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Is Grad School Worth It for You?

How to Think About the Value of Continuing Your Education

Is a postgraduate education worth the investment?

The median salary for people with a master's degree was 20% higher than for those with an undergraduate degree in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Over a lifetime, that extra income can mean a lot, says Colleen Clarke, a career specialist, corporate trainer and columnist for the job site Workopolis.

Here are some tips that may help you figure out whether grad school is right for you and what programs might be best.

Consider Online Offerings

Distance learning opportunities are plentiful, and taking advantage of them may allow you to go for an MBA, for example, while still working, says Clarke. Some employers will even pay the tuition, she adds. What's more, you won't have to take a break from earning a paycheck if you're working while getting your degree, so you may be able to keep contributing to your retirement savings.

Look at Combined Programs

Some schools offer the opportunity to complete both undergraduate and graduate degrees over a four- or five-year period.

For example, a joint program allows undergraduates at Haverford College to gain early admission into a master's degree program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, and to obtain a master's degree in just one additional year. In such programs, students may start taking graduate courses in their third or fourth years, and in some cases the combined tuition may be lower than if the two programs had been taken separately.

Explore On-Campus Earning Opportunities

Many schools hire graduate students as teaching or research assistants. Earning an income, no matter how small, can help ease the pinch of tuition costs or student debt. These positions can also provide great networking opportunities, giving you a chance to meet professionals in your field.

Choose Your Grad School Program Carefully

A law degree doesn't guarantee a partnership in an upscale firm or long-term megabucks, but there is strong demand for information technology graduates, says Clarke. "Even if you're going for an M.A. in political science or art history, make sure to take some IT courses. Those skills are very much in demand."

Another field on a growth curve is gerontology, the study of the human aging process. Degrees in this discipline can lead to careers in a range of sectors, says Clarke. Take the time to investigate the earning stats for the profession you're considering, and try to assess how long it might take you to pay off the debt you'll incur while in school.

Getting that postgrad degree may mean sacrifice, but it's worth it, says Clarke, because it may give you a distinct advantage in a tough economic environment.

"Graduates are already competing with other people from all over the globe. A master's degree, and certainly a Ph.D., is what it takes to give you that extra edge."

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