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Levelling up: Can I afford to attend graduate school?

SOURCE: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP
Do you want to attend graduate school but feel unsure if you can afford it?


By U2B Staff 

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Going back to school for a graduate degree has its appeals, but a major stumbling block for many professionals are time and money.

Maybe you’ve decided that you need to arm yourself with a specialised skill to enhance your earnings, or want to gain skills that would open more career opportunities for you. Some adults are passionate about a particular area of work but need credentials to make their dream a reality. 

Whatever your reason, graduate studies don’t come cheap – students can expect to pay five to six figures for their programme. So, what are some of the considerations to mull over before deciding whether or not you can afford to enrol in a graduate programme?

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Should you attend graduate school on a full-time or part-time basis?

How you plan to finance graduate school can affect whether you should pursue your studies on a full-time or part-time basis. Professionals who have enough savings can consider pursuing their postgraduate studies on a full-time basis. 

Those who are unable to secure a scholarship or who don’t want to be saddled with student loan debt (including those from their outstanding undergraduate loan) may want to consider attending graduate school on a part-time basis, enabling them to continue working and supporting themselves simultaneously without borrowing further.

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What’s the ROI?

Author and Entangled Group head of strategy Michael B. Horn’s advice to professionals who plan on getting a postgraduate degree is to be clear about the price tag on the front end and what the return on investment (ROI) is from the programme they are looking at. 

“A lot more data exists than it used to around these ROI questions, but you should know before you enrol in a graduate programme and take on a lot of debt potentially whether it’s likely to pay off if you get the job, most folks do from those programmes,” he said.

So be clear about the ROI of the degree you plan to pursue as it will play a major role in deciding whether or not you can afford it.

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Can you afford to take on student loan debt?

Assuming that your postgraduate degree has a strong ROI and that you’ll earn considerably more than you did with only a bachelors, applying for a student loan may be advisable. 

Do note that certain careers don’t pay as much as others, so be wary about the amount of debt you take on. 

“Affordability should drive your considerations. Learners should also look into programmes that offer income share agreements whereby they won’t owe any debt, just payments that are a percentage of their future income provided that income is above a certain level. That can really de-risk the learners’ choices,” explained Horn.

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Can your employer foot the bill?

Does the thought of using your hard-earned savings or applying for a student loan make you squirm? Postgraduate scholarships are available, but they are highly competitive. So what are your other options?

Look into whether your employer has any initiatives for staff to pursue further studies. Some companies may offer to pay the degree’s full or partial amount of tuition, which can make attending graduate school more affordable. 

For instance, many employers provide scholarship schemes or some sort of financial assistance for their employees who are getting an EMBA. Research by the Executive MBA Council found that 66% of EMBA students obtained tuition reimbursement from their employers, and 30% received full tuition reimbursement.

Without a doubt, there are numerous factors to think about when you’re planning to attend graduate school as a professional. Don’t rush into it; instead, take the time to explore all your financing options. A graduate degree may be costly, but don’t let that stop you from embarking on an experience that will help you grow personally and professionally.