You finally walk across the stage finishing your undergraduate degree, ready to make your way into the real world. You’re ready to never respond to a discussion post again and delete Canvas from your phone — this is the day you have been waiting for since you started your educational journey.
While many students share this experience, it isn’t the reality for all. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people have been applying to grad school. Students have been attracted to the idea of delaying entering the workforce and making themselves more appealing in their educational pursuits. But as grad school is becoming more appealing to Gen Z, is it actually worth it? Her Campus spoke with five students to get their take.
How long does it take to get a grad degree?
The time someone spends in grad school is very dependent on what type of graduate degree they are studying. From the five students Her Campus spoke with, the shortest graduate programs were both 30 credit hours (one was in international business and the other in entrepreneurship). The longer programs were both 36 credit hours, focusing on law enforcement intelligence and nonprofit management.
The average amount of time these five students spent in their graduate programs was a year and a half, compared to the national average of one and a half to two years for full-time students. It’s important to consider the length of your particular grad program for your area of study (the average course load is 30 to 60 credit hours) and whether you will complete the program as a full-time or part-time student.
Why do students decide to go to grad school?
The motivation for attending grad school varies between different individuals and based on their areas of study. Rose, 22, a recent global governance and ethics grad from University College London, shares that her initial motivation for attending grad school was to get a job in politics. “Half of it was the idea I had to have a master’s degree to get a job in politics (spoiler: you don’t), and the other half was I don’t think I was really ready to leave school just yet,” Rose tells Her Campus. “Personally, going to UCL and living in London was a childhood dream of mine and I can’t lie and say that wasn’t a huge motivator in itself.”
Other students feel like the pandemic altered their educational experience, which made grad school even more enticing. “I didn’t get the learning and experiences I expected over college,” Kiera, 21, a grad student at The University of Central Florida, tells Her Campus, “so extending my schooling while doing what I love has been a true gift that I continue to experience.”
Mary Kate, 21, a current grad student at Florida State University, tells Her Campus that her motivation to attend graduate school stemmed from her graduating in three years instead of the typical four. She expresses she always knew she wanted to spend four years in a college environment, whether that was obtaining a double major or going to grad school.
Some students also opt to go to grad school to make more money in their careers later. Amanda, 24, a grad student from the University of Florida, tells Her Campus her main motivation for obtaining her master’s in international business was “hopefully get a higher salary.” “My family is also really big on education and pushed my sister and me to go to grad school. It just felt like the next logical step, especially if I was going to be working in corporate America,” Amanda says.
Does a grad degree actually make you more money?
A huge motivator in attending a graduate program is to make more money throughout your career, but does a graduate degree always make you more money? It’s not a guarantee, but it can happen. “I think that my graduate degree has helped me beat out other candidates for jobs, but it hasn’t contributed to a much higher salary. Since graduating, I have made $3,000 a year more than my coworkers with only bachelor’s degrees in my positions,” Amanda says.
Adriana, 22, a current graduate student at Florida State University in her first semester, tells Her Campus, “I think salary-wise I can go into a government job right after graduation a little higher than I would have with just a bachelor’s.” Data shows those who complete a grad program earn more money throughout their career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for master’s degree holders is $77,844, compared to those with bachelor’s degrees who make $64,896 on average.
So, is grad school worth it?
That’s the big question — is grad school actually worth it? Kiera is a full-time employee while also attending a graduate program, and while she enjoys grad school, she also expresses that it’s a huge commitment to do both. “Doing my master’s while working full time is truly a commitment but I know it will pay off in the end,” Kiera says. “Overall, I believe a master’s degree is only worth it if you have a true passion for your field of study.”
While Rose values the people she met and the experiences she made while going to grad school abroad, she also admits that there are some cons to grad school. “Jumping into grad school right out of undergrad meant I didn’t have time to stop for a second and ask myself if that was truly what I wanted to do. In hindsight, I wish I’d worked in my field for a few years and figured out for sure if it was for me,” Rose says. “There were people of all ages in my program, and I think we definitely need to break away from the idea that going to grad school is something you have to do by the time you’re 25. Grad school isn’t going anywhere, and you definitely won’t be the odd one out if you wait two, three, or even 10 years before going. It’s not like undergrad where everyone (typically) fits in the same age range.”
Adriana stresses the importance of preparing herself before she started her program. “I took a year prior to graduate school and prepared myself mentally by setting up a study routine — notebooks, planners, boundaries with my friends for a social life, and a part-time remote job,” Adriana shares. “All of this has helped me maintain some sort of schedule for sanity in my life.”
After talking to each of these students, the overall consensus seems to be that grad school offers different values to different career paths. For example, if your sole purpose for attending graduate school is to make more money, understand that might not be the case at every company or position. Attending grad school may make more sense if you’re genuinely passionate about what you are studying — but just being passionate doesn’t diminish the time commitment and financial investment when it comes to grad school. Just like undergrad, everyone will have a different experience, so when deciding if grad school is right for you, write out all the pros and cons. Recognize the impact furthering your education will have on your free time and try to understand if all the studying and money is worth it. Ask yourself: Will this education bring me a raise? Will this education allow me to move into higher-level positions at a company? If those answers are yes, graduate school might be the right choice for you.