A graduate degree is an essential step for certain industries, and generally, the more important it is the higher up the corporate ladder you wish to climb. Undoubtedly, earning a graduate degree can be a wise career move for some people, but there are many ways to pursue the degree that actually hurt your financial situation, career prospects, and leave you no better off than you were before (except the fancy initials in your title). The following are perhaps the most common financial mistakes people make when pursuing a graduate degree.
#1: No Specific Target Career
You’re in the minority if you have the time and finances to pursue a graduate degree simply based on your interests. Ideally, most people are able to find a prospective career that closely aligns with their interests and talents, but there are other factors to consider, such as whether the degree will make you competitive for an actual, obtainable job. A bachelor’s degree may qualify you for a wider range of less specialized jobs, often regardless of the major, but graduate studies narrow that focus. This means you need to think one step ahead: what am I going to do with this? Before you select your course of study, do some research into what types of careers it will qualify you for, what the salary range is, and whether you can picture yourself in one these roles, long-term.
#2: Not Checking Job Placement Rates
It’s not only important to have a career goal, but to know the job market for it. If you wish to live in a particular state or city, you’ll need to search the job placement rates within that region. Will the degree/career you’re pursuing require you to move to find a job, and if so, are you willing to make the move? That’s an important question to answer before you commit to a degree program. Many colleges have career placement departments, and make claims about their placement rates. There are also many businesses that provide this service. While these resources can be helpful, don’t take them for granted, or wait until you are near graduation to look into them. Do your own research, and early.
#3: Not Using All Available Student Aid Options
The cost of a graduate education ranges based on your program and location. In the business field, it starts with an average of $7,866 in South Dakota, and peaks at $47,682 in Massachusetts. The default funding is student loans if you don’t look for other options, and if you’ve already accumulated debt from an undergraduate degree, this could land you upwards of $70,000 in debt by the time you’re done. Many students see this as a necessary evil, and expect to easily pay the obligation off once they’ve entered their high-paying career field. There are no guarantees though. I’ve heard of many sad stories of graduates who didn’t get that perfect job or salary immediately, but were still expected to start repaying their hefty loans. Consider other options for funding or at least minimizing the debt from your graduate studies, such as:
- internships that give you field experience while at least partially funding your education
- entry-level jobs in the industry, with employer-funded or reimbursed tuition
- enrolling part time while working and paying as you go
- educational fields that pay for tuition while you’re an assistant teacher
#4: Not Choosing the Best College or University in Light of Both Career Placement and Finances
An MBA from Harvard is impressive anywhere, but is it necessary for your career goals? More students are seeing the financial advantages of attending a local community college for 1-2 years, and/or attending an in-state university. Similarly, some find that pursuing a master’s degree locally or mostly online enables them to come out virtually debt free. At the same time, choosing a smaller college could mean fewer recruitment opportunities from top companies (such as with that Harvard degree). If that’s a priority, you can still reduce your total debt by choosing more affordable options for your undergrad work.
There are many ways to get a graduate degree, and no one method is right for everyone. However you choose to pursue higher education, avoid these pitfalls and you’ll be more likely to come out of it with the career of your dreams and minimal debt.