Monday, April 13, 2009

Is grad school worth it in This Economy?

It's not breaking news that (in general), if you get a higher education degree, you make more money. But a writer over at Slate decided to test this theory recently by taking her reporting to the masses of 20-somethings who are contemplating whether or not going to grad school is worth it in This Economy. What she found is that though more school is usually an unbeatable bet in the long term, it is not looking that way to a lot of students in the here and now. One respondent, in particular, wrote to her with:

"I have a B.S. in sociology, and its value bears a strong similarity to its initials."

Ouch. Then again, what do you expect when you major in sociology? (Kidding, kidding.) According to the article, it seems plenty of students appreciate school as a refuge from the dreaded job market but are wary of the immediate payoff.
Look at student loans, the opportunity cost of taking two (business) or four (law) or eight (medicine) years off of your working life, add in a horde of other people with the same qualifications as you who are competing for a handful of available jobs and it's easy to see just how much the job market in these professions looks like a bubble that is about to burst. [Actually, law school is three years.]
To be fair, the story does mention that economists across the board dispute these points. "When things recover, it's going to be the highly skilled who are still in greatest demand (as has been true for the last three decades)," David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tells Slate. "So, for someone considering engineering, medicine, computer science, economics, law, biology, etc., I would say 'go.' ... The recession makes education look like a better deal than ever because the opportunity cost of investing in your human capital has not been this low in quite some time."

But even the traditional safe havens in the job market, like becoming a lawyer, aren't so safe anymore. (Love complains about legal layoffs across the U.S. on a weekly basis, and let me tell you people, from all the info he shows me, it's a scary, scary time to pursue a legal career.) According to the Slate reporter, she "also heard from law school graduates with $200,000 in debt who wonder what they were thinking as firms downsize and implode." MIT's David Autor response? "As for the law degree being underwater: Lawyers may get their shoes wet during the recession, but high school grads can't even see the surface they are so far down," he says.

So the question remains: Is higher education still worth it? I'm of the mind that education cannot hurt you. I have my Master's and although I'm sure I could have gotten as far as I am in my career now without the higher education I traversed through, my degree is an added perk on my resume and in the training that's gotten me to this point; therefore, I have no regrets. It may be harder to find a job now for someone with, say, an MBA (students on a budget can consider an MBA online to an affordable degree) or degree in a tech-related field, but once This Economy turns around, I do think the highly skilled/educated folk will be the first to cross the threshhold into the new job landscape.

Do any of you have your graduate degrees and wish (at this point) that you could just give them back? If you went on after college, did you think grad school was a waste of time? If you opted to not pursue a grad program, what was the biggest reason?


Raquel Stecher said...

I just got my grad degree last year after 3 years of working full-time and doing either part-time or full-time school. It was an emotional and financial strain and I feel like it robbed me of some years of my youth. My degree is book industry specific, but I was already in the industry and am still at the same job I was 5 years ago, before I started the program. Now that I finally have that grad degree, the economy stinks and I'm lucky to even have a job. The thought of advancement in my career seems like pie in the sky right now as book people are getting laid off left and right.

When the economy gets better, I think my grad degree would help me get another job, but it would have to be an entry-level one as my industry basis a lot of worth on work experience.

So I don't think my grad degree was really worth it. I hope that changes, but I'm mostly skeptical.

To think, I could have used those 3 years and all of that money (I paid my way through) to travel. :-(

The Depressed Yogi said...

I'm a first year attorney fresh out of law school. Do I regret going to law school? Sometimes. I'm lucky enough to still have my job, but I'm saddled with the kind of debt that makes it impossible to walk away from a six-figure salary. If I had to do it all over again, I don't think I would've gone to law school. That being said, if you know what you're getting yourself into, by all means, go! If you're like me and just doing it because you don't know what else to do or because your parents want you to, I'd recommend saving your money and spend some time figuring out what you REALLY want to do.

P.S. I went to a state school and STILL came out with loads of debt ;-)

Fortuna said...

I have a professional degree, my boyfriend is in a different professional program, 80% of my close friends have at least one post-grad degree.

For me, worthwhile: I came out in the top 10%, was hired in the first job I applied for, and made it out with debt under $30K. Considering I already make at least $20K/year more than I would have with a single university degree, and it only gets better (AND I took a lower paying job to start for the experience/quality of life), obviously a good deal.

For my boyfriend, worthwhile: personal satisfaction and good job prospects - although he's fairly competitive as well.

There may be some difference due to more restrictions on getting into professional schools in Canada.

Also, we got professional degrees, not MBAs or MAs. There's no way an MA would have been worth it for either of us, most of my friends with PhDs would never do it again and warn others off it. Market saturation for any Masters degree these days seems a little high. The highest income-investment satisfaction may be among my RN friends, seconded perhaps by those who went into pharmacy.

The article also provided a link to something about the value of an MBA. All you need to assess the value of an MBA is a look at a syllabus. Seriously.

Revanche said...

I still haven't gotten a graduate degree.

Even though my decision was purely practical, and I did pay off substantial family debt and built a solid net worth, there's still a part of me that wishes I were leaving this job with a graduate degree under my belt. Or at least part of a program completed.

On the other hand, I might have opted for a degree most applicable to publishing which would have felt like a pretty big mistake in this environment.

*shrug* Even when it's patently obvious that I can't, I still haven't accepted that I cannot do all things at all times.

Kate said...

I didn't go to grad school because I just didn't want to add anymore students loans. Now I am married and working full time while my husband is in grad school and it just doesn't make sense financially for me to go anytime soon....maybe one day though...

Crystal said...

Thank you all for sharing your experiences! It sounds like we're pretty split down the middle about whether grad school is worth it or not. Raquelle, I understand your qualm that you could have used those 3 years to travel, but I do think that your degree can't hurt you, especially in the long run! I also agree with Carolyn about going to law school only if it's what you TRULY want to do, and not just for money, etc. (Carolyn: my husband said they call the six-figure legal salary the "golden handcuffs." Thought that was cute.)

Fortuna: I know what you mean about MBAs, after you pointed that out I read the story and think it is pretty spot on.

Revanche: I, like you, haven't accepted that I can't do everything at once. ;)

Katie: The great thing about it is if you ever want to go back, you can. Student loans are scary, though, especially if they are continually rising with your husband's grad tuition, too!

Anonymous said...

I'm doing grad school part time on my employers dime, but I am sacrificing a lot of time in my mid twenties when I could be spending weekends doing more fun stuff and gallivanting around.

But I still think it'll pay off, in any economy. It's becoming almost expected for those of us in my industry who have a BS to get our MS. Plus I didn't go to a top rated school the first time around. Now if I were paying the ~$30k out of pocket, I may be singing a different tune.

sam said...


Ann said...

It seems to me that soo many people now adays are getting their MBAs right after undergrad. Receiving an MBA helps one to gain an entry level position that should not neccessarily warrant an applicant with the MBA. So now we've created this unnessary need to advance one's education. People getting their MBAs that had majored in something such as sociology are not any more prepared for the business workplace than those with their undergrad in business to begin with, however having the "MBA" title may put them at an advantage. We are creating a world of educational debt by requiring too much education and prior experience for entry-level postiions.

Unknown said...

I just came across this post today--I will be leaving a 95k job at a high-tech firm to go to law school. I estimate to be in about 100k worth of debt after. If my luck is good and I do well in school, I can probably count on making the same salary *after* law school. I did have the choice of going part-time to a lesser tier school and be virtually debt free--but decided to go to a Top 30 law school instead full time because the prospect of loss of personal wellbeing outweighed the financial loss. As my Google Reader informs me on a daily basis of various law firm lay offs, I still find myself asking 'It's not too late--do I really want to quit my job and do this?' For now, yes. This Economy will rebound and in 30 years, the opportunities will be far greater than it is for me today (even with a bachelors and masters from an Ivy League). While there is a saturation in the labor market of both lawyers and masters degree holders, I think if there's anything I've learned from not being in school is specialization is good. Adaptability is golden. And, connections help :-p

katrina said...

Hi Crystal! I just found your blog today and felt the need to comment on this post.

I only have my undergrad, but my husband graduated from law school last May. He took the Texas bar in July, and got his pass scores in November.

I can't speak for him (because he freaking LOVES being a lawyer), but I wish almost daily that he had wanted to be an engineer or something that didn't rack up over $100K in debt for us.

Plus, there are about a bazillion lawyers out there. I am not kidding. It seems like almost anyone can get into law school (because there are so many of those as well). The husband was lucky to get a job, and he makes far far far from six figs. He has friends from law school who are about to be laid off and can't find a job.

I want to be a stay at home mom, but all of our plans for baby stuff because we simply cannot afford our basic bills on his law salary alone. It's really the law school student loans that are killing us.

*sigh* sometimes it just helps me to vent. There are bright sides though. He doesn't have the stress of bringing in clients, plus he doesn't have to work crazy hours. Those are definite pluses.

As for me, I toy with the idea of going to grad school (I'm a geologist), but doubt it will ever happen.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin