I wanted to specially cover this topic as a follow up to my previous post outlining the top grad degrees that are worth the investment (ahem, debt). A reader pointed out that my previous list mostly included technical majors, so I wanted to write an article specifically for non-technical fields.
Whether you’ve been in the workforce a few years or are about to graduate, heading back to school for a Master’s or PhD can seem like an appealing option. Maybe you miss the freedom of your college schedule, with its open mornings to sleep in and Fridays off. Perhaps you’ve had a bunch of promising internships but no job is waiting for you come May. Or you got the job you thought you wanted but it’s not what you imagined and now you want to switch careers.
There are many reasons to sign up for a GRE prep class and start looking for professors to write your recommendation letters. But for students considering graduate degrees in the liberal arts, communication and other non-technical fields, the benefits don’t always outweigh the costs.
This list explaining what the best non-technical majors for grad school are might aid you in your decision to go to grad school.
A graduate degree can provide intangible benefits to your career including distinction and networking.
As the percentage of workers with bachelor’s degrees continues to rise, a master’s degree can set you apart from the crowd of job applicants you’re competing against. Consequently, many employers now ask for a graduate degree just because they can — and because it’s an easy way to narrow the applicant pool.
Similarly, the classmates in your program will become your colleagues after you graduate. The connections you make, especially in an esteemed school, can prove invaluable to your future career success. This may be especially true in fields like journalism or academia, where jobs are scarce.
But while intangible benefits have value, it’s important to make sure your degree will confer tangible benefits as well, particularly financial ones.
Cost vs. Future Earnings
When you calculate the cost of grad school, don’t stop with tuition and related expenses. You also have to factor in the income you’ll lose by taking yourself out of the workforce for 2+ years. Less concrete is the loss to your resume — instead of gaining real-world experience in your field, you’ll be accumulating credits, which don’t have the same value in every field. Many creative fields, including art and design, place more emphasis on what you’ve done than how long you’ve studied.
Once you’ve established what that degree will cost you, compare that figure with the salary you can expect to make after graduation. For a breakdown of earnings by major, Georgetown University’s comprehensive report is helpful. You can also use the grad school calculator from LearnVest to weigh the costs and benefits of your present and future circumstances.
Some people plan to attend graduate school before they’ve even finished their undergraduate degrees. For others, a master’s degree becomes a means to an end when they realize they’re unhappy with the career they’ve started. So what’s the difference between attending grad school right after college versus waiting a few years?
For students who earn multiple degrees consecutively, the advantages include lack of responsibilities like spouses and children, and fewer financial obligations such as a mortgage or other debt. Even undergraduate student loans can be deferred if you maintain full-time student status in grad school.
Attending grad school right away also means you stay accustomed to “student skills” like completing heavy reading and writing loads, and losing out on sleep to study for exams and finish research papers.
There are also advantages to waiting a few years before you return to school. The people who make admittance decisions may be impressed by applicants who’ve had a range of professional and other experiences since finishing college. Plus that zany backpacking trip across Europe you took with your best friend can make for a compelling story in your application essay. You may also appreciate grad school more and work harder than you did as an undergrad, once you’ve experienced life outside of the ivory tower.
The Pay Off
Ultimately, there are many reasons to attend grad school, and many ways to achieve your life’s goals without a master’s degree on your resume. If you decide you absolutely must go, even if the costs outweigh the financial and career benefits you can expect to receive, try to find a debt-free way to do it. Look for programs that offer teaching assistantships and other scholarships. Or get a full-time job at a university and take advantage of tuition remission.
Some employers will also contribute toward tuition costs if you stay at the company for a certain time period after you earn your degree. Even if you have no outside help, you may still be able to take one class at a time and pay as you go. It may not be the experience you imagined, but it’s possible to earn the degree you’ve been dreaming of without setting yourself up for a lifetime of financial struggle.
That all being said…
Here are the 3 best nontechnical majors for grad school:
- Mid-career median pay: $109,000
- Projected employment increase: 17%
- Job growth, including replacement needs: 35%
- Common jobs: Business development manager, management consultant, senior financial analyst
- Mid-career median pay: $108,000
- Projected employment increase: 19%
- Job growth, including replacement needs: 38%
- Common jobs: Economist, financial analyst, business analyst
- Human Resources Management
- Mid-career median pay: $81,900
- Projected employment increase: 22%
- Job growth, including replacement needs: 47%
- Common jobs: Human resources consultant, human resources manager, recruiter