The narrative that graduate school costs more money than it's worth has really taken hold in recent years. Just this month, a new article at Quartz pleaded with millennials not to "waste" money on graduate school, but instead to move on from undergrad and start a career. The article was not a scathing dismissal of graduate school by any means, and in fact took the time to acknowledge some of the benefits of higher education. However, it does ultimately serve as one more in a series of arguments against spending tuition on postgraduate degrees.
The argument tends to be purely financial. There are statistics that suggest that the return-on-investment for the average graduate school degree is not beneficial, at least in the short term, to students. This is perfectly fair to say, but it also presupposes that the key benefit of graduate school is the actual degree it leads to. Many would contest that notion in favor of the idea that the primary benefits of most graduate school programs are more intangible.
Frankly, I'd argue that the worth of a postgraduate education depends on each individual's situation. But in order to broaden the conversation beyond tuition cost and the immediate ROI of earning a degree, here are four of the intangible benefits many students do enjoy.
Postgrad Education Can Spark Passion
The popular job search site Idealist wrote up a list of possible benefits from graduate school education, and while many of them focused on things like qualifying for particular jobs or industries, one benefit that stood out was more intangible. That was that earning a graduate degree can "satisfy your intellectual curiosity and spark passion." This is an incredibly valuable point, even if some would counter that there are cheaper ways to find one's passion. The argument made by Idealist, with the support of comments from one former student, was that grad school gives you the time and space to reflect and wade through information — which isn't always possible in the real world.
You Can Generate A Sense Of Accomplishment
While all schooling is about learning, graduate school also provides (more often than not) the pursuit of genuine accomplishment. This accomplishment comes not just in the form of earning a degree, but through publishing projects, composing theses, working in important internship or research positions, and even caring for patients or impacting legal proceedings, depending on the program. In graduate school you get the chance to apply what you've learned in the real world, without the added pressure of maintaining a job, or just getting by. Often your first job out of college won't offer these opportunities, but gaining a sense of accomplishment in school can help to inspire you moving forward.
You Might Find Your Direction
This falls somewhat in line with the idea of sparking passion, but more specifically it means finding out who you really want to be in a professional context. Menlo Coaching's graduate school application coaching program suggests, through testimonials and basic instruction platforms, that there's a lot that most grad school applicants can learn about themselves even before they get to school. Crafting an application means articulating your qualifications and intentions and exploring introspectively what it is you truly hope to gain from the program. This remains part of the process throughout graduate school and often results in graduates having a keener sense of where they want to go in the professional world than they might have had following undergraduate education.
You'll Make Relationships
Some would summarize this idea with that broad, often meaningless term "networking," and others would classify relationships as tangible benefits. But the real point here isn't necessarily the people whose hands you'll shake in grad school, but the things you'll see those people do. The world of education beyond college is full of serious and ambitious people. Seeing them fail, succeed, socialize, and go about their everyday work can be an amazing experience. All of this can amount to a sort of real world lesson that sticks with you in the professional world.
This is not meant as a total endorsement of graduate school. However, hopefully these points helped to illustrate that the debate shouldn't be entirely about tuition costs and the degree itself. For some students considering grad school, it's what happens in between paying and graduating that really makes the experience worthwhile.
Monica is a entrepreneur. She does part-time freelance writing on topics related to business and education. Want to connect? Send her an email.