )and Marathon. benefits plan paid tuition…. Ga. Tech has co op programs for Eng. degrees… Ga. State Executive MBA.. at night and weekends etc.. law schools have similiar programs… nursing programs all over the place… we worked our way through under grad back in those days.. NO student loans !!!

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
8:03 am

too many lawyers.. don’t do that… tort reform is coming ( hopefully )

Johnson

July 22nd, 2011
8:08 am

The MBA is rapidly becoming the most useless degree because every public, private, and for-proft university offers it. And the subjects taught in an MBA program are really no diffeent than the subjects taught in most BBA programs. I agree with SC that the choice to attend grad school does depend on the field you work in.

Most workers will find that certifcations open more doors than degrees. When recruiting for accounting/finance positions I have found that the letters CPA will advance your career a lot faster than the letters MBA.

Progress

July 22nd, 2011
8:25 am

It cost me zero dollars to do my master’s degree from 2003-2005 because I did it on the teachers’ HOPE scholarship and worked two years in the public school system to pay back that debt (while drawing a full salary). While working in the public school system I went back to school and earned a PhD at Georgia State taking classes at night. Total cost of the PhD at a national research university- $22,000. I now owe about 19k total, we’ve got at least 50% equity on our house (even in this market), my car is paid off, I’ve got retirement money, and some savings in the bank. The job market in higher education is brutal right now, but I bring home about 70k and so does my wife. So grad school worked for me.

I do have this advice for people, though: Go to a state university; they are much cheaper than private or for-profit colleges and the degrees are more credible. My wife works as a corporate recruiter and if they come across a resume from a for-profit or online school it immediately goes in the circular file because no one sees it as a legit degree. Work whatever full or part time job you can while in school. It may be hard but you can do it. The less debt you end up with the easier your life will be down the road. While you should follow your passion, you’ve got to make sure there’s a market out there for the degree you earn. Do the research on salaries and job prospects before you dive in. The last thing you want to do is incur 50k or more in debts (100k for private or for-profit colleges) and come to find out no one needs your skills or they will only pay you 30k a year for what you’ve trained for.

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
8:25 am

if we can finally simplfy taxes… which must be done to energize the economy… CPA will be less important.. we can’t have such a complicated tax code.. period.. math, science, medical, engineering, mechanical, and Vo tech will land productive jobs !!!

Good Grief

July 22nd, 2011
8:26 am

When I was looking for a job two years ago, one of the things that was hurting me most in my search was the fact that I possessed a bachelor’s degree. A lot of places were not hiring people with degrees because of the fear that they would have to pay them more. I’ve been extremely blessed to find a company that will help me pay for a Master’s Degree, so long as I stay with them after obtaining the degree, which I plan to do anyway.

Progress

July 22nd, 2011
8:41 am

There was an article in Time magazine recently that suggested that MBAs are killing America. The reasoning went something like this: When the engineers and scientists who actually designed products were running corporations in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, businesses were booming. Companies went out of their way to design the best products, ones that were made well and met the needs of the customers. Customers were happy, the businesses made money, and they made sure employees were fairly compensated because the CEOs had come from the production side. When the bean counters (MBAs) took over, the focus became squeezing more money out of less product. “Efficiency” came to mean moving money around to show the biggest profit while doing as little as possible. That meant cutting workers’ pay and benefits and skimping as much as possible on products. It meant hiding profits from the government and moving production overseas. And here we are.

reality check

July 22nd, 2011
8:50 am

Your friend who decided to be a teacher rather than a doctor is making a foolish decision to abandon the medical field for a low paying job. Be a doctor a few years, pay off your debt and then do what you want.

I earned several graduate degrees at night from Georgia State. My employer picked up most of the tab. I too wanted to teach and I did – in the graduate program at night. I also earned money to raise and educate my 4 kids and fund a comfortable retirement.

I never did anything without looking at the financial consequences. Money isn’t everything, but responsibility and accountability are in short supply in some segments of our population.

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
8:53 am

Reality Check… Amen bro !!!

GG

July 22nd, 2011
8:54 am

MBA programs worth the money: Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, Sloan, Columbia, Booth, Haas, Kellogg and Tuck

Law schools worth the money: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, Boalt Hall and Georgetown

Going anywhere else is very risky and probably won’t pay off, as the job market is already oversaturated with JDs and MBAs.

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
8:56 am

the President of our our Co… had an engineering degree and an MBA .. you can understand BOTH !!

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
10:16 am

Progress… it was NOT.. evil MBA’s that killed American manufacturing businesses.. it was the Unions… remember when we all drove American cars in the 50’s and 60’s ???? thank the UAW… remember in the 1960’s when steelworkers got 13 WEEKs vacation ??? then we bought Japanese steel.. thank the Unions… and Gov’t regulations EPA.. etc.. businesses gone… fast forward to 2011.. NLRB wants to close the new Boeing plant in S.C… while Boeing is in intense competition with AirBus ( French ) for new plane contracts…

Destin Dawg

July 22nd, 2011
10:17 am

and here we are ?? !!!

mark

July 22nd, 2011
11:45 am

GG…..you are delusional.

GG

July 22nd, 2011
11:59 am

@mark

Care to elaborate?

student

July 22nd, 2011
12:09 pm

I believe it’s a matter of circumstance. Right now, my husband and I are in a good place financially, with no children. I’ll continue working full time and begin this fall part-time at GSU to earn my graduate degree. We are paying out of pocket, but it’s not going to hit us too hard if I continue to work. Yes, it will be difficult. But we do not agree with taking out loans.

At this rate, I’ll have an additional three years of experience in my field PLUS a degree. I think it’s worth the 25,000–while you may not think so, bachelor’s are becoming the lowest standard for a hire. In thirty years while I’m competing with entry level newcomers, a master’s will be essential.

Belinda

July 22nd, 2011
8:21 pm

Getting a grad degree may be worth the $$$ if you pick the right field. I went through two years of grad school, incurring 40K of debt to do so. What made it all worth while was going from making $8/hr before grad school to $30/hr just coming out of grad school. I am now up to $40-$50/hr.

Again, it just depends on the type of grad degree you go for…

Holly

July 22nd, 2011
9:41 pm

Whatever happened to learning for the sake of expanding your mind and your horizons? Can anyone truly quantify the return on investment in oneself?

redhousecat

July 23rd, 2011
2:01 pm

unfortunately, the general population equates a master’s degree with business. The market is saturated with MBA’s. MS’s certainly are worth the money if you have to pay. I am fortunate enough to be 39, served a career in the military, finished my BA, now will be attending grad school in the fall. I know what it’s like to have a career. I know what it’s like to bust ass in school. Grad school is a choice I made for myself, not for money, not for someone else. In fact, after paying for undergrad out of pocket, I looked at my first grad school $10K+ tuition bill and had the best feeling in the world seeing that I only owed $454 of that. My hard work finally paid off with a research assistanceship.

The best part is knowing I will have science degrees. As a woman scientist, that couldn’t be any more perfect. The hard work is and will be well worth it. (oh, and my husband agrees)

AngryRedMarsWoman

July 23rd, 2011
2:52 pm

I went to a state school for my law degree – cost me a little under $30k. Since graduating 15 years ago I have made over $2million. For me it was obviously worth it; however, I know many fine hard-working lawyers making less than $100k per year. I also know many people who spent the time and money and either never got hired or else were out of law within 10 years. A law degree is not a guarantee of wealth….and most lawyers who do make a healthy living at it are working more hours than most folks would even dream of putting in.

Grad D

July 23rd, 2011
4:32 pm

Go to grad school part time / night–it costs too much in salary to give up for a full time program. Plus, if you work, most companies will pay some or all of the cost. Ga and Ga State have good part time programs for working professionals at a decent cost.

DT

July 23rd, 2011
4:45 pm

It depends on the situation. Some employers will pay for your education if it is related to your current position. I made the decision to go to graduate school after being out of school several years. I did not go to school to become wealthy but to be able to apply for other jobs when I retire. Yes graduate school takes up a lot of time but in the end it is worth it.

steve

July 23rd, 2011
4:45 pm

I have a law degree which is a masters, professional or doctorate level degree depending on who you ask and I make $13 an hour working a clerical job… yeah not so good. I’d be happy to make $55-$60k a year.

Robert

July 23rd, 2011
4:56 pm

Education should NEVER be looked as only a means to an increased income. If you do, you’ll never get the full value out of it…

teckyg

July 23rd, 2011
5:04 pm

Avoid the for profit schools!
Hey realitycheck–How’s your health?
Review the Bureau of Labor Statistics Forecast before pursuing a graduate degree!
Why does Teach America have lawyers in their programs?

BE A nurse (RN0

July 23rd, 2011
5:41 pm

I am a Rn with my BSN, going to grad school onlinw at Western Governors University to et my MSN with a speicality in education. I want to be a college nursing professor. It is hard, but can be done. As a RN working 3 12 hours night shifts a week, I make about $55,000 beofre taxes, benefits, and retirement plan. Have been a RN for 9 yrs now

Ole Guy

July 23rd, 2011
5:54 pm

A graduate degree, combined with appropriate professional experience, can be extremely valuable…OR…just another piece of paper to shove under a prospective employer’s nose. As with just about any set of economic circumstances, it’s all a matter of the supply vs demand function; in other words, the only guaranteed constant is that there are no guaranteed constants. In fact, all considerations equal, an advanced degree, under some/many conditions could be an impediment to who winds up on the payroll. Steve’s experience (7231645) just may highlight this unfortunate situation (Sorry, Steve…I don’t mean to sound mean; been there done that. Underemployment sucks; I know it’s far easier said than done, but your ship will come in, my friend. Ya gotta have faith, if only to maintain your own “internal balance”).

Even in these tough economic times, many recent college grads opt to attend grad school rather than navigate the stormy seas of a tougher employment picture. While there are (at least none that I know of) no cast-in-bronze answers to the big question of seek-employment-or-go-to-school, my (non-professional) outlook is to get some (any) work experience first.

It’s a difficult decision and there are no right-or-wrong answers/no woulda-coulda-shouldas. To all who face this hard decision…good luck and Godspeed. Time is on your side…use it wisely!

Enrolling

July 23rd, 2011
7:00 pm

Some fields it’s a must you get MBA or equivalent for example to be a CPA you need 150 credit hrs and the easiest and most logical way is to get Master of Professional Accounting, MBA, Master of Taxation. The Accounting firms don’t hire BBAs anymore so it’s your choice. Sad but true. GA State is your best bet in GA

Former athlete

July 23rd, 2011
7:07 pm

Umm, its the opposite, most Accounting firms will hire you if you have only the BBA with experience, and the MBA is mostly for only some select positions. In other words, most of the jobs out there NOW require you have experience more than the degree, so to sum it all up, rushing back to get MBA because of word of mouth is a waste of time and money. Do the research first.

Ole Guy

July 24th, 2011
8:54 am

Athlete, I believe you are right on target. While there are no “cookbook” surefire procedures to this question, the young “highly educated” yet non-experienced entrant into the professional employment whirlwind is likely to be viewed as, simply, overqualified and in demand of a larger remuneration package than could be reasonably expected.

The education/experience mix is not unlike that “perfect” drink at the bar: too much booze simply makes you “stupider” than you think; not enough firewater and the entire experience really has no point.

Let the employer spring for the advanced degree and the question of whether it’s worth the money becomes moot. The real question should be…are YOU worth the money?

e-Learning Pundit | July 26, 2011

July 26th, 2011
7:00 am

[...] A recent op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asks, “Is that graduate degree worth the money?“ [...]