Have you been thinking about attending graduate school? Will an advanced degree help you advance your career? Perhaps the pandemic has caused you to reprioritize your professional goals. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you should know before starting the application process.
1. Can you afford it? Graduate programs enroll 15% of all students in higher education, but they account for 40% of student loans issued each year.1 The average student loan debt for graduate school was $75,440.2 What’s more, graduate student loans have an interest rate that is 1.55% higher than undergraduate student loans and Grad PLUS loans are 2.55% higher and charge an origination fee. Could you work at least part time while attending classes? Does your employer offer tuition assistance?
Can you afford grad school?3
2. Opportunities may be limited depending on field of study—at least for the time being. A growing number of major universities suspended certain programs due to COVID-19. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that public and private institutions such as Columbia, Michigan State, University of Virginia, Yale, and UCLA have put the brakes on a wide range of doctoral programs, including those in the fields of anthropology, history, English, sociology, and gender studies.4
3. Be prepared for more competition. The pandemic caused many students to defer their studies. Now that masking and social distancing guidelines are relaxed, a growing number may decide that now is the time to go back to school. You could be competing with more students for limited spaces. For example, applicants to medical schools increased by 18.0% for 2021 over 2020, while the number of first-year students admitted only rose by 1.7%.5
4. Tests still matter. While many undergraduate schools have eliminated the need for SAT/ACT testing, exams still matter at the graduate level. But there’s good news. Most test results—such as the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT—are good for five years; so if you decide that right now isn’t the right time to continue with your advanced degree, you can still submit your score(s) a few years down the road when you decide to apply.
Before you decide whether or not to go to grad school, be sure to sit down with your—or your family’s—financial professional who can help you make decisions on affordability and can help you implement a plan, including using a specific savings vehicle, such as a 529 college savings account.