How much to pay for graduate school

Now on to the how much to pay for graduate school question:

If we’re talking PhD… the answer is you don’t pay.  You do not pay anything for graduate school unless you are independently wealthy and you’re doing grad school as a leisure activity rather than as a way to increase earnings potential or get a specific job.  There is a strong correlation between you getting a stipend, or at least someone paying your tuition and your ability to get a job using the PhD afterward.  High quality students get money.  Fields in demand give money.  If you’re not offered money then either you’re not one of the top students or you’re in a field with a lot of competition (and you’re not one of the top students).  Take another year to figure out if this is really what you want to do and improve your CV while you’re at it.

Professional schools.  These are a bit different.  These actually do increase your earning potential OR they’re necessary for a specific but often low-paid job (like social work) that public service oriented people sacrifice themselves for because they’re good people.  The heuristic I like best for this is from Liz Pulliam Weston– borrow no more than the one year average salary of a graduate from the program you are considering.  I’m fairly sure she includes the zeroes of people who don’t get jobs in that average salary.  Now, if this is something you really want to do and you’re already good at managing money, maybe you can go into a little more debt, but in general it’s a good heuristic.

And really that’s it.  I had stipends 4 years of graduate school and a TA-ship the remainder.  I didn’t make much, but it paid the rent and barely covered other expenses.

Anything to add, #2?

Yes:  don’t pay for a Ph.D.  You have to pay for other things such as a master’s degree or professional degree.  But that seems… hard.  I don’t have a lot of experience here; my PhD was funded.

#1:  You don’t always have to pay for a master’s.  It may be worth it to pay for the master’s, but sometimes you can get funding through teaching and/or scholarships.  Companies will also occasionally pay for MA courses and there’s the night course option if you don’t mind taking a while to get your professional degree.  These degrees will be of varying quality, but if your company is paying they may value those skills and certifications.  But still, it might be worth taking out loans for depending on the situation.

Of course, I’m not going to touch the MFA with a 10 foot pole.

Did you pay for graduate school?  Was it worth it?

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15 Responses to “How much to pay for graduate school”

  1. Everyday Tips Says:

    I paid for Grad school because I went straight from undergrad.

    I think for public school teachers it may make a little sense to pay for your own PhD since many contracted salaries are tied to education level. (I don’t know of many schools that will pay to educate their teachers though.)

    I am also guessing that with the economy, many companies have reduced their spending on education?

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    That’s a good point. There are different flavors of education PhD/EdD. Some of them are really professional/practitioner degrees. The kind you would get if you want to teach at Harvard or Vanderbilt should probably not be paid for out of pocket, but the kind you get to jump up a pay grade if you get extra steps for the PhD (and not just for a MA) may be worth it.

  3. Roshawn @ Watson Inc Says:

    Very good discussions about the economic considerations of graduate school. I agree that Ph.Ds that truly increase your value (financially) typically pay you or at least only cost you opportunities (not tuition).

    With regard to Kris point, I would personally insist on finding a way to get advanced education in education that doesn’t kill your financial position. Liz Pullman West rule is a little too loose in my opinion, but this is a reflection of my risk tolerance not hard data.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, YMMV, but as a heuristic it isn’t too bad. You can’t get in completely over your head… I do wonder how the student I met getting a degree in non-profits is doing with her 200K student loans… She can’t even declare bankruptcy on that.

  4. Linda Says:

    I have a Masters in Library and Information Science and was very lucky to not have to borrow much to get my degree (about 8K total). I was working full-time and taking classes in the evening, but this was a career shift for me and I didn’t have anything saved up to pay for classes.

    I took out a student loan for the first term and started a savings plan to set aside enough to pay for one class in the second term. Shortly after I started grad school, my (now ex-) husband started working at a university that had a tuition exchange program with the local ALA-accredited university where I was enrolled.

    So, I was able to continue taking courses in the evenings for free while paying off the small student loan and for books and fees not covered by the tuition exchange program. Score! That was the best thing my ex ever did for me.

  5. Invest It Wisely Says:

    I am considering going for the night or saturday option when it comes to graduate school, myself.

  6. frugalscholar Says:

    MA programs have become huge moneymakers for institutions. I don’t think they increase one’s chances of finding employment–e.g. the social thought MA at U of Chicago.

  7. Rumpus Says:

    My off-the-cuff answer when people ask my advice about graduate school is, “don’t do it unless you know exactly why you need it for the job you plan to get.” The hardest question I was asked at any point during graduate school was, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” I don’t regret my PhD and the skills I gained, but my experience as a professor is that the people who get industry experience prior to additional schooling tend to be more focused and have that focus be in a more productive direction.

  8. Molly On Money Says:

    HA! HA! I have two BFA’s (OK, I’m 6hrs short of the second)! When I was being pushed into going on for my MFA I thought it was a little ridiculous to pay a university for a studio and work as a TA for free or for next to nothing. I opted to go out into the mean ole’ art world and try and make it on my own….It didn’t cost me a cent!

  9. 100 Reasons Says:

    Your advice is good. The opportunity costs for getting a PhD are high whether you pay for the degree or not, but to pay for a degree that offers you no guarantee (or even relative assurance) of a job is to dig yourself quite a hole.

    I think that people need to ask themselves whether going to grad school makes sense at all given the current economic and academic climates.


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