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Home » Student Finances, Workplace Finance

Why Graduate Degrees Are a Rip Off: Crunching the Numbers

Last updated by on January 19, 2015

This one should fire you up one way or the other. I’ve been in many a heated debate about this very topic before. So let’s have some fun with it. I’m going to come out and say it – I HATE GRADUATE DEGREES. My hatred for them can be boiled down into three main reasons:

1. I hate how much they cost.

2. I hate the implicit pressure that comes from corporate America for people to slave away to earn that piece of paper if they want to get promoted and have a future career in management (even though those with further hands on experience typically excel in comparison).

3. I hate that I have seen those in management positions with an MBA perform at levels far below their much less numerous sub-MBA peers. Seemingly, that extra education did absolutely nothing for their real world skills – and actually probably added a little bit of complacency and entitlement in a lot of cases.

OK, that’s a lot of hate. I’m really a nice guy, I swear!

Now, this is coming from someone who had a glorious undergrad experience, excelled academically to the tune of a 3.96/4.0 GPA from a major university, and appreciates the doors that my bachelor degree opened for me (above and beyond what a high school diploma ever could have).

With my work experience and educational background, I am fairly confident that I could get into a top 10 MBA program. But I have ZERO desire to because of the above reasons.

Before you cave in to rat race pressure, you’re going to want to crunch some numbers yourself and do some background research. I’ve decided to crunch some numbers here as a guideline for you. I fully admit that these numbers are not applicable to everyone, but I have not gone out of my way to skew them to favor my argument. Feel free to run your own and share them in the comments.

Crunching the Numbers on an MBA – Will it Pay Off?

Let’s look at a few facts and make some assumptions:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree is $57,616. Those with a master’s degree had a median of $69,108.

If I were to go to business school, I personally would be looking to get an MBA at a top 10 business school. According to US News & World Report, in 2013 the average cost of the top 10 business schools in the U.S. was $111,418 for tuition in a two-year MBA program.

Then there’s the opportunity cost of an MBA.  In other words – the lost income during the two plus years you are going to school full time. Let’s just take the average annual bachelor’s degree salary and double that, which would equate to $115,232. For me, it’s more than that, but I want to be conservative here.

Oh, but let’s not forget books, room and board, and other peripheral costs. Those could add up to another $50K fairly quickly.

The final math would look like this:

Tuition ($111K ) + Opportunity cost of lost wages ($115K) + Room/board/tuition/other ($50K) = $276K

$276K? That’s crazy! Yes, but it’s even crazier when you factor in the cost of the student loans, if you were to use them. Here’s what that mess might look like.

  • Loan Balance: $111,000
  • Loan Interest Rate: 6.21%
  • Loan Fees: 0.00%
  • Loan Term: 25 years
  • Minimum Payment: $50.00
  • Monthly Loan Payment: $729.49
  • Number of Payments: 300

Cumulative Payments: $218,847.27
Total Interest Paid: $107,847.27

Total cumulative payments plus lost wages and room/board/tuition/other would equal $386K!

How Long Would it Take to Make your Money Back on a Graduate Degree?

Well, if we’re going by the median income levels for each degree, we’re looking at an average annual salary increase of $11,492 with the grad degree. At these numbers, it would take you nearly 25 years to make your money back on your initial investment. And that is IF you find a job right away upon graduation AND they are willing to pay you a premium for that piece of paper.

If you factor in student loans, the payback would be nearly 35 years.

What age would that put you at? Well, considering the average grad student starts at 28 and takes two years to finish, on average, grad students wouldn’t make back their investment until age 55 (again, factoring in zero in loan cost). Factoring in the cost of the loans? Well… yeah, you’d be able to apply for social security in retirement.

I don’t know about you, but I hope to be retired long before then on my measly bachelor’s degree wages.

Grad School Discussion:

  • Have you gone? Can you speak to the numbers I ran in this article?
  • Did you run your own numbers? What did you come up with?
  • Still excited about grad school after reading this? Tell me why I’m an idiot.
  • Take the poll!

Is Grad School Worth the Money?

View Results

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Rebecca says:

    Surely you would still need a place to live and food to eat while working? So unless there’s a big difference in cost of living where you work and where you attend school, that should net to zero.

  • Financial Samurai says:

    Spoken like a true person who didn’t get a graduate degree or MBA. Just be warned to keep your disdain to yourself at work, b/c if you have managers or senior colleagues who do have their MBA’s, they will ear mark you and be biased against you.

    I got my MBA part-time, and my work footed the $80,000 in tuition over 3 years. It was an excellent experience with great learning, meeting new friends, studying abroad in Brazil and China, and tapping into an enormous network.

    If you are satisfied with where you are (position/pay), and your job is full of managers who don’t have their grad degree, you definitely shouldn’t bother.

    I just feel that I can’t get enough education. And if it’s free, than all the better. The MBA opens different doors, and it is the $250-500K dime a dozen jobs which you can get that gets many people excited.

  • big picture says:

    I think you’ve taken the average ‘graduate degree’ salary and coupled it with the cost of a top 10 MBA program. The first year total compensation numbers of the top 10 MBA programs looks more like $130k per year, with the foundation to grow to much larger numbers…

    It sounds like you don’t see the value in a ‘graduate degree’ which you really mean as an ‘MBA’ and that’s okay. It isn’t for everyone. The MBA won’t be valued by all – if you can start your own company and create value/wealth where there was none, then you are absolutely right, you didn’t need the degree. Go for it, and best of luck!

  • Jeff Walden says:

    It depends on your preferences and utility curve.

    I gave some thought to grad school (more accurately, adding a fifth year and picking up a masters in doing so), and if I had chosen to do it, it wouldn’t have been for the money. It would have been for the opportunity to be in an environment I loved, learning interesting things and tackling difficult problems, around many of my friends from the previous four years. I ended up deciding that while the rest of the package would have been great, academic yak-shaving (writing papers with the endless goal of being published, no matter how much or little of importance you had learned) did not appeal to me, so I forewent a fifth year and a masters and entered the workforce. My options in the “real world” may have lacked some of these plusses, but others (better salary, possibly more free time, an essentially perfect job, earlier entry to workforce to take advantage of compounding, more flexibility/wherewithal to travel if desired, and probably numerous others) balanced them out. I miss some of the things I would have experienced in grad school, but you can’t have everything. I’m more than happy with what I have now even considering opportunities I passed up.

    Looking at it from the other point of view, the one I didn’t end up choosing, I suspect the majority of my classmates who are in grad school now are not there for financial reasons but rather for pedagogical ones. (It probably makes a huge difference that I went to a top-tier school filled with self-motivated people with a love of learning and knowledge. Your mileage may vary at “lesser” schools.) I suspect you’ll find a much larger contingent of commenters here posting from my point of view here than from the other (and I probably lean further toward the grad school option than most of them!), so I wouldn’t make too much of any results here as being representative, instructive, or incisive.

  • Jeff Walden says:

    (not that I think anyone commenting or reading is likely to mistake feedback here for being representative or authoritative, just saying what I think because I think it’s an observation worth highlighting)

  • Paul says:

    I think you need to change the title to “why MBAs are a rip off.”

    My fiance is in graduate school. They are paying her, its not great money but its fairly average for a recent college graduation, and she is getting PAID to go to school.

    Ina a few years she leaves with a PHD and an earning potential in the $150k range, starting. So in some cases, graduate school clearly is not a rip off.

  • Wmark says:

    My graduate degrees are in education. I have four including a Ph.D. The degrees either got me a better job or put me on a higher pay scale. My first masters degree paid for itself in about a year. My Ph.D. was completed in 2007 and will pay for itself next year by the increase in pay. Actually, it may have already paid for itself because of the additional income for college courses I now teach.

    In the field of education you are required to re-license every five years (VA). That means taking a college course. So, it might as well be a graduate course progressing toward a graduate degree.

    My dissertation was about the benefits of credentials. There is no denying that a bachelors degree has tremendous effects on income potential. The potential income for graduate degrees depends on the area. I know that in education and health care graduate degrees increase pay significantly. You are probably right that an MBA in business may not pay out.

  • Katie says:

    I’m currently working on my PhD in gerontology full time and my MBA part time. For the PhD, I receive tuition, health insurance, and a stipend. I’m paying for my MBA through an education line of credit. Overall, I think it’ll cost about $40,000. The MBA is likely to improve my chances of getting the job I want following graduation, but I entered the MBA program with the intent of improving my dissertation. So for me, it’s worth much more than any increased compensation I could receive – although that’s nice too. I think the value of a graduate education rarely, if ever, can be calculated based solely on increased income, but I understand that you’re trying to compare apples to apples (er, dollars to dollars) here.

  • Jeremy says:

    I think this is more like a worse case scenario for grad school. In most cases I think that people who are getting their grad degree work full time and take classes part-time, usually at night. Therefore they don’t really lose their source of income. Also in many cases a company will flip the bill (or at least a portion of it) for a grad degree. Not to mention that if you’re going to a top 10 grad school, I would expect that person to be paid significantly more upon graduating. All in all, I think there is a lot of truth in what you said about experience vs. education but experience + education is really the best combination.

  • Jason says:

    As someone who works in higher ed with student finances you are right on the money. The cost and potential risk from loss of income and massive (in addition to possible undergrad debt) makes grad school in general a poor decision especially when you look at the fact that for all graduate degrees the annual wages are only about $7,000 higher a year.

    However, there are many ways to cut down on the cost of grad school dramatically. For example, many companies will do tuition reimbursement for employees to get MBA, most college have tuition remission programs for employees, and they may offer assistantships or teaching/research fellowships as well. When you take into account little or no tuition costs (plus receiving a livable wage and not forgoing earnings) the benefits of graduate school are well worth it.

    In addition, my personal experience is that employers are going to look most favorably on someone with recent work experience and a degree versus someone who just has degrees or someone who just has work experience. Why pick one or the other? Colleges require a wide variety of employee fields such as real estate, counseling, PR, graphic design, etc that may be in your career field. Next time you are looking at grad school or jobs, see if they offer any tuition reimbursement or if the grad school has any ways to waive or reduce tuition!

  • Little Miss Moneybags says:

    There are a lot of reasons to get a graduate degree, not all of them related to making big bucks in management.

    I’m almost done with a master’s of science. A master’s degree has been on my personal goals list for years. This is a terminal degree in my program, so as early as next year I can teach at the graduate level if I want to. It’s immersion in a field that I am immensely interested in and has given me unbelievable access to important people in my industry. It’s made me more valuable at my job and resulted in one big promotion and raise already. My company is paying for about half of it, and my classes are held three blocks from my office. My total out of pocket cost will be around $20,000, but my raise (which I don’t think I would have gotten so soon if not for school) will cover that. So it’s a net win for me.

    Now, that’s not the same as an MBA, obviously, but I’m really unclear from your post whether you’re against graduate school (which is everything post-undergrad, including medical school, law school, business school, MS, MA, MFA and PhD) or against MBAs. There are a lot of other assumptions in your post that I don’t think are true for people who go to graduate school or who get their MBAs. A lot of people go part-time and go locally or online. A lot of people get stipends, scholarships, grants, and other tuition assistance. A lot of people get promotions and raises at their jobs while in school demonstrating that their work is being recognized. A lot of people make industry contacts that simply can’t be obtained in the working world. And people who get degrees from second or third tier schools can pay a lot less money and still get all the rewards of those who went to first tier schools.

    You know what they call the person who graduated with the lowest passing grade from a no-name medical school? Doctor.

  • Craig says:

    Having an MBA most likely should help you earn a higher salary but I have no interest in going back to grad school right now. I don’t know if it is worth the investment and money and my industry is too new.

  • Steven says:

    I completely agree with this. When I got my MBA, my income got a $10K bump automatically at my employer, but I haven’t seen anything other than that (and the higher expectations that come with it). The numbers will be different for everyone, as GE states, so there are definitely cases where grad school might pay off if your employer covers it AND continues paying you in the meantime. But for most of us, that simply doesn’t happen.

  • Honey says:

    My MA in creative writing and my PhD in rhetoric were both worth it to me in terms of the people I was able to surround myself with and the way my worldview changed as a result of what I learned. I knew that neither of these degrees would supercharge my earning power, but some things are more important than money.

  • Jen says:

    My work pays for my degree and I only take one class at a time and continue to work full time. I was originally just going to take some continuing education courses, but if I can get a degree at the same time why not? MBAs I don’t really get personally, but I am in more of a technical field so I have to keep up with it or I would be doomed 🙂

  • Joe says:

    Are people being serious when people say they got or are getting a masters for the experience. If you are reading articles on a personal finance website stop lying to yourself, you did it to increase your salary. I guess if you are the type of person to blow money on a masters for the opportunity to be in an environment you love then you really should be reading more articles on this website to get your finances in order. You are entitled to your opinion, but at least try to back it up with concrete evidence of why a masters is a good idea instead of just saying you like hanging out with friends in the program. Let’s see some numbers in favor of a masters.

    To the comment about “lesser” schools let me give you a nice piece of information. I went to a “lesser” school, paid less for my tuition, and make more than the average college grad. It might be hard for someone like you who went to a top tier school to understand, but maybe you should have run the math before you went there. Maybe you would have realized it might not be a terrible idea to go to a “lesser” school where us folks ain’t as edumacated. (we are not as educated, in case you needed the translation)

  • Honey says:

    The average starting salary for a PhD in my field is $45K. I definitely went to grad school for the experience, not the personal finance aspect.

  • Seska says:

    I went to grad school and was paid a stipend to do so, on top of not having to pay any tuition. This is sort of the norm for a lot of the physical sciences (I’m a geologist/astronomer), so in this field it’s definitely not a rip off to go to grad school. Plus on top of your stipend you can apply for lots of grants to supplement your income.

  • G.E. Miller says:

    Wow, a wide range of comments here, so I’d love to address a few recurring themes:

    1. Grad school does pay off for some. It is true, the post itself is polarizing, but as I suggest, crunch the numbers for yourself. Everyone will have a slightly different situation. If your employer is footing the bill and you are able to continue working and get paid in the meantime – grad school might actually be an incredibly smart decision financially. Definitely worth exploring if that option is available to you. I have seen people I work with do this. But realize that you will have no personal life for the years that you are balancing both and you won’t get the same experience and networking benefits as someone who is attending full time.

    2. Benefits of Grad School
    There are some, for sure. Education is great (although I’d argue hands on is much more relevant in many professions). Additionally, a lot of top notch grad programs are offering their coursework online for free. Essentially, you can get the education aspect of the class for free, if that’s what you’re after. The Internet has completely changed the value proposition that secondary education offers – because you can simply get everything for free online.

    The other big benefit raised by some of you was that of building a network and friends. Building a network is great (again, hands on probably counts for more unless you go to a top 5 business school full time). This is a personal finance blog, so I am a little more focused on the actual return on investment payoff that comes with a grad degree than I am about the potential other benefits which I strongly believe I can get for free in other ways.

    3. Grad school vs. MBA
    Admittedly, this post blurred the lines between the two. I focused on MBA’s because that would be the option for me and I was most interested in crunching those numbers – but I would still argue, but I don’t think the argument changes much if you focus on all grad school degrees as a whole. For a decent non-MBA grad degree you’re still going to shell out $50K plus for anything of value, have the opportunity cost, and room/board/book/peripherals expenses as well. The numbers quoted by the WSJ include MBA’s (which are a ‘grad school’ degree) in them – and MBA’s are certainly one of (if not the most) popular grad school degree out there. To compensate I was a little conservative with some of the other numbers. To Steven’s situation, I have seen it time and time again. People think that by getting a high priced MBA, it’s their ticket to riches. That’s often not the case. Getting an MBA guarantees nothing and actually may limit the number of jobs that you might be rightly qualified for.

    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!

  • Jeff Walden says:

    C’mon, Joe, could you have read my comment any more antagonistically?

    I put “lesser” in quotes because while, by rankings, it might have been better, a US News rating doesn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to what you learned, the connections you made, your experiences there, and how well you were able to prepare for whatever your eventual career. If I were trying to be condescending, I wouldn’t have used quotes to modify its meaning! The only real measure of a school is the one you use personally, and what’s great for one person may be exactly the opposite for another, and vice versa. I take it your measure corresponded directly and exclusively to the financial numbers and tradeoffs. My utility curve includes a couple other factors, that’s all.

    Frankly, I don’t care how much or little education someone gets, as long as he pulls his own weight in life (which does make me rather more skeptical of liberal arts degrees than of other grad-school degrees, to be sure). Performing tasks requiring some type of skill, and performing them well — whatever the job, be it nuclear physicist or elementary school teacher or football quarterback, and whatever the task, be it one requiring acute mental dexterity or one requiring prodigious physical effort or one so “mundane” (those quotes imply I don’t actually think the task mundane) as intuitively knowing how to mix spices into meals to make one-of-a-kind entrees at five-star restaurants — is what I admire.

    By the way, my finances are in comfortable shape, and I suspect the same of classmates who did choose grad school, even if odds are they’re somewhat less financially secure at the moment for the decision.

  • Daddy Paul says:

    Not only will an MBA cost more than it is worth to get the value (better income) you will cut your geographical selection.

  • Brian says:

    GE, I have to respectfully disagree and say that you have no idea what you are talking about on point number 3 there…

    “For a decent non-MBA grad degree you’re still going to shell out $50K plus for anything of value, have the opportunity cost, and room/board/book/peripherals expenses as well…” This is ridiculous! How do you know? Have you every been to grad school?

    I am currently in grad school for my PhD and have everything (tuition, health insurance, stipend, supplies) paid for and once graduated will have to opportunity to earn more than I ever could with just my BS degree.

    Also, my wife just got her MA degree and it cost $8500 across two years. She got bumped in the payscale by $5000 after receiving it so it is paid off after 1.5 years. To top that off, if she continues with this job, it will be an extra $5000 for the next 20 years. So that’s an extra $100,000 for $8500…you do the math.

    Most places it doesn’t matter where you get your MBA. Sure some programs are better, but MOST employers aren’t going to care if you didn’t go to “Harvard” or a “top 10” school. To top it all off, I think most people want an MBA for their egos.

  • brent says:

    You also don’t speak to the fact that over 75% of people who get MBAs are self-identified career switchers. They need to get the MBA to have a way into their “new” career. For me, it’s going to be a transition from the military to the business world.

    According to forbes, the Harvard class of 2004 avg pre-mba compensation was $82K, while their 2008 salary (4 years after graduation) was $215K on avg. If you re-did your numbers with slightly more realistic MBA numbers, I think they’d be vastly different.

    Forbes says most MBAs pay themselves off in less than 5 years here:

    -brent (class of 2014 hopeful)

  • Ken says:

    I got a Master’s Degree in School Counseling for about 12,000 back in late 90’s. It was well worth it and is still paying dividends for me. I commuted back and forth, went to evening classes. It’s all about the options you choose. Traveling somewhere else and establishing housing can be more expensive. Grad degrees pay if you 1) Enjoy the subject your studying; and 2) are committed to getting a career in that field. I think the pros outweight the cons and there are less expensive options.

  • Brian says:


    So I went and looked at the article. I take some major beef with it. You can’t just sling numbers around like that without any facts to back it up. Here’s some things they don’t include about there numbers:
    1) What universities are they using in the averages
    2) If they even use a couple of more expensive schools in their average it will skew it towards higher amounts.
    3) What “costs” are they putting into their average, (tuition, housing, wages?)

    My point is that averages do not tell the entire tale. Did you know that some schools (like mine) have graduate tuition tiers and charge more or less based on the programs you are studying? By limiting your analysis to only a few schools with high tuition of course you are going to come up with expensive numbers. I actually get paid more in my stipend than I would if I was just working in my field. My wife actually kept working her full-time job the entire time she was getting her Masters so our income was never affective. Basically, what I am saying is that your cost analysis is very limited to a specific set of circumstances and shouldn’t be generalized to everyone’s situation.

  • Warren says:

    @ Brian

    You’re doing the exact same thing. You got your degree for cheap so you’re generalizing that to everyone. GE states in the post multiple times that you should run your own numbers because everyone is going to have a different situation. What more do you want than that? Averages are better to go off of than your specific situation. Maybe he should have included a snippet about ‘Brian’s situation’ in the post for you.

  • Honey says:

    The real issue with all of this is that going to graduate school is like buying a house: it is *sort of* a personal finance decision because it costs a huge amount of money. However, the vast, vast majority of the time, both grad school and buying a house are horrible financial decisions in that they will not make/save you money over the long run (once you factor in the outright costs and the lost opportunity costs).

    It *is* possible to make/save money by obtaining a graduate degree/buying a house – if you do it very, very strategically. However, probably less than 1% of people ruthlessly employ the type of strategy that is necessary to make/save money by doing these things. Instead, they use the urban myths – “A graduate degree will increase my earning power” – “Buying a home is an investment” – to justify their own purely EMOTIONAL reasons for making the decision to engage in these activities. Urban myths that are, let’s be honest, simply not true as blanket statements (and probably not true for the majority of people because they use the blanket statements as justification to engage in the activity at all and excuses not to be strategic about ANY OTHER ASPECT of the decision). A sort of “in for a penny, in for a pound” reasoning.

    The fact that my boyfriend and I have a total of over $200K in educational debt between us probably means that we will never be in a position to buy a home. However, while we realize now that we didn’t use as much strategy in attending to graduate school as we thought we did at the time, that’s fine, because we each participated in the activity that meant the most to us, and got an amount of satisfaction out of earning the degrees that can’t be measured in dollars.

  • Joe says:

    In many ways I totally agree with this post. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me to rack up more school debt when I’m still working to pay off my undergraduate education. But, from what a lot of people are saying, it really depends on the field you currently work in or want to work in after you complete your degree.

  • Agency collection says:

    I agree with this post also. The sad part of it all is that I can see the costs involved going up during the next few years.

  • Julie says:

    I haven’t seen this question answered, but maybe I just didn’t read everything. Here goes:

    My company pays 100% of graduate school expenses. People in my company regularly get their MBA from NYU and continue to work full time here. So….would you say, given that the MBA will cost me $0, I have any reason to not peruse it?

  • Julie says:

    I haven’t seen this question answered, but maybe I just didn’t read everything. Here goes:

    My company pays 100% of graduate school expenses. People in my company regularly get their MBA from NYU and continue to work full time here. So….would you say, given that the MBA will cost me $0, I have any reason to not pursue it?

  • Zach says:

    @ Ken

    I think you make a great point with number 2: it really only makes sense to pursue a master’s degree if you are committed to working in that field and if the degree will allow you to do so. This seems obvious, but I think a lot of people (especially business students) actually attend grad school for the opposite reason–they don’t know what else to do and they think that more school might help them figure it out. Or, as several people have mentioned, they just really like the academic environment and the people they are surrounded by. Again, I think this is especially true for business students pursuing an MBA or anyone with a liberal arts degree who doesn’t eventually want to teach. Now, if you already work in your field of study and your employer is paying for your degree, then this is obviously not the case.

    I know that I very nearly went to grad school for the wrong reasons, and for someone like me it would have been a huge mistake, financially. I would have finished school with loads of debt and likely would have no clear idea of what I wanted to do next. As it happens, I have very little direction career-wise, but at least I have no debt.

    Finally, @ GE, I think you make light of the distinction between an MBA an nearly any other graduate degree. I think most graduate degrees, especially those in the sciences, represent a huge accomplishment and a significant advancement in knowledge of the field. But I am not convinced that an MBA delivers the same value. One major factor in my decision to forego an MBA degree was the advice of a professor who told me I would be taking essentially the same classes I took in undergrad.

  • Robert says:

    “Tuition ($98K ) + Opportunity cost of lost wages ($102K) + Room/board/tuition/other ($50K) = $250K”

    Geez, 98k for an MBA? Are you going to Oxford? More education is NEVER a bad idea. Those with graduate degrees are unemployed less often, find jobs more quickly than those without graduate degrees, make more money (though not always substantially more) than their counterparts, and they get to go to graduate school, which is incredibly enlightening and entertaining academically. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it in more ways than one.

  • Van Yadack says:

    As most others have already said, the decision depends highly on personal preferences. At any rate, one alternative to going to a “top 10 business school” is to get a degree abroad. I recommend getting a bachelors in the states to pretty much everyone, but many foreign universities (particularly in Europe but also for example the American University of Beirut) offer good quality masters programs taught in English. They are also (1) often tuition-free or incredibly cheap by US standards (eg, all universities in Germany are free or 1500EUR/semester depending on which state you’re in) and (2) a great chance to learn (I mean really learn) a foreign language. That’s not to mention the networking (I don’t agree at all with G.E.’s statement that this is negligible unless at a top 5 ranked school), the many many experiences to blog about while abroad…

    Another point against the top 10 is that scholarships and fellowships are more likely to be available and big at lesser normal schools. Many departments are given funds with which to offer sizable scholarships to very good grad students who would otherwise just make the cut at a top ranked program (though this seems to a apply more to economics than to MBA degrees).

  • Matt says:

    I take issue with your biased analysis. Your numbers for tuition and living are quite inflated, even if you do attend a top university. You don’t account for any fellowships or financial aid of any kind. Also, it is possible to attend a state school for a much cheaper price.

    For example, I plan to pursue a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering at UW-Madison, which for me would be around $10,000 a year because I live in state. To me, that is a terrific price, and it doesn’t even account for any financial aid or fellowships I may get.

    So yes, maybe to attend to top university, not get any aid or scholarships, it would not be worth it, but the options available make it worth it.

  • Jayde says:

    My husband went to a top business school part time. The great thing about this is that his company offered tuition assistance so they paid a small chunk of it. In addition, he also got a scholarship that paid for a portion of it so he only had to pay about $15-20k a year. It’s still a lot of money but it was well worth it in the end.

    Shortly after he graduated, he was laid off but found a job in consulting within a month. With the new job, he got a pay raise, it was much more challenging and rewarding. He later learned that if he did not have his MBA he would not have even gotten an interview with them. So having that MBA does increase your odds of getting hired and moving up the ladder.

  • Robert says:

    I agree with Matt. The numbers for tuition are seriously inflated. If you’re going to a university that costs that much, you’re probably going to make a boatload once you’ve graduated and it will make up for it eventually. According to your analysis, studying for a medical degree isn’t worth it either because of the high cost and long residency.

  • SeaSalt says:

    Knowledge is the key to every door and decision in the hallways of opportunity.

    The piece of paper is merely acknowledging that you have exceeded other’s knowledge bases, but it will not guarantee you anything. No matter your stance to the cost question, knowledge is earned and you will not be able to avoid shifting your priorities to acquire it. At the end of the day, I would be surprised to hear someone tell me that increasing knowledge was a huge mistake, since it influences the numerator of your life’s earning potential. You alluded to this, but I will reiterate it for you…the numerator has no limit.

    Regards and best wishes

  • Derek says:

    I disagree with your assessment here. I deal in the national defense industry and most companies who are looking for graduate degrees don’t care as much as to where you got the degree — just that you have the degree from an accredited school.

    I had several options for places to obtain my graduate degree. These schools ranged from $15K to $60K+. Choosing an online approach, I was able to obtain my degree while still working and kept my costs to approximately $18K. Doing so changed my salary from $55K/yr to $80K/yr within the first two years. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that I made my investment back and will be appreciating the payoffs for quite some time.

    Guess my point is, you don’t have to go to an overpriced school to obtain a ROI. Sure, it might help with some companies; but most won’t care.

  • Seska says:

    ^What Derek said is true for many of the sciences as well. Where you went to get your Ph.D. isn’t as important as the fact that you got one. Your publication record and who you worked with matters a lot more than if you went to Harvard and didn’t publish anything.

  • Nicole says:

    I’d rather open up my own business and learn from first-hand experience instead of spending the time to get an MBA degree. But if you don’t plan on starting your own company, then an MBA can help.

  • Mark says:

    I wasted two years of my life pursuing a graduate degree, which I don’t believe helped me get my job in public administration. All it did was postpone the date of my hiring, and thus the date of my retirement. I could have been receiving a full pension at this time had I started working after receiving my B.A., but instead I’ll have to work for 2 more years and receive a reduced pension.

  • Karen says:

    Did you take Economics as an undergrad? Averages mean very little. It is the marginal change that matters. With a graduate degree your salary continues to rise longer into your work life. The peak is also at a high level. But, your point about the cost of a graduate degree is well taken. Using the time value of money, within a five year time horizon, at 2.5% expected inflation, an MBA is not worth much more than $25,000. Unless, the networks formed in grad school lead to opportunities equal or exceed the nominal cost of the degree minus $25,000.

  • IF Castillo says:

    I second the Financial Samurai. I went to school in the evening, my employer paid for it. It was difficult working fulltime, traveling for work and going to going to school in the evening plus all the group work which at times was torture. The skills that I got at Johns Hopkins’ MBA have opened new ways that I never thought were possible. Not everything in life can be measured in financial terms but in the intellectual growth, appreciation and understanding of so many different things. I once read that the MBA was like guerrila warfare that prepare one for many, many things.

  • Leah says:

    Well, I am a new reader, and felt compelled to leave a comment. There are certainly professions that REQUIRE a graduate degree. You cannot graduate with a bachelors and become a doctor or lawyer, neither can you graduate with a bachelors and be a biostatistician. Which is the field in which I am getting my graduate degree. Some fields are highly technical or dense, and it’s just not possible to perform the job properly with only a bachelors degree. For someone like me graduate school is definitely not a rip-off, because I get a fee waiver for my tuition, and free healthcare, and a stipend. It’s true that I’m losing money because I’m not “working”, but my employment possibilities are vastly improved with the degree, so the upside far outweighs the downside.

  • Leah says:

    To add to my post, I would like to say that I think it’s actually the bachelor’s degree that is a rip off. I felt like I could have skipped my bachelors all together and just gone straight into grad school. Also, so many undergraduates are all about partying, and there’s no cumulative exams like there is in grad school, it’s easy to get a degree without learning much.

  • Allyson says:

    Clearly if you’re only looking at it from a monetary gain standpoint, you have to look at how much net income you’ll have after obtaining a master’s.

    You speak of getting an MBA not being worth your time/money spent, but in other fields of study it’s vastly different.

    As an RN you can make 35-40k, but take one to two years to get a master’s and you can easily pull in 60-80k as a nurse practitioner or even 100-120k as a nurse anesthetist. I’d say it’s worth the cost of tuition (25-50k).

    And to address another post: There is no tangible difference in the education between a nurse who holds a bachelor’s vs. a nurse that holds an associate’s degree. None. The idea that an associate’s gives you more hands on knowledge is laughable, however. There’s a reason why those programs are being weeded out.

    Also if a person has any ideas of going to graduate school in the nursing field you HAVE to have a bachelor’s degree to continue. Get the bachelor’s, work a few years to catch up on loans and then get a master’s. You can triple your salary in less than 10 years and you’d be crazy not to.

  • brian d says:

    I am pursuing my MBA online. The company that I currently work for reimburses $5250 per year. Most large companies reimburse this amount because it is a tax break for them. I have to stretch it out for several years to get the company to pay for it all.

    Who knows if a masters degree is worth it or not. At least it is an investment in your understanding of the world. It is a credential that shows people that you were motivated enough to take time out of your life in pursuit of knowledge.

    I think the MBA is like an Associates degree. You dont get any license or certification with your MBA. It just gives the student a broad general scope of the business world. It gives you the tools to operate effectively and comfortably in a business environment. Companies need people that can communicate in a variety of settings.

    Peoples abilities are different. Just because employee 1 who has an undergrad degree can outperform employee 2 who has a Masters, does not justify bashing Masters degrees in general. I am sure that there are plenty of white belt Karate students that can win in a fight against a black belt.

    YOU WANT TO SAVE SOME REAL MONEY? Live like a tightwad and pay off your house early.

  • Natalie says:

    I’m facing this dilemma currently. I’m about to graduate with a bachelor’s in Biology. This qualifies me to do very little at a salary of about $35,000/yr if I’m lucky. I’d really like to go to pharmacy school, but the local school costs about $40k/yr and is condensed into 3 years of study. I’m daunted by the cost, but after graduation I can easily make $80-100k. I’m currently a stay at home mom, so there is no real opportunity cost with lost wages. So, is $120k education (paid for completely with loans) worth a $100k/yr job? I think so, but it’s still frightening to me when our household income is currently only $36k.

  • jdjdjdjdjdj says:


    It definitely is a worth it, or not worth it scenario. For me, I went to an elite undergraduate school and now do freelance writing and web development. I loath the prospect of corporate america making “big bucks” as an aspiration. Now, I could have paid handily for an MFA at a chance of being published, but I would rather go to free writers workshops and take my chances and not have to deal with the debt. Also most creative writing programs would act like I didn’t do great in undergrad, which I did…

    It is probably all from point of view, and what you need.

  • Kate says:

    I disagree. I’m in graduate school right now and it is definitely worth the money. First, my undergraduate degree was hardly sufficient; I’ve only been at grad school for a month and it’s ridiculous how much my thinking and skills have improved. Second, it’s actually quite affordable if you get an assistantship, which are plentiful. They pay my tuition and for health insurance, and I get a stipend of $14/hour, which is more than most people in America probably get paid. It’s enough to cover gas, utilities and housing, and I’m only working 20 hours a week.

    Definitely worth it.

    • Nicole says:

      How did you get the stipend and assistantship?

      • Kate says:

        Any grad student can apply. I don’t know of anyone who wanted an assistantship and didn’t get one. It might not be the exact job they wanted, but it pays the bills the same.

        • Honey says:

          I manage 4 PhD programs and we have almost 90 people on the waiting list for assistantships, and you must be lucky enough to live in a VERY low cost of living area. It definitely doesn’t pay the bills here, and I don’t live in a very expensive city.

          • Kate says:

            I think a large part of someone’s decision to attend a program should be based on whether they can get financial aid. I chose my school because of its reputation and the aid given to graduate students. I know a lot of PhD programs are fully-funded, and I’ll be looking at the ones that offer the best financial aid package when I’m applying.

          • Honey says:

            I would agree with that – think of it as, if they didn’t promise to fund you for the entirety of your program, they didn’t *really* admit you. Every student in the PhD program I actually attended was funded, it’s a bit different where I work now (though different fields, as well).

  • David says:

    I think you also need to take into consideration inflation. This would have an affect on the amount owed over time obviously. Also in a bad economy companies tend to hire those with advanced degrees and 5-7 years of experience. It’s another tool to get a job over someone like you who may be more than capable but do not have the credentials needed.

  • Shyloh Jacobs says:

    Thank you for this and I agree although sadly a few blogs isn’t going to change the system that has been working long before your parents were born and in order to see the results we want in our careers and life we must cooperate. If we don’t the rest of one’s life will be a never ending constant struggle without a degree. I don’t understand it but my degree has worked magically for me and I had to get some private lending? Does anyone have any better ways to pay for college?

  • Natalie says:

    Wow, now that’s some serious hatred against MBA. I agree in a sense with you because I have seen several MBA people not so good at what they were doing but they had all the credits. The problem is if you ask me right now if I would do a MBA if I had the choice, I would probably go for it. The main reason is that you have to go with the flow in such system. Rebels are not appreciated in corporate America and if you want to do things on your own, you better start off your own company!

  • Megan says:

    I think you way over-estimated your cost analysis of what graduate school students could pay. Here’s why:

    *I’d guess that most grad students aren’t living on campus and paying room and board fees. Even if they are, they still need food and a roof over their heads for those two years, so that shouldn’t be factored in at all.
    *You can go for your degree part-time and still work, so the opportunity cost of lost wages is irrelevant for those who choose to do that. Two-thirds of the students at my graduate school are also working.
    *If you’re working, you might not need a loan! At least not for the full amount.
    *The value of having the degree goes far beyond the additional salary: some companies might not even consider a candidate for a certain position unless they have a graduate degree. That could mean years of unemployment = lost salary, if you really want to make an extreme estimate.

    I’m attending a private university with a decent program, and it will end up costing me around $40,000 (although some classes were waived for me because of my undergraduate courses). You could factor in the whopping $150 per book, but I’m sure I save that much over the course of a semester by not going out to bars and restaurants when I have class or school work.

    And if I may say, your 3rd point of why you hate the degree is a pretty wild assumptions. The people I know with degrees seem to be the hardest working people I know, so some actual research to prove one of us wrong would be nice.

  • Corey says:

    I hate that I am expected not to work for the summer months but must pay 2500 in tuition for a summer semester for a summer class. Im pissed, I hate grad studies right now, but in the long run, I will probably change my mind when I am not in the thick of things.

  • Oscar says:

    It is obvious that you did not go to grad school. I can tell you right now that the #1 mistake in your analysis is that you are comparing the cost of a TOP 10 Business School with the average MBA salary. MBAs from top 10 schools are making an average of $110K, and not %60K. If you are going to compare with average salary, you might want to use average cost as well. You might want to go to grad school and learn how to do this kind of analysis in a more accurate way. Just saying.

  • Joe says:

    The educational system (public or private) is a business like any other. Foremost, they are there to make money. As with many industries, you can pay as much or as little as you want for a product or service. It is the value of that product or service that you should examine. I cannot dispute your numbers that detail the cost, but that is a bit one-sided. The value (personal satisfaction, a new skill, opportunities) can only be assessed by each individual.

    I do not have a graduate degree yet, but I am getting close to deciding on it and this is the approach I am taking. I will be going part time because, to your point, experience counts for a lot. However, I am evaluating the value of the programs along with the costs.


  • scottiegazelle says:

    I love that most of the people pro-grad school are still enrolled IN grad school. Which means they haven’t seen the paycheck from the other side, just have the numbers.

    I looked at getting my doctorate, but it was in science, not business, and all of the programs I looked at were fully funded if you had an assistantship…and most promised that all enrolled grad students would, if under x yrs, etc. Plus stipend.

    I found something else that worked better for me – I’m several years post bach, and have four kids – but if I was childless I’d have gone back in a heartbeat, and if I’d realized that most doctorates in my field were fully funded, I’d have considered it after graduation.

    Of course, the other thing my research turned up is a glut of postdocs…plenty of people with the degree but making the minimum in their field because, well, the positions were filled. I’ve seen other friends with masters in more liberal fields struggling to find work, as well, despite respectable grad schools.

    All of that said: my husband has a high school degree and makes six figures in a construction position. Prior to that, he worked in an office in telecommunications, and made 60k. This was in his mid-to-late 20s, mind you.

    So yeah. I’m of a mind that most people just assume “degree=good” and don’t think about what they’re given up – though I’m not totally certain of your numbers. At the very least, people should stop and analyze things.

    Also – randomly – have had several friends who got their MBA while working full time. Was tough but doable, even with families.

  • Tiger says:


    Good analysis. However I feel you left out one aspect that is a career change which people seek from an MBA. I for one would like to work in management consulting or investment banking and do see myself breaking through into a top firm without a leading MBA.

  • Raul Bonilla JR says:

    I get told about the cost and opportunity cost associated with pursuing a Grad degree. I know you hate it and you think its worthless but for me its worth it. I read articles like this trying to discourage individuals desiring a Masters. I am just a bit fatigued with the comments I hear. I am the first in my family to get an undergrad, and I will be the first in my family to get a Grad degree. I am having more doors open for me while I am in school than with just my undergrad degree alone. I am getting more respect because I am pursuing that piece of paper and that means bundles for me because I am a minority getting admiration from all my family and others that do not have the same opportunity that I have. Pursuing your masters shows dedication in a person even if they never use it. However, one day you will need it and I figure why wait until later when I can get it now when I am young.

  • Don't need to know says:

    The tuition for the 2014 school year at harvard is $53,000 not the $84,000 this guy is talking about. So evidentally he’s off his rocker.

    Link to Harvards website


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