Monday, June 10, 2013

Yes, I Made Money Getting My Master’s Degree

No it wasn’t a scam I actually came out ahead financially with earning my Master’s degree. How did I accomplish this incredible feat you ask? Well, it might be worth explaining why I went to graduate school in the first place.

I graduated on time from a four-year university with a dual degree and a minor in May 2011. While the job market is not much better today I feel like it was even worse then. That was incentive number one. When I was debating the idea of graduate school as my application window approach I talked to several friends and people I respected about it. Everyone I talked to without an advanced college degree said they wish they would have pursued theirs straight out of their undergraduate degree. Once they started a career and possibly a family there just wasn’t enough time or enthusiasm to go back to school. So why wouldn’t I take what people often do not…good advice. The state of the economy in 2011 only further persuaded me to work on my degree for two years and hopefully the economy would be better when I graduated. Fat chance.

The second main reason I pursued my degree was to learn more about a field I was passionate about. The minor degree I picked up in undergrad was in agricultural economics. I was required to take a few of these classes for my major degree plan and really enjoyed the professors and material. I enjoyed them so much I just wanted to learn more about the field. Additionally, a lot of people have seen income statistics based on degree level earned. Master’s degree holders are expected to earned $400,000 more over a Bachelor’s degree during their working career, not too bad.

So back to the actual story, how did I come out ahead with my Master’s? Let me first say that looking back I would have to estimate that it would have cost me easily $24,000, all financed with student loans. That estimate includes tuition and my living expenses on things like rent, food, and utilities. My first semester was financed with student loans, graduation money, and income from my summer internship at a cost around $6,000. Yet, before the end of the semester I was approached by a faculty member who wanted to pay me to complete a project for her. The project was actually right up my alley and came with some awesome perks. The project would pay for the following semester’s tuition as well as a biweekly income of $500 before taxes. That was more than enough to sustain the  needs of a college student, especially a frugal one. To say the least I was very appreciative.

I knew the project would only subsidize my education for one semester so I soon sought out other opportunities for the next school year. To make a long story short, I was diligent in expanding my network within the department and secured a teaching assistantship with similar benefits. My whole last year I was able to help teach a class I really enjoyed with two faculty members I really respected. I gained a lot of extra experience and knowledge outside my regular class schedule and it didn’t cost me a dime.

I know not every graduate program has the opportunities that mine did, but in my experience more research oriented programs have more opportunities for graduate students. I have seen several articles that essentially demean graduate programs because they can often rack up additional debt for students with little short-term enhancement for career opportunities. But not all programs are created equal. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I got to go on a few free trips through my department to conferences and competitions in Orlando, Chicago, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 I would encourage anyone that is thinking about pursuing an advanced degree to seriously look at the demand for those degrees and decide whether you are willing to move to the jobs. Also, look for employers who will help you pay for your degree through tuition reimbursement programs. Using student loans to pursue a degree with no employment demand can put you in serious financial hardship down the road.


  1. Great story and well done! I'm getting my PhD in the same manor. I secured a teaching assistantship before entering the program.

    BTW, my PhD is in financial planning which is connected to Ag Econ. The director here has 2 PhD's - 1 in Finance and 1 in Ag Econ.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jacob. Yeah, I've seen many ways to connect financial planning, AgEcon, and cooperative extension work. I actually helped out at a conference a few weeks ago that help educate extension agents on how to help families with their finances and where they can find specific resources. I've seen some great programs like these focusing on financial literacy starting up which is a great thing.

    Link to program: