Is a PhD Worth It?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Many people face the choice at some point of whether or not to continue their schooling. For some, the choice may occur towards the end of high school. For many, however, it may occur either as they approach the end of their college years, as they complete a master’s degree, or as they consider returning to school after being in the work force. In all of these cases, the question of whether it is worthwhile to get a PhD may come up.

Obtaining a PhD may open up new employment opportunities.
Obtaining a PhD may open up new employment opportunities.

When considering reasons not to pursue a PhD, a number of different concerns may arise. First, one may wonder about getting admitted. PhD programs often require satisfactory completion of an undergraduate or master’s degree in a particular field and/or additional coursework. Taking an entrance examination of some type prior to embarking on graduate work may also be a requirement. Some specialty fields may have very few places available, and one may have to confront moving to a different city or state in order to attend a program.

The complexity of the PhD thesis or dissertation explains why doctoral studies can take so long to finish.
The complexity of the PhD thesis or dissertation explains why doctoral studies can take so long to finish.

In addition to these considerations, the loss of income from stopping or cutting back on work in order to pursue a PhD may be a concern, as well as the cost of graduate school. Being back in a classroom in and of itself may present particular challenges for some people, especially someone with a learning disability. For others, the extended writing called for in a PhD dissertation, certain requirements like a foreign language, or oral defense of one’s work may seem daunting.

PhD students often work more closely with professors and academic advisors than undergraduate students.
PhD students often work more closely with professors and academic advisors than undergraduate students.

Arguments in favor of obtaining a PhD include the satisfaction in extending one’s understanding of one’s field, or alternatively, extending one’s studies in a new direction. The credential may open up new employment opportunities and increase the salary one can command. Studies have shown that a doctorate more than doubles the median earnings of people who only have an associate’s degree, is over 40 percent more than those with a master’s degree, and over $20,000 US Dollars (USD) more than those with a master’s degree. Those with PhD degrees earn more in other countries as well, but the amount varies.

Depending on one’s field, graduate fellowships or research assistantships are available, and in certain fields, it is customary for the PhD candidate to receive free tuition as well. Research has also shown ancillary benefits for those completing a doctorate. These include having a larger number of hobbies, making better consumer decisions, and having a higher amount of savings.

Some students may feel like they need a break following graduation before taking on more schooling.
Some students may feel like they need a break following graduation before taking on more schooling.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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