If you're going to get a professional degree, you should know that it's not a risk-free endeavor. Your success (whether you define that financially or otherwise) can vary, depending on the school, the degree, the profession, your individual performance, and plain old luck.
Before you go, stop and think about some important questions:
- Should you go to graduate school?
- What kind of degree is right for you?
- Is it what you really want?
- How's the job market for that field?
- How much is tuition?
- How much income will you give up while you're in school?
- How much do you expect to earn once you have your advanced degree?
- How long will it take? Does your career really require that degree?
We know—that's a lot to process. That's because going to grad school is a big decision. To help you figure things out, here are a few points to consider depending on what degree you want.
Teaching may be a dream job, but tenure is harder and harder to get, and many cash-strapped colleges are hiring only adjunct faculty. In fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that adjunct jobs make up 76% of the academic labor force—while paying less than $3,000 a class. Plus, adjuncts don’t get the compensation, security, or respect of tenure-track faculty. Studies, angry letters, and alarming reports of professors on food stamps paint a forbidding picture of the career landscape for Ph.D. graduates. Of course, it's not all bad—especially in science and engineering. In these fields, advanced degree holders have a wider range of post-graduate career options.
In the past, having a J.D. was like money in the bank. Today, it likely means owing a lot of money to a bank. According to The Atlantic, 85% of law school graduates owe at least $100,000. Plus, more than one-third of grads are unable to find full-time employment. If you really want to be a lawyer, it can still make sense—especially if you'll be able to do it without borrowing too much.
How do you know if you want to be a lawyer? The Girl's Guide To Law School suggests a different way to think about that question: imagine that at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, your boss asks you to work all weekend on a new project. If that sounds like a great opportunity to prove yourself and learn new things, then you'd make a great lawyer. If you like having control of your weekends, maybe you should pick a different career.
Above all, don't go to law school for the wrong reasons. Do it because you want to work in the law, not because it's a family tradition or you're not sure what you want to do for a living. And be sure you know the employment statistics for graduates. They're not perfect, but they do give you a pretty good idea of what the market thinks of graduates from your chosen law school.
Getting an MBA is often a big boost to careers, but it's not a sure ticket to six-figure consulting gigs. Policy Mic has a good list of questions to ask yourself before you make the plunge: Why do you want it, when do you want it, and what do experts and leaders in your field say?
Before you apply, seek out informational interviews with senior staff at companies you'd like to work for and ask them how they feel about MBA holders from schools you're considering. Make your own MBA your first business case study, and be sure you're getting the right education at the right price.
More Specific Professional Degrees
These are often required for career advancement, and they can be a much clearer choice. For example, if you're an international policy expert and want to get ahead, you'll need that credential. In almost all cases, it will help to have a couple of years of professional experience before you go back to school.
Medicine is still a very strong career path, but a lot of the old advice about choosing a specialty is out of date. In the past, med students were advised to get into the ROAD specialties (radiation, oncology, anesthesiology, and dermatology) for the generous compensation and less-demanding hours.
Those specialties can still make medicine a very good job—however, they're not the unimaginably profitable ones you may have heard about. Even the less-lucrative fields still offer generous pay to qualified physicians, and practitioners in underserved areas can often find loan forgiveness benefits as well. In addition, if you're interested in pursuing a health profession degree, you may be able to take advantage of special funding and repayment options.
Studying animal medicine can be as difficult and as expensive as human medicine, but the pay isn't generally as good. Many vets don't choose this profession for the money—they do it because they love animals. There are a number of state-based and federal loan-forgiveness programs out there, especially for large-animal vets in rural areas, which may help make it more affordable.