In our current economic climate, many people are considering a return to college in order to pursue a master’s degree, allowing them to stand out in the crowded job market. It’s important for people to realize that the cost of a master’s degree, and the value of the degree itself, will vary depending on a number of factors, including the field in which you study and your willingness to go into debt.

Rising Costs

Between 1996 and 2006, the average cost of obtaining a master’s degree rose from $9,272 to $14,825, a 60% increase. The cost of a Ph.D. has risen at a similar rate, from $13,423 to $20,903. The actual cost of a master’s degree will vary depending on the school you attend, and the type of field you choose to pursue.


Most students simply don’t have enough money to pay the upfront costs of earning a master’s degree. Instead, many people choose to pursue financial aid, and end up taking out large loans in order to help finance their education. Fields falling into the category of hard sciences, such as mathematics, computer science and engineering, will generally offer more financial aid to students than liberal arts and humanities degrees. This is intended to stimulate economic development, though the practice is controversial.

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Other Financial Concerns

When planning your budget with the intention of pursuing a master’s degree, it’s important to consider any additional expenses or discounts you might incur. Some universities, such as Princeton, will subsidize housing for graduate students; an apartment normally costing $1,600 per month might only cost $600 to $700. However, there are many additional expenses to consider, including transportation, books and supplies. The cost of books, depending on your field of study, can reach over $1,000 per semester.


Compared to holders of bachelor’s degrees, master’s recipients make significantly more money over the course of their careers. However, the actual figure depends largely on your field of study. The average master’s degree holder will make an additional $180,010. For individuals with a master’s in business or engineering, this number shoots up to around $375,000. However, a master's degree holder in the liberal arts or social sciences won’t make any more money than a bachelor’s degree holder, on average.


Regardless of the field you choose, the cost of your master’s degree will depend primarily on the school you attend, either public or private, and your lifestyle while you pursue your degree. Long-term costs of a master’s are better considered as a combination of the money you’ll have to borrow and the potential pay-off of your degree.

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