You’ve got your undergraduate degree and now you’re debating if you should go to graduate school. I’ve been in your shoes. I too wondered should I go to grad school? It’s a big commitment. Tuition can get quite expensive, especially if you quit working full-time to go to graduate school. However, earning a graduate degree can boost your career and really increase your earnings potential.
I’ve decided to dedicate time this month on graduate schools, specifically the much loved and vilified graduate degree, the MBA. Let’s start off with a layup as to why getting your graduate degree is a good idea, if you want to make more money.
Go To Graduate School To Make More Money
Many personal finance publishers use Net Worth IQ as a way to track their financial progress. NW IQ gathered some interesting data on education level and compensation, which I highlight below.
A lot of it is just common sense. For example, the older you are, the greater your net worth tends to be.
Median Net Worth By Years Of Education
This is the chart that stood out most
|Education||Profile Count||% of Pop.||Median Net Worth|
|Less than high school graduate||21||0.67 %||$26,440|
|High school graduate||79||2.53 %||$40,570|
|High school graduate with some college||322||10.32 %||$25,189|
|Associate degree||117||3.75 %||$46,464|
|Bachelors degree||1460||46.78 %||$73,461|
|Masters, professional, doctoral degree||901||28.87 %||$193,761|
|Total Reporting Users: 2900|
Graduate School = Higher Net Worth
Someone with a graduate degree averages a net worth 160% more than someone with a bachelors degree.
In addition, those who go to graduate school earn 700% more than someone with only a high school diploma. The data is based on info provided by 2,900 users which is a big enough sample set.
5 Theories Why Those With Graduate Degrees Have Higher Net Worths
1) People are older when they enter or re-enter the work force
2) Graduate degrees command higher salaries
3) People tend to work longer because they invested a greater amount of time and money in their education. Doctors, for example, study until they are 28-30, and can work well into their 70’s.
4) People may have more money already, since graduate school is expensive.
5) People are motivated to succeed because they are sacrificing more, and need to prove to themselves they made the right decision.
Is A Graduate Degree Worth It?
There’s been a lot of debate over whether a graduate degree is worth it, and this data tilts the data towards yes. You guys know we don’t like to rely on net worth, as it gives a false sense of security.
But, since net worth by definition is net of all liabilities, we can presume the cost of higher education, and student debt specifically, is included.
Other Obvious Conclusions
The Older You Are, The Wealthier You Tend To Be (Except If You’re Between 60-64!)
|Age||Profile Count||% of Pop.||Median Net Worth|
|Under 25||499||15.99 %||$9,660|
|75 and over||2||0.06 %||$2,734,001|
|Total Reporting Users: 2981|
The Higher Your Income, The Higher Your Net Worth
|Income||Profile Count||% of Pop.||Median Net Worth|
|0 – 9,999||92||2.95 %||$1,830|
|10,000 – 19,999||65||2.08 %||$839|
|20,000 – 29,999||131||4.20 %||$1,808|
|30,000 – 39,999||186||5.96 %||$3,582|
|40,000 – 49,999||268||8.59 %||$22,211|
|50,000 – 59,999||283||9.07 %||$32,461|
|60,000 – 69,999||282||9.04 %||$50,177|
|70,000 – 79,999||260||8.33 %||$96,520|
|80,000 – 89,999||180||5.77 %||$113,100|
|90,000 – 99,999||202||6.47 %||$176,548|
|100,000 – 149,999||542||17.37 %||$267,042|
|150,000 – 199,999||190||6.09 %||$513,000|
|200,000 – 249,999||99||3.17 %||$549,446|
|250,000 +||129||4.13 %||$1,035,000|
|Total Reporting Users: 2909|
The last two charts aren’t a surprise at all. The net worth differential among various levels of education is. Now obviously there are plenty of wealthy people who don’t have graduate or even bachelor degrees (Bill Gates).
However, if you’re debating if you should go to graduate school or not, this data may help you decide.
I’ll be the first to tell you that getting a graduate degree was a royal pain in my a$$, especially going part-time. Can you imagine working 60-70 hours a week, and then going to class from 9am-6pm every Saturday for 3 years?!
What’s worse was the last minute studying on Friday night. The only thing I wanted to do was pass out on the couch watching my favorite movies. But, the good thing about a difficult experience is that it’s over.
And what’s left of you is a stronger individual who can better endure future hardship. Every weekend now feels like a vacation for me. And I’m really glad I got my graduate degree.
To quantify the MBA is somewhat difficult, but I’d like to think it’s helped me avoid the chopping block during the past two downturns. It also enabled me to get promoted once during school, and once right after I graduated.
In addition, the degree gave me the credibility to manage a business and I’d happily do it all over again.
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Updated for 2020 and beyond.
Larry L, New York says
But why is education demand inelastic? Is it because people value higher education a lot, or is it because the govt in the past has offered low rate loans (govt intervention)?
I look at higher education as any other investment, there comes a point where the value of the education outweighs the cost. Same with if you are 100k in debt from education, yet only make 30k year after graduation. How long will it take before you pay back this debt? There comes a point you are better off with the lower paying job with no debt, than a slightly higher paying job and massive debt. With your posting’s charts you assume previous performance equals future returns. :-)
People will seek alternatives, either because they want to or have no other choice.
Larry – That’s true, there is a point where the returns really don’t justify the expense, but by then, the person will be 35 years old and too late to realize they shouldn’t have spent $50,000/yr to go to some no name private school!
I’d be curious to know though, let’s say your daughter got into Harvard undergrad, how much would be willing to pay a year in tuition? It was between Harvard for $60K a year and a no-name state school for $8k a year, which do you choose?
Larry L, New York says
Found an interesting graph showing CPI-U and college Eduction inflation Rate. UGH!
Like housing this can’t be sustainable.
Larry – Wow, nice chart! That’s nuts! I can’t imagine how much tuition will cost if your kids want to go to private school in 10-15 years!
The thing is…. education demand is so inelastic, the best schools in the world can practically charge whatever they want. Unless people start thinking education isn’t important, I think the bubble continues! I for one think that education is the absolute KEY to everything. FS
I don’t know much about the MBA. (Though I’ve been told by both parents and my roommate in the last week that I should get one :) ). However, I am working on my master’s in mental health counseling. (License in 3 years yay!!!!) Seems like it doesn’t follow in that field at least if you’re salaried for it to be “worth it”. A bachelor’s level case manager makes usually low 30’s a year. A master’s level therapist makes probably low 40’s. Not sure it’s worth the 40K+ for grad school. However… if you go into private practice there’s a LOT more room for growth. And there’s a definite ceiling with the bachelor’s level, since you CAN’T legally practice without a license aka the advanced degree. Curious on your thoughts on the matter.
Hi Shakela – If you’re already getting your masters in mental health counseling (COOL!) then it seems a little overkill to get your masters in business administration. I’d focus on your current masters first and see how far that takes you. After 3-4 years working, you can think the MBA.
In 3 years, I think you’ll be itching to start working full time anyway and see what you can do with it! The irony for me is, I never wanted to go to school again after undergrad. The last downturn forced my hand, and I needed a logical back up in my mid-to-late 20’s, and getting my MBA part-time was the logical choice. If I got blown out at work, I could always enroll full time.
Good luck! FS
Tyrone | Millionaire Acts says
How I wish I could have a chance to work there in US for me to know if this median networth works for me too.
I think I should pursue an MBA degree. A lot of top executives have at least MBA degress. I don’t know if it’s a prerequisite but with the looks of it, I think somehow it is.
Hi Tyrone – Is it hard to get an employee visa coming from The Philippines? I have a Filipina colleague here in the US, and all she’s thinking about doing is going back to Manila to work. Is it possible that the grass is greener on the other side?
There must be an MBA program in The Philippines too no?
Canz – I like your opinion bc it sets up for my next post, which may end up offending everybody outside of the most well ranked schools! I take a quote from a senior editor of a major magazine, to start the debate. FS
i would suggest people only go to [graduate] school to learn more about a field they love, rather than the hopes of making lots of money from it. no one really cares where you went to school, it’s the hard work and experience you gain after school that gets you $$$, not the piece of paper.
Gen Y Investor says
This is something I’ve been debating recently. At first thought the MBA sounds like a good idea but after factoring costs of going to a good program and the time commitment it’s not so simple. When I look at a lot of successful people in my line of work there are a lot of people who do just fine w/o advanced degrees. I think there comes a point where your hard work, social skills and drive can be enough to propel you to the next level. Just my opinion though.
Gen Y – The older you are, the less likely you need an MBA I’ve found b/c they are already successful. The problem is that since so many young gunners are getting their degrees, game theory says that if you are also a young gunner, and do not get one, then you are at a disadvantage.
Knowing someone important to get your foot in the door, or provide for a fast track promotion is even more valuable though. Hence, people should do whatever they can to buy connected people lunches or dinners. It’s much cheaper than $80,000 in tuition!
Look into part-time programs so you don’t miss a beat. FS
Let me double post: on that last chart, if you put another column on there that had “percent of networth if 15% flat-income tax”, you will drastically see how regressive the flat-income tax idea would be, the numbers are:
82%, 357%, 249%, 167%, 33%, 28%, 12%, 12%, 8%, 8%, 6%, 7%, 4%
lower income people would be taxed at a much greater rate under a flat-income tax…
FS: please note that income is a great indicator for networth, hence why I argue so fervently against a flat-income tax. The sample counts are way, way too low for age to be used (only 2 people over 75) — the vast majority of people over 75 are living on medicaid and are dead-broke: go visit any nursing home.
Larry L, New York says
I also think there is a education loan bubble. The rates education is going up is not sustainable.
There are less honorable careers than becoming a doctor. I think 26 is a bit old to be starting down that path, though. It’s the kind of career you begin planning for in High School. A PhD would be nice, but I can’t think of any applicable career for me that wouldn’t bore me to tears.
I will just have to poke up with the career path I’ve chosen. It’s an honorable one, at least.
I’ve been working for close to 8 years after just getting an undergrad degree. I’ve been able to get promoted several times and could still see myself getting promoted again in a year or two with my current degree so it’s made me think about putting grad school aside. I am starting to realize however that I need to increase my knowledge of things like accounting to feel more comfortable in a larger role so I know I should go about that one way or another. Right now I don’t wan to fork over 100k+ in tuition so I’m going to try and self teach as much as I can for the specifics to my job. I’m sure if I were to hop firms that an MBA would be a great leg up though.
@FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com True, going full time is a pretty darn big commitment. I definitely was very hesitant, and hence ended up going part-time for 3 years instead. The company paid for most of it, but it’s not a cake walk to juggle the hours and studies at the same time.
However, when you believe you could be at risk given the economy, and joining the firm last, you can do anything! It wasn’t all that painful though. I did go to Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo for 2 weeks studying abroad, and had a great time meeting new people locally as well. It’s definitely not for everyone thought! FS
@Lee Actually, I think getting a doctorate degree may go a little too far, given how much time it takes, and the expense. Unless you want to be a medical Doctor, it’s kind of tough. A lot of my PhD friends tell me they would rather have started working earlier on not spent the extra time. But, they could just be acting modest. FS
@Larry L, New York In your case, it probably doesn’t make sense at all, especially going full-time. Part-time MBA perhaps, but definitely not full time.
The cost of education is ridiculous, and the growth doesn’t seem to abate. I kinda do bring up the cost and ROI aspect in the beginning:
“There’s been a lot of debate over whether a graduate degree is worth it, and this data tilts the data towards yes. You guys know we don’t like to rely on net worth, as it gives a false sense of security. But, since net worth by definition is net of all liabilities, we can presume the cost of higher education, and student debt specifically, is included.”
Neal @ WealthPilgrim.com says
First, really well done. Here’s a question that I’d love to see you address – if possible.
Take 2 business owners. One has an undergrad degree and the other has an MBA. Which is more successful or is it irrelevant?
The reason I bring it up is because I believe the best ticket to a great life in this country is to be self-employed. I also think the undergrad degree is important but not sure about the MBA. I have a CFP which isn’t an MBA but took work to get. It helped me because it was specific. The knowledge wasn’t that new but the credential was very helpful.
I think the MBA serves as a good educational foundation but a great credential. Credentials are probably less important in most small business but I could be wrong.
Hi Neal! A pleasure to have you come visit my humble site. It’s hard to answer your question without knowing the various aspects of the two business owners: dedication, passionate, street smarts, connections, capital position etc.
I’d love to be self-employed. It is my dream and one that I’m slowly working towards as well. The wheels are set in motion with this site, and I do believe I will get there one day. I do enjoy my current occupation now, but after 10 more years (20 years in total), I’m sure I’ll long to do something else full time.
I think HUSTLE is more important than credentials in most small businesses for sure. In a big corporate environment, hustle and credentials will help.
Everybody has their own path to take. Like FB said, it “feels like the MBA is the next undergrad” b/c there is this unstoppable inertia about more and more people seeking out graduate degrees. If all your managers have MBA’s, I’m pretty certain whether they admit it or not, they’ll want you to have one as well.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Best, FS
FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com says
An MBA feels like the next undergraduate degree.
It’s like EVERYONE has to get it, or has it, or is working towards it.
I still stand by the fact that you have to make the analysis of whether or not it will have any impact on your industry.
For me, no. In IT, no one cares about your degrees unless you are doing systems work for engineers and you have an engineering degree.
Or financial systems work, and you are a certified accountant.
But those degrees are STILL unnecessary in terms of IT, because the company already has that expertise in house to guide you along.
Still, I think the MBA is useful if you can score it for free. Heck, if someone wanted to pay for my MBA AND give me a salary while I go to school? I can jump on board for one.
Larry L, New York says
Hmm thought about getting a MBA myself, not sure in my case with owning a business does it make financial sense.
Also how much would I learn from what I already know. Some of has been from the school of hard knocks.
On thing you didn’t bring up with the recent increased costs for ANY college education and how it’s increased much faster than CPI. How long will it take to re-coop the cost? In some situations the case can be made to buy a franchisee instead.
Very interesting analysis, Samurai. Thanks.
Bottom line is, I need to pursue a doctorate it seems. Not really financially viable, even if it makes Money Sense!