Monday, July 30, 2007

The Economics of Grad School

Hello everyone.
I have something to admit to you all. Although I never thought that I would do it, I've decided to apply to graduate school. And I have good reasons for it, but they're not the ones that you think. For one, the economy is great right now and mostly any recent college graduate with a decent work ethic can find a gig. So I'm not applying just to get out of looking for a job or figure out what I want to do with my life. I already have a job, and I'm slowly but surely carving out my own life path.

My primary reason for going, or lest you consider me presumptuous, I should say, applying, to graduate school is one word - money. You see, I already know that boatloads of money won't make me happy. Family, friends, and being in control of my time will increase my deep inner joy more than the Benjies will. However, I know that I can't live the rest of my life on my current salary - $45,000 a year. So, in tonight's post, I'll dispense some wisdom that I've gleaned about the economic pros and cons of taking the grad school plunge. Here goes.

1) Make sure that degree is really worth it.

Going to medical school? Yep, the cost of the degree is certainly worth it. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average indebtedness (including pre-med borrowing) of the class of 2006 was $130, 571. Nonetheless, after residency, the average surgeon can expect to make $137, 000 a year. The average anesthesiologist, $135,000 a year. The average internist, a respectable $126, 940. You get the picture. Doctors will always be needed as healthcare is an issue that will never go away.

But if you're looking to get a Ph.D. in something esoteric like Aztec literature, do yourself a favor and just read about it on your own time. The academic job market is glutted and it's really hard to get a tenure track position at a university. And even though Ph.D's are usually subsidized, are you really being subsidized when you are giving up five years of income for not so bright job prospects? When your mom told you to marry a "doctor", she meant the first kind I spoke of.

2) If you do go, live like a broke college student.

I'll repeat that so it can sink in. If you do go to graduate school, while there, live like a broke college student. This is particularly true of law students, but I imagine it can apply to any graduate student. So many grad students figure that since they've graduated from college, so they should live like 'adults'. But they don't realize that by living off of credit cards and spending their stipends or student loans on non-essentials, they are mortgaging their future for depreciating assets like designer jeans and seven dollar Heinekens. Living like a broke student will make for a much richer (in so many ways) life later on. And most 'adults' live paycheck to paycheck, and you do don't want that after grad school.

3) Lastly, if you earn any disposable income, begin socking it away. (Save some of your stipend.)

I'm not saying you shouldn't indulge and enjoy life while in grad school. To the contrary. But even if you can only save one hundred bucks a month (and anyone in grad school can, I'm positive), do it. That $100 a month translates into $1200 a year, and over the course of three to four years, that adds up to $3600 to $4800 dollars. The last amount is more than enough to fund your Roth IRA for this year.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me or post them. Thanks for reading and until next time...

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