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The Costs and Benefits of a Second Degree

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Ask yourself these questions before pursuing a second bachelor’s or graduate degree

The potential benefits of obtaining a second or graduate degree can be enticing for people in many different career and financial situations. People unable to find employment opportunities relevant to their current degree or who seek advancement in their current field may feel that a second degree is the only option. Even people happy with their job may be tempted to go back to school after hearing statistics about the wage gap between advanced-degree holders and their bachelor's-only counterparts.

Ask yourself the following questions in order to fully determine whether an additional degree is in your best interest.

What are your goals?

It is necessary to determine what your goals are and whether pursuing a degree can help you achieve them. Knowing you want a better job and better pay is not enough. It is important to determine the smaller goals that will lead to those endpoints. Would you like to switch careers or embark upon a career that requires an advanced degree, or do you need a postgraduate degree to advance or retain your current job? Answering these questions can help you find the right path.

If your goal is to increase your job prospects, it is important to realize that going back to school has potential pitfalls. There has been a recent trend of "waiting out" periods of anticipated unemployment or underemployment by obtaining a second degree, but it may not be the best use of your time.

Examining the credentials of people hired for positions you want can help you predict whether a second degree would be a benefit or burden. New graduates unable to find full-time positions may benefit more by accruing experience with relevant part-time and unpaid work than by immediately seeking a master's degree that makes them more expensive to hire but not more experienced.

Do you need a full degree?

You should next determine if you need to obtain a degree or just additional classes. If you want to increase your pay grade, ask your employer if there are guidelines in place that lay out the benefits given to employees who obtain a master's. Checking the degree requirements of job listings can also be helpful.

Many people find they need to augment their bachelor's degree or even obtain a second degree before pursuing a graduate program necessary for their desired career. Read the admissions requirements of each program carefully to determine if a specific bachelor's degree is necessary or if one in a similar field will be accepted. You will save time and money by taking only the necessary prerequisite coursework and not completing an entire degree.

What kind of degree do you need?

If you have determined that the only way to accomplish your goals is to obtain a degree, make sure that you pursue the correct one. It is important to note that many Ph.D. programs do not require or even give preference to candidates with master's degrees.

How will it affect your finances?

"On average, annual tuition at public colleges and universities totals nearly $30,000 and at private schools nearly $40,000," according to Peterson's. "However, over the course of a lifetime, a person with a master's degree could earn $400,000 more than someone who only holds a bachelor's degree, and Ph.D. holders are in a position to command even higher earnings."

These are impressive figures, but it is important to understand the costs in order to assess the return on investment.

"Calculate the projected difference in salary and determine how many years it will take to recoup that cost, and it may help you make a solid decision," says Emily Driscoll of Fox Business.

Keep in mind that tuition isn't your only cost; living expenses and the educational extras like books and electronics can add up. If you are quitting your job to attend school, you must also consider the impact of lost wages, insurance, contributions to savings and retirement funds, and time lost making connections in the workforce. Consider minimizing the opportunity costs by attending school in the evening or online.

How can you keep down costs?

"There are three different ways you can reduce the cost of graduate school – merit-based aid from a school, private scholarships, and tuition assistance from your employer," says Shawn O'Connor, contributor to Forbes. Exploring all these avenues of savings will help make the return on investment greater.

"Decisions about merit aid are often based only on your overall application; many times, there is not a separate application process for these scholarships," says O'Connor. "This makes it even more important to go above and beyond in your test preparation to attain your highest possible score, and in your essay planning, writing and editing to ensure that you develop and effectively convey the most compelling story."

Overall, going back to school for a new degree can be a great investment in your future. Considering your goals along with all the costs and benefits can help you make the best decision, and be sure to contact us if we can help finance any of your educational goals.

If you would like to discuss the many options for financing a new degree and covering the related expenses, please give us a call.

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