According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.4% of the U.S. population holds a graduate degree. According to a 2002 report by the U.S. Census Bureau titled The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings, college graduates can expect to earn 2.1 million dollars during the course of their work life; graduate degree holders average lifetime earnings of 2.5 million dollars.
Admission to a Graduate Program
In almost all cases, students must first obtain a bachelor’s degree before becoming eligible to earn a graduate degree. The best candidates for a graduate degree are those who earned above-average grades during their undergraduate studies. Many graduate schools require a grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for the final two years of undergraduate study. Entrance exam requirements vary based on the particular graduate program, but most will require an exam like the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), LSAT (Legal Scholastic Aptitude Test), or MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). In addition to grades and test scores, an applicant’s references, work history, life experience, and personal statement are often considered as part of the overall suitability of an applicant for graduate study.
Cost of Earning a Graduate Degree
Unlike undergraduate degrees, federal government funding for a graduate degree is largely in the form of loans that must be repaid after graduation. In 2005-2006, the most recent survey year, the national average cost of annual tuition for a Master’s degree for resident students at a public institution was nearly $6,500 per year. Students earning law degrees and medical degrees can expect to pay significantly more, as can non-resident students attending school out-of-state, and graduate students at private institutions.
Paying for a Graduate Degree
Not only must students find a way to fund tuition and fees for a graduate degree, but students are generally unable to work more than 20 hours per week due to the rigors of graduate study. Students considering a graduate degree should complete the Federal Application for Free Student Aid. Nearly all colleges and universities will require a completed FAFSA in order to award student loans and other forms of aid.
Though loans and other forms of aid may be available to cover tuition and some living expenses, a graduate education is still out of reach for many. The amount of money budgeted by a college or university for a student’s living expenses is often far less than what is actually required for a student to meet all of his or her financial needs. This is especially true in the case of head-of-household students with a spouse and children. Financing the cost of a graduate degree and meeting student living expenses can be very difficult, placing a graduate degree out of the reach of many qualified students.
Does a Graduate Degree Really Pay Off?
Though paying for graduate school can be difficult, for many it is worth the sacrifice of time and money. The money spent now on a graduate education will translate to greater lifetime earnings, outweighing the temporary financial hardship students may face in earning a graduate degree.