6 Women With Master's Degrees Reveal Whether Grad School Was Actually Worth It


For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

There comes a time in every young college grad's life where she has to ask herself a question: is grad school worth it? This is a question that's influenced by many factors beyond academic passion, from career ambitions to student debt, and the desire to avoid the "real world." (Have you seen the real world? I'm good, thanks.) There are some professions, such as academia and scientific research, where a graduate degree is a necessity. In others, it's helpful, but not an essential feature of your résumé, and for a vast amount of potential career paths, it's not really an advantage either way. As a woman who got a PhD in a creative field, I can tell you definitively that my doctorate was brilliant, hugely enjoyable, taught me incredible things and got me great contacts — and is now only really useful for proudly putting "Dr." in front of my name at the vet's office when I pick up my cat. Would I do it again? Yes. Was it worth it? It depends on your ideas of what "worth it" might mean.

If you're tossing up staying at college to get a Master's or some kind of higher degree, it can be helpful to hear from people who went through the same decision-making process, ticked yes, and are now looking back on how it affected their lives and careers. Six women, all in their 30s, with a variety of graduate degrees under their belts, spoke to Bustle about what the idea of "worth it" meant to them, and whether they considered their grad school experience to be an asset, a disadvantage, or a combination of the two.

"My MA in Journalism was definitely not worth it — I would have been better off spending that money to subsidize a year of personal reporting and occasional internships. I think when it comes to my profession, the sooner you hit the streets, the best."
"Definitely worth it. Loved the interaction with other writers and felt I got support from most of the tutors. One of the most rewarding things for me was to be able to come away with a lot more confidence about writing than I had before I started but this is very personal and has to do with my family background, lack of direct role models growing up, etc."
"On balance, I'd say it was worth it. Particularly the experience of living abroad and making connections with classmates and professors. My program was subpar, though, so the academic experience isn't what made it worth it. And starting my policy career in DC would've been easier had I chosen a U.S.-based program and interned here simultaneously. Now that I have some work experience under my belt, I think the Master's degree opens some doors. But it was also ridiculously expensive."
"On a personal level, yes. It was what I'd wanted since school and I'm still very proud of having an MA. On a professional level, probably not. I still went into work on a lower salary (the MA made no difference) and worked my way up the same as if I'd not done it. Does that bother me? Sometimes, but not massively. Ultimately, I did it because it was right for me at the time and it was what I wanted."
"Definitely worth it. Less so for financial gain (I got a raise after getting my ScM, but not an enormous one) and more for general fulfilment. I learned a lot about populations outside of my own, met new and inspiring people I'd have never met otherwise, got back into general academia, feel more proficient in my field, proved to myself I can juggle work/school/gym/relationships, and, if I'm being honest, feel more confident and qualified mopping the floor with jerks on the internet. Education is an investment in my self efficacy that I'd make over and over again."
"Definitely worth it for me. My DPhil [the term for a doctorate earned at Oxford] allowed me to gain invaluable skills and experience that I use every day in my career. These include the obvious “wielding a pipette” ones, but what I learnt about time management, troubleshooting and other soft skills has been just as important."

Grad school definitely isn't for everyone, but for some women, it's an important investment in their careers (not to mention in their personal development). If grad school is something you're moved to do, keep getting opinions from people in your life who have done it, your academic advisors, or other people you trust. Ultimately, you'll make the best decision for yourself one way or the other.