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Weighing Costs/Benefits of Grad School
Old 08-05-2012, 04:48 PM   #1
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Weighing Costs/Benefits of Grad School

I'm considering applying to grad school and would be curious to get some thoughts from the community on how they would weigh the costs against the benefits.

Little background on my financial situation. I'm 26 and single with no kids. I make ~$85K/year base salary. Bonus is discretionary but should put me close to six figures. On pace to max out IRA and 401(k) (and hopefully HSA as well) this year. Currently have ~$70K saved almost entirely in retirement accounts. I owe ~$35K on student loans from undergrad and have no other debt (no car, no mortgage, no CC debt, etc).

I'm interested in grad school for four main reasons.

1) I think that it is nearly a requirement to maximize income in my field.

2) Much of what I do is technical. A masters degree would enhance skills (i.e. it would be more than a piece of paper.)

3) I think the programs that I'm looking at would be intellectually stimulating and I would enjoy the coursework

4) Lastly being back in school might provide some flexibility for endurance training and travel (two activities that I enjoy but can be challenging to do right when w*rking a lot)

However, I'm a little hesitant to take a year off and forgo income while taking out more loans (and/or blowing through my savings) to finance a degree. One workaround might be to go part-time and try to get an employer to pay for at least some of it, but that does not appeal to me. Most of the programs I am interested in are not available part-time and I previously started a part-time MBA program (did not finish, old employer paid 100%) and found balancing work and school to be both grueling and unsatisfying as most of my classmates (and myself) did the minimum amount of work to get through because they were busy with other obligations.

I think that if I did go back to school it would likely pay for itself (over time), but I could still do fine without it. I'd like to go back to school, but am not crazy about the idea of starting over on savings/student loans at a time when I feel like I'm just starting to make good progress on both of those fronts. Curious what others would do/consider if in my situation...
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Old 08-05-2012, 05:19 PM   #2
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Take a look at this paper: http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi...f-complete.pdf

In what area would be your grad degree and how much will it cost?
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Old 08-05-2012, 05:25 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by muddy View Post
Curious what others would do/consider if in my situation...
Here are my thoughts on the matter, from my own experiences in grad school only. Feel free to take 'em or leave 'em.

I'd NOT go to grad school unless/until I could get an assistantship that would include waiver of tuition plus a salary. Actually, I'm not just saying this - - this is what I did, myself, and what many others do. I did not pay one single cent for grad school, and earned as much as a graduate assistant as I could have earned at any lower level job. In other words, not much but enough for minimal subsistence. If a graduate program is in a very competitive field and if you have any promise, it shouldn't be a problem getting funded IME. Student loans should not be necessary if you can live like a student.

I'd drop the other job temporarily once you begin grad school, so that you can focus on your studies.
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Old 08-05-2012, 05:31 PM   #4
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I have obtained 2, employer-paid Master's degrees, while working full time. Each one took me 4-5 years to complete. I gave up a lot of weekends to schoolwork, although I do not feel I ever neglected my family. I did not do "the bare minimum to get by"; that attitude simply is not in my nature.

The first degree paid off because I got promoted, due to being "more competitive." The second one (M.S.S.E) paid off because I got smarter at my job, and (I think) just about everything else. Bear in mind that I was well into middle age when I undertook the second master's degree; while I had to work hard for my A's, I was also a better time manager and certainly a better writer than the younger students.

Your mileage may - indeed, almost certainly will - vary.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by muddy View Post
I'm considering applying to grad school and would be curious to get some thoughts from the community on how they would weigh the costs against the benefits.

Little background on my financial situation. I'm 26 and single with no kids. I make ~$85K/year base salary. Bonus is discretionary but should put me close to six figures. On pace to max out IRA and 401(k) (and hopefully HSA as well) this year. Currently have ~$70K saved almost entirely in retirement accounts. I owe ~$35K on student loans from undergrad and have no other debt (no car, no mortgage, no CC debt, etc).

I'm interested in grad school for four main reasons.

1) I think that it is nearly a requirement to maximize income in my field.

2) Much of what I do is technical. A masters degree would enhance skills (i.e. it would be more than a piece of paper.)

3) I think the programs that I'm looking at would be intellectually stimulating and I would enjoy the coursework

4) Lastly being back in school might provide some flexibility for endurance training and travel (two activities that I enjoy but can be challenging to do right when w*rking a lot)

However, I'm a little hesitant to take a year off and forgo income while taking out more loans (and/or blowing through my savings) to finance a degree. One workaround might be to go part-time and try to get an employer to pay for at least some of it, but that does not appeal to me. Most of the programs I am interested in are not available part-time and I previously started a part-time MBA program (did not finish, old employer paid 100%) and found balancing work and school to be both grueling and unsatisfying as most of my classmates (and myself) did the minimum amount of work to get through because they were busy with other obligations.

I think that if I did go back to school it would likely pay for itself (over time), but I could still do fine without it. I'd like to go back to school, but am not crazy about the idea of starting over on savings/student loans at a time when I feel like I'm just starting to make good progress on both of those fronts. Curious what others would do/consider if in my situation...
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Old 08-05-2012, 05:42 PM   #5
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Take a look at this paper: http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi...f-complete.pdf

In what area would be your grad degree and how much will it cost?
Thanks. Lots of good information in that paper. The conclusion of the article is that "No matter how you cut it, more education pays." As a general statement, I think that I agree with that.

I am looking at several programs in analytics/data science, which is a hybrid of several more traditional fields such as statistics, computer science, and business.
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Old 08-05-2012, 06:56 PM   #6
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I did the B-school comparisons about 5 years ago when I was going to change career from a construction industry background (project management). Always loved investments and portfolio management, so thought about getting an MBA in finance. Ended up staying in construction on the design-side "using" my undergrad engineering degree (not for knowledge-purely for resume).

In my case, the Grad School isn't necessary for engineering. However, one of the big factors was that my likely salary wasn't going to be that much higher out of grad school vs what my experience would land me in design. Thankfully, I didn't go to grad school, as I would have finished up right about in the spring of 2009 or 2010.

I realize that many grad school programs are picky on accepting transfer credits, but can you at least take a few of the more basic classes part-time (evenings/weekends) while still working? That way, you still have an income coming in, but don't have to worry about getting hit with a full part-time course load, while still making progress to your goal, so if you do go full-time, you won't have as long of a timeline.

Obviously, it would help if you were able to narrow down which school you would ultimately go to, and either take a few lower level part-time classes there or at least verify what courses they would accept from another institution (some community colleges offer grad-level courses at a steep discount).

Also, talk w/ your employer about your situation. A decently valued employee might be able to work a deal for either tuition reimbursement, or perhaps working part-time between semesters, or the occasional weekend you might have some time available.
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Old 08-05-2012, 07:44 PM   #7
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Well, I have two Master Degrees. First one was free - Grad Assistant - pre agreed upon - I set them up an Oracle Lab plus played a role in the lab as mentor to other students in the field. I got a free degree, plus $17.50 an hour for lab time. Completed the degree in 3 semesters (a pain, but I did it)... Second one - almost free, worked full time and took one to two classes per semester (depending upon complexity of the class) - took 3 years to complete - employer paid 80% tuition and I paid 20% plus books...

They paid me back very short with... Best investment I made...
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Old 08-05-2012, 07:56 PM   #8
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Go for the grad school!Some things to consider that others may have pointed out
1. Get an assitantship/fellowship + tuition waiver; it is easier in some fields than others
2. Consider if you want to delay the grad school by a couple of years (one can benefit even more from grad school after a decent amount in industry). And you might have more savings to take the pressure off.
3. Data Science/Analytics is a highly evolving field, so it will definitely pay off in the long run. On the other hand, my limited understanding is that the programs are quite a bit in a flux. I would love to hear what grad programs are out there.
4. Travel, flexibility are definitely great perks in student life!
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Old 08-05-2012, 09:13 PM   #9
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Do you have to quit your job? I got my grad degree while working full time, and while it was a tough couple years it was well worth it. Add the lost income to the cost of school and a degree can quickly lose it's ROI. Also, being able to learn something then go apply it at work is priceless.

Overall though, it sounds like your degree has some good upsides.

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Old 08-06-2012, 12:14 AM   #10
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Do you have to quit your job? I got my grad degree while working full time, and while it was a tough couple years it was well worth it. Add the lost income to the cost of school and a degree can quickly lose it's ROI. Also, being able to learn something then go apply it at work is priceless.

Overall though, it sounds like your degree has some good upsides.

SIS
Fair point. There's no reason why I would have to quit my job. And I probably should be more open to working while in school. I think I downgraded that option in my head because of a sub par experience balancing work/school previously.

If accepted to a part-time program I could continue to work "full-time." Also, I think there would be a decent chance I could do the opposite; go back to school "full-time" and work part-time for my current employer. Nature of my work is such that I suspect I could work remotely even if I landed in school somewhere far away from where I currently live..
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Old 08-06-2012, 12:24 AM   #11
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Go for the grad school!Some things to consider that others may have pointed out
1. Get an assitantship/fellowship + tuition waiver; it is easier in some fields than others
2. Consider if you want to delay the grad school by a couple of years (one can benefit even more from grad school after a decent amount in industry). And you might have more savings to take the pressure off.
3. Data Science/Analytics is a highly evolving field, so it will definitely pay off in the long run. On the other hand, my limited understanding is that the programs are quite a bit in a flux. I would love to hear what grad programs are out there.
4. Travel, flexibility are definitely great perks in student life!
Good points. There are programs at North Carolina State, Northwestern and NYU that I think would be up my alley, but I am still researching options. All of those programs are either relatively new or brand new. There are other schools planning to launch similar programs in the coming years. Database analytics has existed for decades, but the explosion of data (primarily from digital channels) and reduced cost/effort now required store/manipulate it has driven a new emphasis on this field and schools are starting to put together programs around the field. I view the rapid evolution of the field and educational training programs around it as an awesome opportunity, but I suppose that there could also be an element of risk there as well since some of the programs do not have much of a track record.
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Old 08-06-2012, 04:18 AM   #12
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Remember, when you read the lifetime earnings stats that they are distorted by the few with extra large earnings.

My recollection of the earnings of people at my mega-corp was that the MSc/MBA/PhD bunch did no better than the lowly peons. While I won't try to guess why, most never rose even to middle management positions (although the CFO was an MBA).

By all means persue a graduate degree if it it something you want to do. If you think it will improve your income and increase your chances of ER at age X, rethink it. If you just want a travel/fitness break, take one, it costs less.
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Old 08-06-2012, 06:21 AM   #13
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A graduate degree is a must have in some fields and some companies, so it can be a good idea under the right circumstances. Quitting your job and paying full tuition in a high cost program is not likely to lead to more money 15 years from now. Like others have said, for this to be an advantage you need some help with the cost (debt is not help) and some support from your employer. If you cannot get both of these, you should consider a part time degree program that is lower cost and will allow you work full time.
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Old 08-06-2012, 11:44 AM   #14
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I'd NOT go to grad school unless/until I could get an assistantship that would include waiver of tuition plus a salary. Actually, I'm not just saying this - - this is what I did, myself, and what many others do. I did not pay one single cent for grad school, and earned as much as a graduate assistant as I could have earned at any lower level job.
I went to grad school starting in the late 90s and made about 20k year (in addition to tuition waiver). For any kind research oriented masters or PhD program in a technical field this is absolutely the case and if your school/advisor can't find you funding, there is something wrong with them you should NOT go there.


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Thanks. Lots of good information in that paper. The conclusion of the article is that "No matter how you cut it, more education pays." As a general statement, I think that I agree with that.

I am looking at several programs in analytics/data science, which is a hybrid of several more traditional fields such as statistics, computer science, and business.
Based on the paper and my experience in industrial research / data mining / mega-corp I would not draw that conclusion. Most obviously, the paper doesn't normalize for the drive/intelligence etc of people. I.e., a very smart and ambitious person who could get an advanced degree in engineering might do just as well or better by sticking with their B.S. and moving up the corporate ladder.

While it's true that getting you more education results in higher average salaries, once you get into the sub-population of folks making more than $100K I believe the biggest determiners of career salary are ambition, leadership skills, and intelligence as opposed to specific technical training / grad school.

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Good points. There are programs at North Carolina State, Northwestern and NYU that I think would be up my alley, but I am still researching options.
I have a colleague that did the data science program at NC State. My understanding is that it is not a research program and hence I think it would be very difficult to get funding from the school to attend. Also when you look at early career data science jobs a big chunk of them are for hybrid software developer / data scientist positions. If you do not already have the programming skills i don't believe most master's programs will give you that. That said there are still many data science jobs that don't require much more than programming in a statistical language package and perhaps basic SQL / scripting language for data munging.

What type of data science job are you looking for? For example, if I were in a bank or insurance company in their risk/underwriting departments I would definitely consider hiring folks out of those applied programs. Also if I was working for a consulting company. On the other hand, if I was in a startup or a company that has a big R&D function I think I would be much more likely to hire someone with masters from a research program (e.g. masters from machine learning dept at CMU, masters in EE who worked in pattern rec. etc.).


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By all means persue a graduate degree if it it something you want to do. If you think it will improve your income and increase your chances of ER at age X, rethink it. If you just want a travel/fitness break, take one, it costs less.
Agree 100% with this.
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Old 08-06-2012, 12:45 PM   #15
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IMO, having a grad degree does not make up for having experience...

Some of the better managers that I had in my career did not have any degree at all.... they learned what they needed and applied it..

I got my grad degree paid mostly by my employer... but I can say that it did not make any difference in any position that I had or in any salary that I received... (I have a CPA which most companies treat the same)....


If it were me making the decision, I would want to make sure that the salary that I received after the program would be a lot higher than what I was leaving... if not, then I would not do it...

If you decide to do it while still working, make sure your employer is on board... there was one guy who I worked with that did not and he would get sent on business trips at the worst time for his classes... someone else got approval and at times they let him off a day or two here and there so he could complete a project....
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Old 08-06-2012, 01:15 PM   #16
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It won't hurt you to apply. You might be surprised to be offered considerable financial assistance.
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Old 08-06-2012, 03:01 PM   #17
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The other option is to discuss your desire for a graduate degree with a key person in your organization who would find that valuable. Some employers have 'favorite' grad programs and often they will pay your tuition (sometimes a year after advanced degree attainment).

A grad degree to put on your resume doesn't necessarily add to your professional advancement. Advanced degrees require a lot of work, choose the right program.

FWIW few Silicon Valley creative types have advanced degrees. Many started a program but left because they had ideas ripe for commercial exploitation.
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Old 08-09-2012, 03:21 PM   #18
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I got a MBA at a top 10 school, but only because I was a career changer from the military, which had no applicable skills in business, and my other option was being pigeonholed into a junior military officer slot as a pharma sales rep or some other similar career.

Are there work programs which can give you similar experience? There's no comparison to work experience.

If it's a government role which pays you more for a master's, then do it at night. The opportunity cost of 2 years in school is exceptionally high to make up for.
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Old 08-10-2012, 03:39 PM   #19
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I would not quit a job like you have to get an MBA or similar advanced degree.

I understand the work/balance getting out of whack, but I suggest you do it now, as doing it while married with family may be overwhelming.

Megacorp paid for my degree, almost 100%. I attended with people who were of the camp, "do the minimum." However, I knew what I wanted to be better at, and with kids grown, I was able to focus on just job and school.. It took me about 2-1/2 years total, as I withdrew once to stay within reimbursement limits.

My choices were limited by what megacorp would reimburse, therefore I went with program management, information security. There was no promotion or additional pay. I did it for myself, to prepare for next job. It is not that I will be a project manager at this stage of the game, but at 59 there is a chance I might get pushed out of defense industry. If so, I will have credentials to teach at some schools, at the very least.
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Old 08-10-2012, 07:07 PM   #20
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I don't think gettin an MBA for the sake of having an MBA, is cost effective. However, as target2019 said, if you want to teach even community colleges require that of their instructors.

That said, a masters degree in some fields opens doors.
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