Attaining a master’s degree broadens your career path and results in a lower unemployment rate as compared to those with less education. You can even expect to make around 20% more than your bachelor degree-holding counterparts. However, this benefit and many more come at a cost. Exactly how much does a master’s degree cost? According to Sallie Mae, a master’s degree costs an average of $24,812 per year for 2016-2017 full-time graduate students.
Costs differ based on the type of college you attend. For the academic year 2015-2016, those attending private colleges averaged $23,919 in tuition per year while those attending public universities averaged only $11,303. Since most students spend 2-5 years in graduate school, they could spend anywhere from $22,000 to $120,000 in total.
Trends in Master’s Degree Costs
The current price of a master’s degree follows the trend in rising tuition costs. From 1989 onward, tuition prices have steadily increased, jumping up anywhere from $300 to $1000 depending on the year. The National Center for Education Statistics found that just ten years prior, master’s students owed $11,621 per year or around $13,915 when accounting for inflation. That is a 33% increase from 2007 to 2017. In the past ten years, public college tuition has increased by 45% while private college tuition has increased by 16% when accounting for inflation.
Online Master’s Degree May Cost More
Those hoping to attend online school might face even higher tuition costs. New trends indicate that many universities charge more for the convenience of at-home learning. State and public universities use online learning to help earn extra income and gain tax support. At some schools, your online master’s degree could end up costing as much as $28,000 more than a traditional degree. For many, the convenience of learning from home while working full-time outweighs the upcharge.
Master’s Degrees Contribution to National Student Loan Debt
Unfortunately, master’s students are all too familiar with student loan debt. Nearly 40% of the trillion dollar U.S. student loan debt funded professional and graduate degrees. Research by Urban Institute in 2018 stated that graduate students borrow three times as much as undergraduates on average. They borrow $18,210 as compared to the average undergrad’s $5,460 loan. Plus, student loans cover roughly 53% of costs. While in graduate school, many students also choose to put their bachelor’s degree loans on deferment. Although this prolongs monthly payments, interest continues to build.
Some students do have tuition waved or a reduced rate. Others have arrangements where the university even pays them a stipend in exchange for research, teaching, or working for the school. These 15% of students graduate with no or below average debt. A small group, just 8%, has the means to pay tuition outright.
Master’s Degree Cost Based on Degree Program
When considering the question, “how much does a master’s degree cost?” General figures prove inaccurate. The cost changes drastically depending on your degree program. You can study nearly any subject at the master’s level, but the most popular relates to health professions, business, and computer sciences. Nearly 24% of students graduated with an MBA, 19% in the IT field, and 14% in health-related professions.
A 2012 study by NewAmerica.org found that the degree you pursue does impact your student loan debt. When combining undergraduate and graduate loans, researchers found the average debt graduate students have based on their field of study:
- Master of Arts: $58,539
- Master of Education: $50,879
- Master of Science: $50,400
- MBA: $42,000
- Medicine and Health Sciences: $162,772
- Law: $140,616
- Other: $55,489
Here are the latest medical school debt numbers.
Graduate Degree Enrollment Numbers
Despite the monetary cost, people enroll in graduate school in increasing numbers. Sixty-three percent do so within 12 months of their undergrad degree. Whether they hope to get a leg up in the job market or pursue a career requiring further education, around three million people were enrolled in post-baccalaureate (doctorate or master’s) education in 2017. Come May 2018, 790,000 will graduate with their Master’s degree. These numbers reflect the slight but steady incline in first-time graduate school enrollment noted over the past five years. Looking forward, however, experts expect a plateau as fewer international students opt to study in the United States.
Hidden Costs of a Master’s Degree
Aside from student loan debt, graduate school comes with other costs. If you attend full-time, those are two or more years you will not spend working full-time. This puts your career on hold and means you will lose out on the benefits of full-time work. These include health insurance, contributions to your retirement fund, disability benefits, paid sick leave, and paid time off. Not to mention that you are losing out on money that could pay down your undergraduate student loans.
While you study, your bachelor degree counterparts earn an average of $57,000 per year, money you miss out on. Students who do work full- or part-time while studying to make up for these losses often end up taking around three to five years to finish.
For some, earning your master’s degree in person often requires relocation. Those who relocate may have to uproot their family or move far from loved ones. This can play a huge emotional toll, especially for tight-knit families. These individuals, who cannot live at home, must then find an apartment and means to pay rent. Unfortunately, many up their student loan amount to cover the cost.
Deciding to Pursue Your Master’s Degree
So, how much does a master’s degree cost? It depends on your perspective. In many cases, the ability to pursue your professional and academic goals outweighs all costs. In fact, only 12% of students choose their graduate school based on its price. A large remainder, 86%, cares more about the school’s quality or convenience.
When deciding for yourself, weight all of the factors. Tuition factors greatly into the cost of your degree, but things such as relocation, your emotional health, and lost earnings should too. As with any investment, you should also calculate the return on your degree. No matter what you choose, go into graduate school with a plan for paying off student loan debt. Attending a public university, using financial aid programs, and working full-time while attending part-time can help relieve the stresses of paying for school.
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