10 Grad School Degrees Worth the Debt

More education typically leads to better job prospects and bigger paychecks.

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More education typically leads to better job prospects and bigger paychecks. And we're not just talking about doctors and lawyers. While the average high school grad 25 years and older can expect to earn just $29,766 a year, median annual earnings climb to $50,281 for someone with a bachelor's degree and to $73,100 for advanced-degree holders.

But that higher income may not pay off if your extra money goes right to student loans—and especially if your job security is increasingly imperiled by an industry in decline. To help you ensure that a grad school degree is worth the debt, we calculated how long it would take the typical worker in various fields to repay the amount borrowed to obtain his advanced degree. We used the median mid-career salaries of workers with 98 popular advanced degrees, along with median student-loan debts for each degree type—$66,335 for a master of arts (MA), $59,300 for a doctor of philosophy (PhD) and $51,779 for a master of business administration (MBA). We also screened for fields with 10-year projected job growth faster than the 10.8% growth expected of all U.S. jobs between 2012 and 2022.


Methodology: Median annual salaries for mid-career employees (at least ten years of work experience) were supplied by compensation research firm PayScale. Median amounts borrowed are from the U.S. Department of Education's 2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Debt-payoff times were calculated using Bankrate.com's student-loan calculator. Though interest and repayment rates may vary, for our rankings we assumed that the grad-school debt would carry a 6.8% interest rate (the rate on subsidized Stafford loans disbursed between July 2006 and June 2012) and that 10% of median annual income would go to paying it off (the same percentage required for the Pay As You Earn repayment program). Projected job-growth rates from 2012 to 2022 and median annual salaries for specific occupations are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Stacy Rapacon
Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Rapacon joined Kiplinger in October 2007 as a reporter with Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and became an online editor for Kiplinger.com in June 2010. She previously served as editor of the "Starting Out" column, focusing on personal finance advice for people in their twenties and thirties.

Before joining Kiplinger, Rapacon worked as a senior research associate at b2b publishing house Judy Diamond Associates. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the George Washington University.