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Career Prep

Is Graduate School Worth the Money?

Tami Campbell

You say “love you” to your college student and hang up the phone, your eyes popping a bit. Did they really just announce that they're considering graduate school?

gmac-graphic-05Questions ricochet in your mind. What about the lost wages if they go back to school? Does this guarantee a better paying job? Would it be easier financially to enroll in a part-time program?

Wait a minute... Will they have to move back home? And if they do, will they ever be able to afford to move out again??

It’s okay. Breathe! You’ll get through this — both of you.

As with undergraduate choices, parents can play an important role in the grad school decision. In order to be a good sounding board, though, you need to be current on some facts about returning to school for a graduate management education.

First, let’s talk about those lost wages.

If they decide to enroll in a full-time program, then yes, they’ll most likely have to leave their current full-time job in order to attend classes and complete the rigorous program requirements. The good news is they’ll be done in two years and most likely return to the workforce earning an income significantly higher than they previously received.

Speaking of returning to the workforce…

Does this guarantee a better paying job?

Ahh…if only life came with such guarantees! However, while not a guarantee, according to Michigan State University and the Collegiate Employment Research Institute’s Recruiting Trends 2015-2016 Report, 47 percent of employers seeking to hire MBAs expected to increase hiring over the previous year. In fact, the MBA is the most sought-after degree among American corporate recruiters searching for job candidates with advanced degrees.

As for starting salaries, the GMAC 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report found new MBA graduates earning on average $105,000 — more than twice the starting salary of new grads with just a bachelor's.

If your student has sights set on an even higher starting salary, they may want to attend one of the top ranked schools, where — according to U.S. News & World Report — some schools see an average starting salary upwards of $140,000.

That’s quite a range in starting salaries, and you can bet there is a corresponding range in tuition costs. As the parent, you may want to put aside any emotional response to those numbers and focus on the facts. How much is this really going to cost? What is the expected return on investment? Don’t forget to include those lost wages in your calculation, as well as the interest paid out over the life of any student loans. And don’t think just short-term starting salary; what does the long-term picture look like for earnings over the course of their career?

Okay, now that you and your student have some idea of both the costs and benefits…

What if they keep working and attend graduate school part-time?

That sounds financially more manageable, doesn’t it? This could be a viable option, especially if their current employer offers some form of tuition assistance, but again — make sure they do their research. In the case of employer assistance, it’s important to understand not only the contribution their employer will make, but also the commitment they will need to make to their employer in return. Determine the amount of assistance:

  • Is it a percentage of the total tuition or a flat rate dollar amount?
  • Does it cover books and other fees?
  • Is there a semester, annual or lifetime maximum?

And what are the company’s terms for financial assistance? Is there a minimum acceptable grade your student must earn? Will they have to pay in advance and then be reimbursed by the company? Will they be required to stay with their current employer for a minimum number of years after earning their degree?

Although financially more appealing, entering a part-time program while working full-time has other challenges associated with it, so be sure to discuss these with your student as well. For example:

  • Are they prepared to spend the next 3–4 years balancing the demands of both work and school?
  • Are there quality programs within driving distance that will allow the opportunity to attend part-time, or are they considering an online or hybrid program?

Help with financial planning

As you talk through options with your student, the right path may become clear. Regardless of the route they choose, however, help them understand the financial realities of their choice and make plans to address those obligations, both in the short-term as well as the long-term.

That might mean postponing school while they save up money for tuition or to pay off current debt. Or, yes, it may even involve quitting their job and moving back home for a while. But since neither of you want your student to be living in their childhood room into their 40s, setting realistic long-term financial goals will benefit you both. Three things to consider:

  1. If they take out student loans, what type of salary will they need to earn starting out to make those loan payments, and will the planned field of study allow for that type of income?
  2. Do they currently have — or will they need to incur — other debt (undergrad loans, car payments) that should be factored into that equation ?
  3. Are they willing to relocate after finishing school to make the most of that new degree? If yes, factor in the cost of living in the new city. If not, are there jobs in their chosen field locally?

Making the decision to pursue a graduate management education can be difficult. Regardless of your student’s ultimate decision, knowing you are there to lend guidance and wisdom will give them confidence to explore options and make the choice that’s right for them.


It's a great idea for your college student or recent grad to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) as early as possible in the planning process.

Even if they decide not to apply to programs right away, the score is good for five years. Check out this exclusive discount of $100 off the test registration for undergrads only! Register on or before May 15, 2017 and take the exam no later than June 30, 2017.


Read all the articles in the series!
Tami Campbell is the owner of Level Up Career Services, a firm specializing in working with college students and recent graduates on their job search. With over a decade of experience in career services and campus recruiting, she now puts her background to work guiding students (and parents) through what can be a daunting and overwhelming process.
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