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Is a graduate degree worth the investment? 9 things to consider.
According to the GMAC 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, the outlook for graduate students is good -- 88 percent of corporate recruiters who work directly with graduate business schools planned to hire recent MBA graduates in 2016, which is eight percentage points higher than 2015 and 33 percent higher than 2010. Also encouraging from the survey, US-based employers planned to offer recent MBA graduates a median starting base salary of $105,000 in 2016, up from a median of $100,000 in 2015. Excellent news when thinking about the next logical question: “can I afford it?”
Before embarking on the graduate school application process, here are some key things to consider to ensure a great return on your investment.
- Market demand and earning potential. Be thoughtful about which program you choose and how the curriculum meets market needs. For example, the area of business analytics currently has a greater talent demand than supply (read: high salaries after graduation). Glassdoor and Payscale are good places to research potential starting salary.
- Career advancement possibilities. Most choose to go to graduate school to advance their careers. Before you pay top tuition dollar though, be certain your degree of choice will truly matter to those in your industry or sector. For example, in many industries, an MBA is still essential to advance to a top leadership role, but in others, exemplary work experience might be enough.
- Long term costs/expenses. If you are borrowing student loans to help pay for graduate school, remember future costs. Web-based loan calculators can help determine both the monthly repayment obligation and the total interest you’ll pay to finance it. Finaid.org offers loan calculators and is just a generally great resource for financial aid guidance.
- Career services offerings. When high tuition prices are at stake, investigate the level of support the office of career services offers . Make sure services are offered even if you are part time or are an alum.. Find out because this type of assistance can be invaluable.
- Part-time offerings. If you can’t afford to take time out of your career for the degree, consider going part time. Many schools offer the same caliber classes during evening hours to accommodate full-time working professionals. Check with your employers to see if they offer any degree reimbursement options.
- Pace of the program. The quicker you finish the degree, the less money it’ll cost you in the long run. Even if tuition is the same, you’ll save money on living expenses and earn a paycheck sooner. Research whether you can buy back time by taking a summer class or a week-long intensive, or if certain programs might waive courses based on prior education or work experience.
- Alumni placements. Look at alumni career outcomes to find out the salary range you can expect when you’re done, and identify how strong the alumni network is at your school of choice.
- Financial aid possibilities. Students who are solely drawing on their undergraduate financial aid experience might miss the fact that the federal government only offers loans for graduate study, not grants or scholarship money. Research whether your desired school offers scholarship or need-based grant opportunities for graduate school.
- Real cost of living. An investment in graduate school means more than just tuition and fees; expenses for room, board, books, transportation, etc. are important to consider. This information, or estimated Cost of Attendance (COA), should be readily available on a school’s financial aid webpage.The COA will give you a general idea what it will cost in total to attend during a given enrollment period. The total COA also represents the maximum you’d be permitted to receive in financial aid funding from all sources, including educational loan programs.