Graduate school is no free pass

by Kelly Callas

Antonio Zaragoza / Photo Editor
Antonio Zaragoza / Photo Editor

The pursuit of an advanced degree can be a deeply rewarding experience. Within the current economic climate, it can also provide a secure postponement of reality, wrapped within the safety bubble of theoretical academia. However, if attempted for the wrong reasons, continued education can become an enervating source of angst and an avoidable financial stress. For this reason, the question must be asked: Is graduate school worth it?

Because of its broad scale, it can be understood why this retains no clear-cut answer. The correct response must be uniquely tailored to the personal drive, interest and academic field of each student. However, a common thread for any level of continued education can be found within the genuine passion and forethought of those who attend. Students who see this continued educational journey as a means to evade the current job market, or to simply avoid growing up, may want to look again.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the mean income of master’s holders in 2008 was $70,856. Those with bachelor’s degrees earned an average of $58,613. However, when broken down, the mean income for master’s degree graduates aged 25-34 was only $55,636. Although monetary compensation may surface in the long run, it should be no surprise that average graduate students still must work up the corporate before reaping the full benefits of their degrees. Graduate school is not a magical key that unlocks a path to a high-paying dream job. However, with a little patience, it certainly helps.

Looking at the particular financial obligations of those who decide to attend graduate school, the question must be asked whether or not it can be afforded. As a public state university, San Diego State may be considered a more affordable option for graduate students in California. This is not to say it is cheap. Although, this semester’s tuition and fees are running at $3,289 for full-time graduate students (bear in mind the extra $372 added per unit for out-of-state residents) it is still vastly less expensive than attending a private university, such as Stanford, which runs at $12,900.

Considering the fact graduate students can expect two years worth of costs aligned with the completion of their degrees, these numbers can certainly add up and create a handsome dent in that higher salary they were hoping to earn as a result of advanced education.

With 625,023 master’s degrees earned in 2008, an increase from 574,618 in 2005, it can be realized that this avenue of opportunity is on the rise despite future uncertainties in employment. Nevertheless, students seeking a master’s degree in business administration may have a bit more to look forward to.

According to a Corporate Recruiter’s Survey published last year by the Graduate Management Admission Council, a “vast majority” of employers cited that candidates with MBA degrees exhibited superior awareness and aptitude of particular skills, such as management and innovation, when compared to other employees at the same job level. Although this does not guarantee employment, 56 percent of the survey’s participating firms determined that, once hired, business school graduates could expect their first promotion within the first one or two years of joining the company.

Now, having touched upon these implications of employment and economics, it must be recognized that success in graduate school is not limited to career or monetary obtainment. It seems, for many students, true value can more accurately be traced outside these confinements. According to creative writing graduate student Mason Schoen, graduate school should be experienced as an invaluable opportunity to develop networks, form strong bonds with fellow students and challenge personal intellectual capacity.

“Grad school is worth it if you want it to be,” Schoen said. “Grad school is an opportunity itself; treat it as such.”

Indeed, graduate school has to be what one makes of it. It is not a panacea. However, if planned wisely, it can become the experience of a lifetime.

“You can’t be afraid to fail, and in many ways, you must learn the art of failure,” Schoen said. “Beckett wrote ‘Fail. Fail again. Fail better.’ In a nutshell, this is grad school. Be prepared to fail; these failures are increment markers on the scale of success.”