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6 Reasons Why Graduate School Pays Off

An advanced degree is a smart fiscal and career move, a former business school admissions dean says.

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Despite the professional success of many who did not earn a college diploma, it is becoming clear that earning an education matters. In addition, an undergraduate degree is increasingly not enough to land the solid, well-paying jobs of the future. What's needed, experts say, is a graduate degree. 

However, with a national jobs forecast that remains weak and the cost of higher education continuing to grow faster than the rate of inflation, why would someone want to consider the academic, personal, and financial rigors of graduate school? Here are a few reasons why grad school—today and in the future—makes a difference in your career and your earning potential: 

1. Personal growth: Some people are lifelong learners. They have an insatiable desire to add to their knowledge reservoir, challenge themselves academically, and experience what they consider to be among the most rewarding life pursuits: developing the mind. For these individuals, a graduate education offers the opportunity to do all of that and in a structured way that can deliver great personal satisfaction. 

2. Greater employment opportunities: In many career sectors, such as higher ed administration, public affairs, and social services, a master's degree is replacing a bachelor's as the minimum requirement for employment. With a bachelor's degree in the 1980s, one could secure an entry level position as an admissions counselor, academic adviser, or student services coordinator. By the 2000s, applicants for these same entry-level positions were not even considered unless they held a master's degree. While holding a graduate degree is not a guarantee of ultimate success, it certainly opens many more doors for employment. 

[See the Best Jobs of 2012.] 

3. Greater career advancement: Earning a graduate degree is evidence of persistence, determination, intellectual prowess, and the ability to handle challenging environments—all of which are sought-after qualities for individuals filling manager and director positions. An employee who has demonstrated success in a long-term situation that requires stamina, discipline, leadership, and the ability to work well with others is going to be in line for growth opportunities within his or her organization. 

4. Financial reward: Anyone considering graduate school would be less than wise if he or she did not consider the return on investment. For grad degree holders, the numbers are favorable: U.S. workers between the ages of 21 and 64 with a master's degree or higher earn an average annual salary of $55,242, versus those with a bachelor's degree whose average annual salary is $42,877, according to the United States Census Bureau. That represents nearly a 30 percent difference in average annual salary—and offers clear evidence that completing a graduate degree can make a positive impact on one's financial situation. 

[Learn which MBAs have the most value at graduation.] 

5. Sense of accomplishment: As a graduate and business school dean who witnessed his students graduate—and as a grad student who experienced it firsthand years earlier—the feeling of personal satisfaction one gets from walking across the platform to receive a master's or doctoral degree is overwhelming. The effort put forth to complete your studies, despite moments of doubt and uncertainty, will stand as a central character-building life experience. 

6. Greater recognition and credibility: There are countless numbers of graduate degree holders who have gone on to accomplish great things, and who are afforded the respect and recognition they deserve and have earned. Unquestionably, an advanced degree makes a difference on a résumé. It says something about who you are and the dedication you have to your chosen field. 

Dr. Don Martin, Ph.D., is a higher education admissions expert, author, and former admissions dean at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Wheaton College, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business. To learn more about graduate admissions, visit gradschoolroadmap.com.