In today’s national debt epidemic graduate school may not be something college grads are able to afford. Recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success shows seven in ten college seniors graduate with debt, owing about $29,650 per borrower. Additionally, the Federal Reserve reports that student debt reached a record $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2018 and a Sallie Mae survey shows 53% of graduate students saying they were using student loans – federal or private – to pay for their grad school diplomas.
With this much debt, the decision to continue on to graduate school should be looked at seriously and with consideration to the career path a student is taking.
Leslie Tayne, a debt lawyer with offices in White Plains and Mount Kisco, has gone through this process with her own children and is advising both students and parents about finding alternatives to mounting debt.
“Determining whether or not grad school will be worth it often depends on the field you are going into, the school’s costs and what you expect to get out of it,” Tayne says. “Ask yourself what are you investing in? Sit down and figure out the costs involved with attending grad school, what the average person gets paid in the field you’re working in, whether or not a grad degree is required for landing a position in that field and whether or not having a grad degree will offer any competitive edge for getting better positions or higher paying salaries.”
Tayne suggests taking a sound assessment of your financial situation before making any decisions. She recommends a checklist including the following actions before proceeding with any student load application.
Consider the labor market pay off. A salary estimation website, such as Glassdoor or Payscale, will offer insight into what people in your field are making. Compare this number to the estimated debt you’ll be taking on after graduation to see how well of you’ll be for repaying your debt. Don’t forget about interest, the time it will take to repay it, and any undergraduate debt as well. If your debt is more than your projected income, it‘s most likely not going to be in your best interest to attend grad school.
In some fields, employers offer tuition programs for employees to pursue graduate degrees. Check if your employer offers any programs that pay for grad school. Students should examine what employment opportunities are available for their field and if current or potential employers offer any tuition reimbursement programs before making a decision to go straight into graduate school as a full-time student.
Do your research on grants and scholarship opportunities before applying for loans. Depending on credit history, private student loans may offer lower interest rates than federal student loans.
Some schools offer joint or continuing undergrad programs where you can complete your undergrad student and graduate studies within one program. Doing this will save you time and tuition checks.
Some professions require you to go to grad school, especially if that position requires a license. Therapists, medical professionals and some educators (teacher, school administrator, school/career counselor), consistently list a master’s degree as a pre-requisite for entry-level positions. In this case, you already have your answer; however, you should still be mindful of the student loans you will need to take on to make sure you don’t end up putting yourself into more student loan debt than you can handle, Tayne warns.
And very important, if you have outstanding federal student loans from your undergraduate study, you can defer payment on those loans while you are enrolled at least half time in graduate school; however, you should consider paying down your undergraduate loans even during your in-school deferment if in grad school. Every payment you make toward federal subsidized student loans will go toward your outstanding principal balance. It is important to remember that unsubsidized federal student loans continue to accrue monthly interest, regardless of enrollment status.
Leslie H. Tayne, Esq. has nearly two decades of experience in the practice area of consumer and business financial debt-related services. She launched her law firm, Tayne Law Group, P.C., formerly Law Offices Of Leslie H. Tayne P.C., in 2001. She can be reached at 914-301-3300; https://attorney-newyork.com.