Making Smart Financial Choices about Graduate School
Going to graduate school for a professional degree, such as a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), is an investment of time, effort, and money. And like any good investment, you want it to pay dividends.
"The mindset you need to have is that graduate school is both an upfront investment and a long-term one," says Darrin Rooker, director of financial aid at Northeast College of Health Sciences. "Ideally, the payoff comes during your career after graduation. That's because an advanced degree can open doors for you professionally and offer greater earnings potential down the line."
As with any big decision, it's worth taking the time to examine the costs, benefits, and challenges. To assess the value of pursuing an advanced degree, you'll want to look at:
- The type of graduate degree — There's a difference between graduate academic degrees and graduate first professional degrees. Generally, the former lets you pursue advanced studies in a particular academic discipline. Meanwhile, professional degrees--including the D.C.--prepare you for a specific career.
- Your career goals — Depending on your desired professional path, an advanced degree from an accredited institution may be required. This is especially true in the health and allied health professions, including chiropractic. "With first professional degrees, you really have to be passionate about that specific career path because the degree is a necessary stepping stone to the career itself," says Rooker.
- The length of the degree program — It can take upwards of five to seven years to complete certain doctoral degrees. At Northeast, on the other hand, you can earn your D.C. degree in just over three calendar years. The sooner you graduate with your professional degree, the sooner you can start building your career--and seeing a return on your investment.
- The job and salary outlook — What's the job outlook for certain careers? What are the potential salaries? For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of chiropractors is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2018 and 2028. Of course, employment opportunities and average salaries--not to mention the cost of living--will vary by location.
- The tuition and financing options — Most students who pursue a first professional degree use some combination of loans, grants, employment, and scholarships to pay for their education. So, you'll need to run the numbers--but you don't have to do it alone. We recommend connecting with an Northeast admissions counselor, who can help you explore your financing options.
According to Rooker, the majority of students fund their professional school education with federal loans (including unsubsidized direct loans and direct grad PLUS loans) as well as private student loans.
"The idea is that while you might have to borrow money to finance your professional degree, you'll make enough money after graduation to manage the repayment of the loan," he says. Fortunately, in the last ten years or so, Rooker says, "There's been more in the way of options for income-driven loan repayment plans, deferment, consolidation, even some loan forgiveness."
Colleges and universities are also helping students meet their financial obligations. At Northeast, for example, students can split their tuition bill into four smaller payments per trimester. As students, they also have access to counseling and group seminars on budgeting and debt management. Even after graduation, Northeast can help graduates to manage their educational investment by providing information and resources regarding loan consolidation and repayment plans.
What does a student get for investing in graduate school?
"Ultimately, what exactly you get out of graduate school will depend on you as an individual, including your motivations," Rooker says. But for most students, an advanced degree from an accredited institution can:
- Be a key step to achieving your career goals.
- Signal to employers, colleagues, and others your mastery of the subject matter.
- Set you apart in the workforce, since only about 13 percent of U.S. adults hold this credential, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Lead to higher wages and lower unemployment, according to BLS research.
In short, earning your advanced degree places you among a select group of professionals who've gone the extra distance for their education, their careers, and their futures.