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Are Graduate Degrees Worth The Money?

By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large

Most news items about the financial payoff associated with having a college degree focus on the bachelor’s degree vs. the high school diploma comparison. Most people who attend college and earn a bachelor’s will stop there, and, traditionally, many jobs that demand college degrees at all don’t require advanced degrees beyond the level of bachelor’s.

However, that has all started to change in more recent years, and you can thank, in part, the ubiquitousness of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in today’s society...due, in no small way, to the big business that higher education has become in recent decades. Another factor is the longstanding belief that you’re nothing without a college degree, a perception not helped by the demands of many employers that eligible job applicants now have college degrees, even for jobs that don’t really need one. It has been said that today’s bachelor’s degree is like yesterday’s high school diploma, and today’s advanced degree is like yesterday’s bachelor’s degree. So, does this mean that investing even more time and money, beyond what it took to secure that bachelor’s, into getting a graduate degree…is a good idea? Well, that depends.

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As with bachelor’s degrees, the worthwhileness of a graduate degree, in terms of its financial reward, is largely dependent upon what one studies. The good news is that getting a graduate degree, in general, will boost one’s lifetime earnings. However, all graduate degrees are not created equal. For example, according to data, an MA in Humanities may add another $200,000 or so to lifetime earnings, while dental and medical degrees can add millions. Of course, professional schools in health care can be difficult to complete, expensive, and can demand a lot of time. So what about MBAs? Well, it turns out that MBA degrees can boost lifetime earnings by between 40 and 90 percent, typically; not too shabby.

None of this is rocket science, really (although an advanced degree in that will surely translate into a lot of money over the course of one’s lifetime); in general, the same fields of study that produce financially unrewarding bachelor’s degrees…many of the liberal arts, for example…tend to produce less-rewarding graduate degrees, while those degrees representative of business, engineering, science, and medicine can mean many hundreds of thousands, and even millions, more in lifetime income. If you’re thinking about investing a bunch of time and money into a graduate degree to improve the financial position of your family, just make sure you do the research beforehand to be sure it’s worth those expenditures.

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