Measuring the cost with the reward: Graduate school pays off with experience despite debt

Millennials are defined as the generation born between 1981 and 2004. Only about half of the millennial generation has been alive long enough to graduate from college.

Though statistics show that college is paying off, a Pew Research study on the economic value of college degrees said, “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment, young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education.”

The study also concluded that the debt incurred over the course of college was worthwhile, “About nine-in-ten with at least a bachelor’s degree say college has already paid off (72 percent) or will pay off in the future (17 percent).”

Where does the speculation about graduate school originate? Studying the associations between college degrees and income, Pew Research says that, in the end, grad school does pay more. Additionally, the study showed, “The earnings of young workers with advanced degrees have grown even more than the earnings of those with bachelor’s degrees.”

Despite accusations of narcissism and a general lack of regard, college-educated millennials are doing well in the job market when they can find jobs. Those without a college education, though, are facing unemployment rates far higher than ever before.

Another Pew study found a 12.2 percent unemployment rate among those with only a high school diploma. A two-year degree lowers that rate to 8.1 percent, and those with college degrees face only a 3.8 percent unemployment rate.

Despite the positive earnings and job numbers, millennials find themselves with enormous amounts of debt.

“At more than $1 trillion, student loan debt in this country is bigger than credit card debt,” NPR noted on their radio cast, Morning Edition. This means that, for those with a bachelor’s degree, graduate school may not seem like an option.

Writing for, Raymond James says, “The decision isn’t always about earning more money. For some fields like law, science or medicine, a graduate degree is a necessary stepping stone to gain employment. For other fields such as business and technology, graduate school presents an opportunity to cultivate your skill set, change career directions and explore your passions.”

If there isn’t already a career in place, grad school may not be the best option, especially considering the ample amounts of debt one may have accrued in undergrad.

However, Patty Kirk, English professor, said, “When I think students are grad school material, it’s my expectation that they have a good shot at getting in. They’d excel in graduate coursework and they’re likely to eventually turn the degree into gainful employment in a field they love.”

“Typically,” Kirk added, “you have to pay for an MA, but with a straight-through program, you get everything for free. If a graduate program wants you, they’ll make it possible for you to get your degree without your having to pay tuition.”

“Not only that, but they’ll pay you enough to live on for teaching lower level courses as a graduate TA. That’s a win-win situation for the graduate student and the university,” she said.

“Grad school is so wonderful, if you do it right,” Kirk said. “You get to hang out with such interesting, like-minded people, get to study and get to learn so much more deeply and meaningfully and the whole time getting paid to be there. What could be better?”

May 2013 JBU graduate Megan Toney started grad school this fall at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the top programs in the country for social work. Toney said that, because it is a top program, most of her fellow students are driven individuals and passionate about what they are studying, contradicting most stereotypes regarding millennials.

Toney, like most post-college millennials, accrued a certain amount of debt in undergrad, though does not regret her time at JBU. Before making a decision on grad school, she talked with friends who have finished graduate degrees, “I tried to get an informed picture. ‘Tell me about your life now that you are out, and do you regret it at at all?’ was essentially what I wanted to know.’”

“After talking with people, and getting a fairly unanimous response that they don’t regret taking out that debt in order to get their degree,” a surprising response, Toney said.

Statistically, good graduate schools pay off.