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How to choose the right graduate degree

Written by

Dr. Ree Langham

Date

August 19, 2018

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How to choose the right graduate degree

It’s no secret that you can make more money with a graduate degree, than without one. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, people, who graduated with a master’s degree, earned approximately $25,000 more, per year, as compared to those with only a bachelor’s degree, while people, who earned a doctorate, earned approximately $40,000 more, per year, as compared to those without a doctorate. However, beyond the earning potential, there are other factors to consider in order to choose the right graduate degree. 

Tips on how to choose the right graduate degree

If you are considering pursuing a graduate degree, it is useful to know the available options. The good news is you can earn a grad degree in a wide-variety of areas – even if it isn’t required for your field. In general, there are three types of graduate degrees – specialized, master, and doctorate. Typically, a specialized career degree program usually takes the longest amount of time to complete – i.e. 7 years or more. A master’s level graduate program normally lasts 2-3 years, while a doctoral graduate degree program can last between 4 and 7 years. The length of your program will vary, based upon your field, program requirements, and whether or not you are a full-time or part-time student.

In this three part blog series, we discuss the pros an cons of each type of graduate degree. 

First off, we look at specialized degree. 

Specialized career degrees are usually attained after you have earned a master’s degree in your chosen field. It is important to note that these degrees typically require additional coursework, training, and internship experiences. The goal of these grad degrees is to prepare you for a high-level service-related career in your chosen field. It is also to help you become certified and/or licensed in it. Examples of specialized career degrees include law, medicine, education, and psychology. 

Pros of a specialized career degree

Specialized career degrees are designed to help students prepare for a professional career in their chosen fields. More specifically, they help students learn skills they will help them become successful in their future careers. These grad programs focus on practice and service more than academia, research, and theory. Examples of specialized career degrees include: nursing, engineering, law, medicine, theology, dentistry, psychology (counseling), and education.

Some students enter into one of the fields listed above with the intent to attain a more theoretical or research-based career, while most enroll in this type of grad program because they want to practice in it or provide services related to it. For example, a person, who enters dental school, is most likely doing it because he/she wants to eventually become a dentist. Same goes for someone, who enters law school or medical school. But, if you want to pursue a specialized career in a service-oriented area, you are going to have to devote extra time and effort to attaining an advanced degree in your chosen field.

Another pro of getting a specialized career degree is that you’ll most likely get paid more than someone, who only has a bachelor’s, master’s, and/or a grad degree in another area. In fact, people with specialized career degrees tend to make the most money of all grads. So, although you’ll have to devote quite a bit of time to this grad program, it will be well worth the wait, once you’re sitting pretty in that nice car of yours, vacationing in the South of France, an/or picking out furniture for your mini-mansion.

Cons 

So, now that you know the main pros of getting a specialized career degree, what are some of the cons?

The main disadvantage of getting this type of grad degree is the cost. The second is the time. Let’s face it, all grad programs involve a hefty price tag, but longer and more involved grad programs tend to cost the most. Why? Well, mostly because it takes a while to attain a degree in a specialized area – i.e. medical degree.  And, unless you have a spouse or parent with deep pockets…or you win the lottery, you will accrue substantial debt. Ouch. In fact, depending on your program, you may end up exiting grad school with a $100,000 or more, bill.

Each year you are in school, the price tag goes up, an because most people get student loans to help with the costs, once they graduate, those costs balloon until they are on the hook for hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. Keep in mind, some of the cost is what you borrowed, but a good chunk of it comes from outrageous interest rates.

Then, you have to take into account that the job you have dreamed about simply may not pay your bills…or loans.  Maybe, it was booming 6 or 7 years ago, but now the field has gone bust. For instance, when I was in school, the field of psychology was on fire, however, once I graduated from my psychology doctoral program, I was shocked to see so many people in the field. As a result, it was hard to snag my first job, as a psychologist. 

That is why it is important to pay attention to what is happening in your chosen field – while you are still in grad school and can change your major, if need be. It’s also important to pay attention to the terms of your student loan(s), should you need one. Then, base your career choices on what is going to help you pay your loan(s) back the fastest and be successful in your career.

In the next blog, we will look at another type of graduate degree – the Master’s degree.

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Written by:  Dr. Ree Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Fisk University, a Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) in Marriage and Family Therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University, and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology from Capella University. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, researcher and psychological consultant for Livestrong magazine, Upwork, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of TN, and Disorders.org.

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