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Grad Degrees: What to Consider

If you're thinking about an advanced college degree, such as a master's or doctorate, the first step is considering your personal circumstances and the advantages or challenges they pose in pursuing grad school. The following questions can help you consider your life and career goals as you plan the best path forward for you.

Is an Advanced Degree Right for You?

Whether or not a graduate degree program is appropriate depends on many individual factors, including your career goals, family situation, available time and possibly geographic location.

If you have a specific career goal in mind, determine whether the job you want to attain requires a grad degree or if an advanced degree will actually help you land the job you want or increase your salary.

The next step is to figure out whether you qualify for a graduate program and will be able to complete it successfully.

What to consider and where to learn more if an advanced degree is right for you.
What to Consider Where to Learn More
Do you need a higher degree to obtain an advancement, pay increase or a different job?
Can you achieve your goals without the new degree? Required degrees for careers
Will there be a demand for the job you want in the future? The job outlook for your career of interest (also available as a smartphone app)
Are you eligible for admission to the degree program? Graduate admissions websites of institutions offering the degree you want
Will you be able to meet the requirements (time, academics, research and others) to complete the program? Graduate admissions websites of institutions offering the degree you want

What Are the Financial Considerations?

You may have access to employer funds to advance your education, you may be currently debt-free and able to take on new debt, or you might be able to find a funded degree program if you're willing to perform research or teach students.

Whatever you situation is, carefully consider the cost of the program against potential return on your investment and possible loss of current income.

If you decide to take student loans to fund part or all of your new degree, remember your total student loan debt (including any outstanding undergraduate loans) should not exceed a realistic first-year salary after achieving the degree.

What to consider and where to learn more about financial considerations.
What to Consider Where to Learn More
How much will completing the entire program cost? Graduate admissions websites of institutions offering the degree you want
What financial support is available to you?
  • Human resources office for your employer
  • Scholarships, grants and fellowships for academics, financial need or industry shortage areas
  • Paid assistantships or research programs offered by your institution
If you are employed, will you be able to continue working full-time while attending grad school, or will your income be affected? Your employer's human resources department or your current supervisor
Are you able to qualify for and repay new student loan debt?

What Loans Are Right for Graduate School?

Your loan choices may be different than the ones you had for your undergraduate degree. Federal loan options may not be the best choice when weighed against the terms of private loans available to you. You may also be able to now qualify for loans without requiring cosigners. Compare the pros and cons of each type of loan and lender to make the right choice for you.

What to consider and where to learn more about what loans are right for graduate school.
What to Consider Where to Learn More
What interest rate, financing charges and fees are required?
Will you need to have a creditworthy cosigner or will you be able to qualify for a graduate loan on your own?
Can you choose whether to defer the payments? How long will it take to repay the full loan amount plus interest?
Are there advantages to using a nonprofit lender?

Will the Advanced Degree Pay Off?

Only you will know if the achievement of another degree helps you achieve your education and career goals, but tools do exist to help you determine the financial payoff of a specific degree.

What to consider and where to learn more about if an advanced degree will pay off.
What to Consider Where to Learn More
Which institution and program is best for you, considering location, program accessibility, cost, placement resources and reputation?
What is the return on investment for the degree you're considering? Estimated Return on Investment

If these questions have helped you decide a graduate degree is right for you, your next step is to begin applying for the programs that seem to meet your needs. Check with the admissions sites for institutions you are interested in for specific requirements, but you may be asked to provide academic transcripts, test scores, and writing samples or essays. You may be required to provide a personal statement about your education goals and how you plan to reach them. You may also be asked to provide letters of recommendation or a portfolio of work.

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