Tag Archives: education

Be a Smart Shopper When It Comes to Higher Education


According to research done by the Associated Press, the average Gen Xer with a bachelor’s degree is paying $400 a month on student loan debt.  Does this seem wrong to you?  The federal government says this is more than the average household spends on groceries a month.  You need a bachelor’s degree, right?  So what do you do?

Everyone and their brother has a bachelor’s degree

We’ve been told that a bachelor’s degree is a must-have in today’s society.  But, let’s look at the numbers.  In 1970, the average income for a recent college graduate in their 20s was about $42,000 in 2013 dollars.  In 2013, that same average income was only $40,000.  Yet the bill to acquire said degree has sky-rocketed.  Is this really money well-spent?

The master’s is the new black

So, maybe a bachelor’s just isn’t cutting it anymore.  Maybe the new shiny object is a master’s degree.  Since 1970, the income of recent recipients of graduate degrees has increased by $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.  That’s good news, right?  Well, you have to factor in how much a master’s degree costs – $40,000 – versus $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree.  It just doesn’t seem like you’re getting a whole lot of bang for your buck.  Are there any other options?

I’d like a plate full of hands-on experience, please

If you’re planning to become a scientist, doctor, or researcher, yeah you’re probably gonna need a degree, and then some.  But, if you’re looking at getting into something like sales, software development, or business, you’re really gonna need to get some good old fashion hands-on experience.  The same goes if you’re looking at getting into a trade like carpentry, engine repair, or electrical.

So, how do you find experience?

1) Apply for entry-level jobs or internships.  Even if it’s not exactly what you want to do, get a job somewhere.  Once you’re in, put in some extra hours with people that are doing what you want to do.  Observe what their doing, ask questions, and offer your help with some of the more menial tasks.

2) Work on projects at home.  If you want to be a software developer, get on your computer and start coding something.  If you want to be in sales, start going door-to-door and sell something.  If you want to be an electrician, start re-wiring something.

3) Sign up for a vocational trade school.  Unlike 4-year universities that offer classes from a more academic or theoretical point of view, trade schools provide practical training geared specifically for the job you want.  Plus, they typically far cheaper to attend than a 4-year school.  And, according to Mike Row, blue collar jobs can pay pretty well.

4) Start your own business.  Even if it’s just helping out your neighbors with some odd jobs, you can learn a lot about how to run a business by trying it out yourself.

Full disclosure

I have a bachelor’s degree and I’ve taken several post-graduate classes.  But, I did it on the cheap.  I went to Community College for my first two years and paid for it entirely out of pocket. Then, I finished up my bachelor’s with two years at an inexpensive public state school.  I didn’t start taking post-graduate classes until I worked full-time for a few years and, even then, it was free because my company had a tuition reimbursement program.  I did take out a loan for my undergrad degree, but I paid it off in 5 years.

Would I take out a loan to get my bachelor’s again knowing what I know now?  No.  Would I even get a bachelor’s degree?  I’m not so sure.  I’ve found that, at least in my line of work, employers value experience far more than any degree.

Master’s Degree? None for me, Thanks

This morning I was working out, listening to Pandora when an ad interrupted my station (yes, I use the free version) trying to convince me to get a Master’s degree.  Incidentally, I don’t have a Master’s degree.  Instead, I’ve been surviving on just a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.  A fact that some might find strange because my day job is software engineer, but that’s a post for another day.

There was a time when I wanted a Master’s degree.  You see, a few years ago I worked for a company that offered to pay the full tuition bill.  As long as a I maintained a “B” average, I could take free classes.  I decided to take them up on their offer and start pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science.  I had no plans for what I would do with my new degree, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.  Well, more than 10 years later, I’m glad I never finished the program.  I like my day job and I’ve come to realize that in my field, a Master’s degree would actually just slow me down.  I feel like I’d be stuck spending time learning about general computer theory using outdated technology, while missing out on valuable on-the-job experience with the latest and greatest tools and techniques.

There are more reasons I choose not to pursue a post baccalaureate degree…

It costs money

I no longer work for a company that will cover education expenses and those degrees are expensive. MBA programs can cost between $40k and 60k per year.  Holy cow!  I don’t think I would get a very good return on my investment.  Other people might be able to work out a deal with their employers to cover all or part of the tuition, but even then there may be strings attached.  For example, your company may want their money back if you quit or get laid off.

It takes time

Usually two years, but maybe more if I’m trying to squeeze classes in at night and don’t have all the prerequisite undergraduate work done.  Are you ready to commit your nights and weekends to studying?  I’m not.  I have a blog to write!

There’s no guarantee it will get me more money or a better job

Maybe it would be different if my company came to me and said, “We’ll pay you x percent more if you get a Master’s degree.”  But, in my field it’s more about your experience and skill than it is about your degree.  I’m not about to shell out $50k with nothing but a hope and a prayer that the investment will pay off.

Society is too pushy about it

I just feel like there’s this general push by society to go out and upgrade your life by getting a Master’s degree.   It’s like the new Bachelor’s degree.  It will unlock a glorious new world of higher pay and career advancement.  And if you don’t get that degree, you’ll limp along, unable to compete with everyone else and their mother who already have a Master’s degree.

I’ll admit that some jobs require a minimum amount of post-graduate education: Doctors, lawyers, scientists, and college professors.  If any of these jobs are your ultimate goal, then by all means go forth and learn.  Otherwise, can you get to where you want to go without a Master’s degree?  If your goal is to move up the corporate ladder into management, have you considered starting your own business instead?  You don’t need a degree to be an entrepreneur.

What do you think?  Is getting a Master’s degree worthwhile?