Considering Grad School? This Factor Can Help You Decide

If you’re thinking about going to graduate school, you’ve probably got a lot of questions – things like which program to pursue, what schools to consider, and whether to attend full- or part-time. You’re probably also wondering how to measure whether the investment in another degree will be worth it in the end.

While there are many non-monetary things to consider, like impact on professional development and job satisfaction, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Given the high cost of grad school (often accompanied by student loan debt), having a sense of the financial outcome the degree will provide can help you make a more informed decision about making such a big investment.

How do you determine the financial return on education, or ROEd, of investing in grad school? You could look at the lifetime earning potential for graduates of your chosen field of study, but that only gives you part of the story. Instead, look at how your specific degree combination could impact your income after you complete the program.


Why degree combo?

If you think about it, your undergraduate degree has probably already given you a certain amount of earning power. That earning power can vary widely by major. When you add a graduate degree to the mix, the numbers shift once again. Some graduate degrees may increase your earning potential by a lot, but others can actually bring it down.

In order to provide insight into the ROEd question, SoFi recently analyzed more than 200,000 applications to determine how various undergraduate/graduate degree combinations impact lifetime earnings. You can check out the results here on our ROEd infographic.

Some of the findings were expected. For example, adding a medical or dental degree to pretty much any undergraduate major usually results in a significant income boost. Also, those with humanities undergrad degrees benefit the most from graduate programs when measured by an increase in lifetime earnings.

But there were also some surprises. For example, we found that advanced degrees in computer science have minimal ROEd, and they actually yield a negative return for candidates who already have a computer science undergraduate degree. Meanwhile, the ROEd on graduate degrees in mathematics and/or quantitative science outperforms other programs in many cases.

The big picture

Knowing how a graduate degree will impact your income is an important piece of the puzzle, particularly if you plan to take on student loans in order to pay for the program. This analysis can help you make that decision with your eyes open.

Beyond income, and there are many other factors to consider as well, such as job satisfaction, flexibility, geographic location, and professional development. My own degree combination – a bachelor’s in History from Columbia College and an MBA from Kellogg – merits a “high ROEd” result from the analysis mentioned above, but it has influenced my career and other aspects of my life in myriad ways beyond just the financial.

For example, I chose to major in history for a very simple reason – I enjoy writing. I knew that as a history major I would get to do a lot of it, AND learn about real events that shaped the world. Though I didn’t end up becoming a journalist as I had planned, I use the writing skills I honed at Columbia every day in my job. I credit my strong communication skills with helping me progress in my career every step of the way.

After working for a financial firm after college, I decided to get my MBA because there were a lot of aspects of business I wanted to learn about. Attending a full-time MBA program gave me the luxury (and a two-year program really is a luxury) of exploring all the available options. It rounded out my liberal arts education, and gave me many more paths after graduation.

The important thing is to position yourself for continued growth. If you want to pivot to a new field, make sure that you’re aware of the opportunities available to you after you get that new degree. Consider the time as well as the money that you’ll be investing in the new area during your studies. You may want to take a part-time class or find an internship to sample the new area before jumping into it full time, stepping off the track of your current profession completely. Make sure that it’s something that will broaden your perspective and options.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but I wouldn’t change the educational choices I made. I hope by examining your own decisions about your education, you can say the same thing.

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