Some students at Temple University are weighing the financial benefits of a graduate degree against the financial burden of graduate school as they decide whether or not to continue their education.
In 2012, the median debt for graduate students was $57,600, according to a report by New America, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. But, the wage gap between those who earned a bachelor’s degree and those who attained a post-graduate degree was 30 percent in 2013, up from 11 percent in 1979, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Claudia Miriello, a master’s in public health candidate in the College of Public Health and a graduate extern in the Wellness Resource Center, said it is hard to get a job in public health without a master’s degree.
“The coursework that you learn on a master’s level is more advanced and more applicable to working in the field as a public health professional,” Miriello said.
Miriello’s parents paid for her undergraduate education but told her that if she wanted to go to graduate school, she would need to pay for it on her own. She has since applied for FAFSA and has student loans that she hopes to pay off as soon as possible.
“It’s daunting,” Miriello said.
Her job at the WRC is helpful, she added.
“In an ideal world, if I didn’t spend any money at all and if I worked here for two years I’d be able to pay for my education,” Miriello said. “Obviously, life doesn’t work out that way, but having this job is helpful in that I am able to put aside money.”
International students like Wendy Lu, who received her master’s degree in sociology in China from Nankai University, and is now a Ph.D. candidate in Temple’s sociology program, can face difficulties like visa restrictions on employment that make paying for graduate school even more challenging.
Despite being on a full scholarship, Lu struggles financially.
“Academically, I like the sociology department here very, very much,” Lu said. “But, I do experience some inconvenient cultural conflicts and financial hardships.”
As a student and sole provider for her family, Lu finds it difficult to get by. She has an F-1 Student Visa, meaning she is allowed to study and work in the United States if she complies with certain restrictions pertaining to the amount of hours she can work each week and where her job is located. Because Lu’s husband only qualifies for an F-2 visa, a status given to spouses and children of F-1 visa holders, he is unable to study full-time at a vocational or postsecondary academic school or work in the United States.
“Whenever I get my salary, I just pay my credit card, pay the rent, basically just running out of money at the start of each month,” Lu said. “Basically, we cannot save any money.”
When Lu first enrolled at Temple, she found work as a teaching assistant in Temple’s sociology department. Her annual salary of $18,000 covered the expenses of her and her husband, but Lu didn’t have a paycheck in the summer months and over winter break, when school was not in session. It was too small to support the family comfortably after her son was born in 2018, she said.
“Life has suddenly become so expensive,” Lu said. “A minimal salary just cannot support the family financially.”
This month, Lu began working at the Center for Asian Health, a research institution under Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Her salary is the same, but the new position allows her to work during summer and winter, which is a big relief, she said.
For Jaycie Hricak, a junior criminal justice and political science major enrolled in a 4+1 accelerated degree program, which allows students to obtain their Master’s degree within five years by taking graduate classes, getting ahead on her graduate education is a way to save money. Hricak expects to graduate in 2020 with her bachelor’s degrees. Then, she will only need to attend graduate school for one year to finish her master’s degree in public policy.
She currently pays an undergraduate tuition rate for her program, but that will change once she becomes a full-time graduate student, she said.
Her graduate tuition will be nearly double what she is paying now, Hricak said. Still, she will only need to pay graduate tuition for one year.
She hopes to receive scholarships to cover some of the other expenses.
“This time next year, I can apply for graduate scholarships,” Hricak added. “It’s really expensive.”
Cost of graduate school discourages some students from pursuing higher degrees, like Anna Gross, a junior psychology major. Gross is considering applying to Temple’s Clinical Psychology Program and Kutztown University’s Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling program, is basing her decision off long- and short-term rewards of graduate school.
“It’s gonna come down to choosing which option is going to be more financially feasible for me and what program is the best option,” Gross said. “That’s a decision that a lot of people have to make.”