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Is Going Back to School Worth the Cost?

May 24, 2019 · 6 minute read

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Is Going Back to School Worth the Cost?

At the ripe old age of 88, Michelangelo was (supposedly) quoted as saying, “I am still learning.” Now, no one is saying you need to go back to school at 88 (although you can!), but the idea holds true: we are never too old to learn.

That said, there are costs to going back to school. Maybe you never finished that bachelor’s degree, or perhaps you’re wondering if the time is right to go to graduate or professional school. In either case, you’ll want to weigh the costs and benefits before making this decision.

Once you’re clear about what program you’d like to pursue and have a list of schools to consider, you may want to ask yourself the following:

•  Will my investment in this degree be worth the cost?

•  Will the degree help me in my career path?

•  Is this degree necessary to continue on my career path?

•  Will this degree increase my job satisfaction (and my satisfaction in life, overall)?

There are ways to answer those questions, including strategies about how to calculate your financial return on education (ROEd), providing a way to look at how your degree combination can affect your income after you graduate.

Will This Degree Help Me in My Career Path?

When going back to school as an adult, it’s important to position yourself for continued growth based upon the career progress you’ve made to date. Sometimes, your continuing education of choice will take you further on the same career path you’ve already established. Other times, you will be broadening your education to branch out into complementary fields.

To make sure that the program you’re choosing will help you to accomplish your career goals, consider talking to people whose judgment you trust, including those who have pursued the path you’re considering.

Another resource that might be worth checking out is LinkedIn. You can search the profiles of people who work for companies you admire or who are in a job position you’d like for yourself. What educational credentials have they listed? If they have a graduate degree, which one? Does this mesh with what you have in mind?

If you’re considering a pivot to a new field altogether, investigate carefully to determine potential opportunities as well as the amount of time and money you’ll need to invest to obtain your career goals. Consider taking a single class or participating in an internship in that field before diving into full-time pursuit of a degree.

Instead of immediately pursuing education career expert Ashley Stahl recommends looking at your current career and seeing if you already have a skill that you can use to pivot.

Is This Degree Necessary to Continue on My Career Path?

Sometimes, of course, obtaining additional education is necessary in order to fulfill your career goals. This is true if you want to become a doctor or a dentist, a nurse or a lawyer. And, in other cases, you may not necessarily need additional education to get a job in a particular field, but you might aspire to work for a company that requires further education from its professionals.

Obtaining an MBA, for instance, can provide you with skills that will suit you well in various fields. And companies are very interested in hiring MBA graduates: According to The Graduate Management Admission Council , 81% of companies surveyed planned to hire MBA graduates in 2018, and 52% were planning on increasing base salaries. In other words, not only can getting an MBA increase your skill set, it also may set you up for greater career and financial success down the line.

Will This Degree Increase My Job and Life Satisfaction?

Any time you invest significant resources into a decision, such going back to school, you probably have desired outcomes in mind. With college or university, you’ll likely want to receive a promotion, a boost in salary, and the like, which is reasonable. But, it’s also important to consider whether those accomplishments will really make you happier.

A lot of the things in work that make us happy are intangible: a work culture and community that aligns with your values, work-life balance, or a boss you work well with. Having said that, you might need an advanced degree to get into companies and positions that provide these essentials.

Keep this in mind when deciding if going back to school is the right decision to make.

Will My Investment in This Degree Be Worth the Cost?

To help you determine the answer, perhaps consider your financial return on education (ROEd). As an initial step, you might look to see the typical lifetime earning potential for graduates in your field. But if you’re pursuing a graduate degree, it’s really important to look at the value of your degree combination.

Why? Well, your undergraduate degree has almost certainly boosted your earning potential, although to what degree varies by your major. So, when you add a graduate degree to your undergraduate one, your earning potential naturally shifts. To demonstrate how that has worked, SoFi analyzed more than 200,000 student loan refinancing applicants to calculate ROEd for numerous degree combinations.

To use this chart, find an undergraduate degree on the y-axis and then choose a graduate degree from the x-axis. When you locate the point of intersection, this will indicate the lifetime earnings’ increase or decrease, based upon graduate degrees, from the hundreds of thousands of applications that were analyzed.

We highlight one example at the top of our infographic: With a humanities undergraduate degree, applicants were determined to have a lifetime income of approximately $2,656,912. If they then earned a master’s degree in humanities, they would be likely to see a 4.9% increase in income. But, if they chose to earn an MBA, they could see an increase of 88.9%—and that’s they pay off their student loans.

Here are some highlights:

•  Adding a dental or medical degree to almost any undergraduate degree typically results in a significant boost in income.

•  Holders of humanities undergraduate degrees will likely benefit the most in terms of increased lifetime earnings when obtaining a graduate degree.

•  Advanced degrees in computer science are shown to have minimal ROEd, and a negative return for people who already earned an undergraduate degree in computer science.

•  Graduate degrees in quantitative science and/or mathematics often outperform other programs.

Armed with this knowledge about ROEd, along with other information provided in this post and from trusted friends and advisors, you can make an informed decision about whether going back to school makes sense for you.

How to Finance Going Back to School as an Adult

First, you can conduct a scholarship search and explore foundations and organizations that may provide funding to you based upon your professional credentials, your community, religious affiliation and/or ethnicity, etc. Also, you could check to see if your employer offers any scholarship or grant programs that can benefit you.

You should also first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and take advantage of federal funding, and check out the information provided by to find opportunities for federal loans and grants for professional and graduate students. You can also find state-funded possibilities, including both loans and grants.

Is combining funding from these sources, as well as any funds that you can personally contribute, enough to pay tuition and other expenses associated with going back to school? If not, you could also explore private student loans.

Repaying Your Student Loans After Graduation

It’s never too soon to think about how you’ll pay back student loans once you graduate. If you took out federal loans to finance your education, you’ll automatically be placed on the standard 10-year repayment plan unless you request otherwise.

If you’re still getting on your feet financially after graduation, you can also consider an income-driven repayment plan for federal loans. There are four income-driven repayment plans , all of which will calculate your monthly loan payments based on your discretionary income.

On the other hand, if you’ve secured a great job after graduating and are in a more financially secure place, you may be able to make higher payments on your loans. If you only have federal loans, that might mean staying on the 10-year standard plan and making additional payments whenever possible.

You could also consider refinancing your student loans. Refinancing student loans is when you take your (federal or private) loans and combine them into one single loan with a new interest rate.

Because your financial situation and credit score could be different from when you first applied for student loans (and are potentially better), you may be able to get a better interest rate. If you shorten your loan term when refinancing, you could save quite a bit in interest over the life of your loans, and get out of debt sooner than you planned.

If you like the idea of refinancing, keep in mind that refinancing with a private lender means you’ll forfeit your federal student loan benefits. But on the plus side, SoFi allows you to refinance private and federal student loans. And we don’t have any prepayment penalties or hidden fees.

Whether or not you choose to go back to school, like Michelangelo, you are always learning. And with the right questions to ask, you’ll be able to decide if pursuing a graduate degree as an adult is right for you—whether you’re 28, 48, or even 88.

As you consider going back to school, keep in mind that qualified applicants can refinance student loans quickly and easily with SoFi.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


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