Is graduate school actually worth it?


Darius Melton

Caitlyn Dark, News Editor

It is the middle of the spring semester and graduation is on many people’s minds. This presents a fork in the road of life: do you graduate, enter the real world, and never look back? Or do you apply to graduate school and throw your hat back into the academic ring?

The topic of the value of graduate school is something that has recently been in the news thanks to the recent waves of graduate student strikes at various major universities. Just recently, the University of California’s president threatened to fire the graduate students at her university currently striking for cost of living adjustments to their limited stipends, mainly prompted by skyrocketing rent prices.

In the face of such issues, why do people decide to subject themselves to graduate school at all? After all, grad school is an expensive affair, usually costing the same or more—often up to double, triple or even quadruple the cost—as an undergraduate degree, depending on the discipline. Paying for graduate school and general survival necessities around it are major concerns, as not all grad students have easy access to financial aid and not all programs offer stipends (or only offer stipends in specific instances). Unsurprisingly, money is a big worry; after all, many grad students are protesting for livable wages and stipend increases just so they can continue to pursue their degree.

Grad school can also take a massive toll on your mental health. Students at the master’s and doctorate level are likely to experience extreme stress and other mental health problems at a much higher rate than their undergraduate and non-academic counterparts. These problems are so ubiquitous in grad school culture that meme pages fulls of dark humor coping mechanisms are around every corner, from Lego Grad Student to even a book called “Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.” The stress of grad school is not only normalized; it is expected.

And to wrap it all up, having a master’s degree does not assure you a well-paying job once you graduate. Having a higher-level degree means you are more knowledgeable and specialized, but sometimes you can be too specialized and qualify yourself into a corner. Many people “in the know” will tell you to ditch the idea that you are really advancing your career by going after your master’s or doctorate and do it for the love of learning instead. But in a society that determines your quality of life on how much you make, this is a bigger sticking point than most.

But even with all that, there are plenty of reasons why you should at least think about going to grad school. For one, if you are able to attain employment in your field, you are typically paid more with a master’s degree than if you only had a bachelor’s. You are also able to gain further experience in your particular field, which the right employer will recognize and be willing to pay for. On the other hand, if you find you would rather stay in academia and pursue your career there, a master’s degree qualifies you to teach at a college level in most of the country.

Graduate school is also home to amazing opportunities you would never get in your undergrad experience. You get access to research and travel opportunities that actually matter to your professional and academic development that you would not be able to get elsewhere. Grad school also allows you space to further develop your field of interests and focus on what you want to study, rather than assigning things to fulfill a degree credit requirement. The opportunities you had as an undergrad for personal and professional development multiply exponentially once you move up to the next level.

It is ultimately the connections you make in grad school that really matter, whether it is grabbing a drink with someone from your cohort, networking with another academic in your field at a conference or being able to have a closer and more personable relationship with your favorite professors. The community that you enter into in grad school is one unlike anything you will ever experience. You are constantly around people who deeply love what they are studying and are genuinely interested in the field, rather than people just going through the motions in a degree they picked off a wall.

Ultimately, for me, choosing to go to graduate school was the easiest decision I have ever made. I loved my field of study and the program where I am studying it, I had several extracurricular development opportunities awaiting me over the horizon, and I was lucky enough to be in a financial position where I could afford to pursue my master’s. I have been in grad school for less than a year, but I already feel like I have grown so much more than I would have if I did not choose this path.

If you asked me point-blank if graduate school was worth it, I would answer yes in a heartbeat. But the truth is, the value is relative. It depends on your major, on your field, on your ultimate goals and your ability to juggle it all without losing it all. The value of graduate school depends on what value you place on it and that is okay.