Does it make sense to go to graduate school during a recession?

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Should you recalibrate your career by going back to school?

By Aisyah Liliana 

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Should you go to graduate school during a recession? 

This question is probably on the minds of many as COVID-19 goes for the jugular for many businesses across a range of industries and crippling many in its wake. As companies downsize, cut costs, and, for some, are forced to layoff staff, the future job market remains uncertain as there’s no telling how long it would take companies to recover. 

While getting an advanced degree can help you stand out from the job market, the decision to go back to school is not an easy one. 

Be it a master’s degree or an MBA, this can mean giving up the financial security of a monthly paycheck, while candidates must also consider the cost of repaying their student loans upon graduating, especially if they’re still paying off their undergraduate loans. 

Despite this, individuals with advanced degrees tend to earn more than those with only a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree. According to 2019 data from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, those with a Master’s or PhD earn more than those with only a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree. 

Research has also found that those with a graduate degree have better job prospects than other degree holders during the pandemic.

So, how do you decide if going back to school is a good option?


How will you pay for graduate school?

Cost is a major consideration for many when deciding whether or not to attend graduate school. 

Scholarships and bursaries are limited and may not cover your full expenses, and taking out a student loan will mean spending years servicing it with high interests. 

But aspiring graduate students should exhaust all their options, including seeing if their company can sponsor their degree or even offer partial financial assistance. Graduate students can also explore fellowships and teaching assistance programmes to support them throughout their studies to help buffer the costs.


What’s your ROI?

How will the time and money spent on your master’s degree pay off? Will it lead to better career prospects and/or a substantial raise at work? Can it pivot your career into another direction that you otherwise couldn’t with your current qualifications?

These are some considerations to think about before applying to graduate school. 

Speaking to The Washington Post, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, said graduate degree outcomes vary by major. Engineers who get a graduate degree will probably lead to a big raise, but this may unlikely be the case for a journalist.

He added that communications majors don’t see any change in pay, on average, after getting a master’s degree, but their income doubles after getting a PhD. Engineers, on the other hand, see a steady bump with every degree, said Carnevale.

Ultimately, he notes that a person’s pay will depend on the demand for that job, the level of difficulty of the degree and whether a master’s is needed to advance in the field. 

Those with a bachelor’s in education, psychology or the arts might struggle to find a decent paying job, making a graduate degree practically required. Those with a business major, however, see a bump in pay after getting a master’s degree, which can put them on the fast track for a management position, he said.

Can you handle the commitment?

Graduate school isn’t easy —  it can get emotionally draining at times while research requires a lot of motivation, which means candidates need to ensure that they’re passionate about their degree so that they successfully complete it rather than merely serving as an escape from a tough job market. 

So, don’t just look into your potential earnings when choosing your master’s, but also your interests and its application in your career to make the journey more fulfilling.