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The Great Graduate Degree Debate

The Great Graduate Degree Debate

Are you a young credit union member who recently graduated from college and is weighing your options for the future right now? Maybe you have begun the arduous task of job searching only to realize things are tougher out there than you thought. Perhaps you’re considering applying to graduate school as a way of enhancing your skill set and ultimately increasing the chances of landing your dream job, or at the very least, a job in your field that will pay the bills (including those pesky student loan bills you wracked up to pay for undergrad).

If you are thinking about the latter option of continuing your education to earn an advanced degree, there are some important things to consider in terms of higher education costs and how a graduate degree in a specific field will apply in the real world. Begin by asking yourself questions like, How will this degree translate into realistic job opportunities and earning power? and If I have to take out additional student loans, will the cost of this degree be worth it?

A study recently done by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reported that while a graduate degree can help increase one's earning potential in certain fields (such as the medical field) by greater than 40%, it also varies widely depending on the industry. In other fields, an employer may be more interested in an applicant’s on-the-job experience rather than their level of degree or years of schooling. Thus, when making the decision about whether or not to enroll in graduate school, an individual should think in very practical terms taking into consideration their field, their hopes for what the degree will help them to achieve, and their return on investment.

5 Advanced Degrees with Little Bang for Their Buck

To help provide some insight into the types of areas that do not require or will not make the most of the training provided by an advanced degree, the Georgetown study named 5 fields where advanced degrees would not be worth the investment of time and money.

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree can be earned for work in creative writing, studio art, performing arts, and more with an average cost of about $22,000 per semester. According to the Georgetown study those earning such a degree will achieve just a 3% increase in income. Experts in the field say that experience and an impressive portfolio speak louder than a graduate arts degree.

Although computer engineering is a growing industry with plenty of job potential and forecasted to continue growing over the next 10 years, there is no real advantage for those computer programmers who choose to obtain an advanced degree in the field. With the Georgetown study seeing a meager 16% pay hike for students with graduate degrees in computer engineering, it is no surprise that executives in the field say that candidates equipped with a hands-on attitude and superior technical and interpersonal skills are always chosen over those with just book smarts.

Like the computer engineering industry, the field of public relations boasts a plethora of jobs and expected growth but values real life experience as opposed to a graduate degree. Experts say that clients looking for higher level thinking in these areas often turn to those with an MBA (Master of Business Administration). The Georgetown study corroborates this statement with their findings - a 12% salary boost for employees with graduate degrees in advertising and public relations and just an 11% raise for students of mass-media.

Since the market is flooded with law school graduates and many legal positions have recently been eliminated, this job search is not an easy one, particularly if the law student didn’t attend a top-ranking law school. Many are finding lower paying jobs (annual salary between $40,000 and $65,000), jobs not in their field, or part-time positions. The reality here is that most law students have significant student loan debt and these positions are not generating enough income to pay for their monthly expenses. If you are considering law school, a top notch school provides a better chance of obtaining a job with a six figure salary after graduation.

Boasting an average salary of $87,780 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, atmospheric science and meteorology are considered well-paying fields. Depending on where one wants to work, some research-based positions will require advanced education while many government or private sector positions will not. However, with a 1% increase reported by Georgetown, it is clear that a graduate degree will do no good in terms of salary. Therefore students entering this field should determine where they want to work and whether a graduate degree is needed.

If after analyzing your situation and future aspirations, you find that a graduate degree would be a helpful and beneficial tool for improving your professional future, keep in mind that your credit union could help to finance this higher education. For more information about student loans and scholarship opportunities, contact your credit union directly. Not a member? Find a credit union and join today!

By Cyndi Cohen
Published July 31, 2012
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