Is EVERY master's degree worth it: "Financially Hobbled For Life"

WSJ has a mostly effective paywall, but this article appears to be free for now. Read it while you can.


I loved the quote where it says “NYU is always focused on affordability” :joy:

It’s also too bad the article is so focused on the MFA in film. It doesn’t take a Master’s from Columbia to tell you that isn’t a good idea. Personally, I’d be more interested in seeing what programs would be closer to the breaking even point yet still fall short. Those particular programs might be ones where you think you are making a smart choice but might want to rethink taking on the debt.


The chase for prestige leaves many in financial difficulties. It’s sad.


How about that one guy who dropped out of high school, started community college in CA, and graduated from Kansas? He should have been a success story! Then he ruined it by going $360K in debt for that graduate degree. He said, “As a poor kid and a high-school dropout, there was an attraction to getting an Ivy League master’s degree.”


I know kids struggling to pay back loans from ill-advised Master’s programs at Queens college, U Mass Lowell, Penn State, U Delaware. Do not turn this into a “chase for prestige” thread… reality is that becoming a social worker (for example) which requires an MSW, is going to be an expensive proposition which lands you a job as… a social worker.

This really is not about prestige. I know young people who DID the “smart thing”- no debt for undergrad, then grad school- and they are still hobbled by their choice.


That would have been a more interesting article to me too. Too many of these types of articles seem to go for the quick shock instead of the really useful angle.


Ill-advised financial choices are not limited to prestigious schools (although the financial penalty may be higher simply because the cost is higher) or master’s degree programs. In our area there is a glut of lawyers who attended less selective (although still expensive) law schools who then cannot find the type of job that will help pay down the big debt they incurred.


it wasn’t my intent to imply everyone in this situation was chasing prestige. However that one guy specifically said that attending an Ivy was the attraction for him. Consider he received his undergrad from KU and KU offers a Masters in Film. It looks like tuition at KU for that masters would have been in the $20K/yr range. I don’t think it was the decision to pursue a Master’s in Film that financially hobbled this specific student. It was the decision to attend Columbia.

Also, while the intent of the article may not have been to blame prestige chasing, it should be noted that every college debt mentioned resulted from the student attending a highly ranked university. No student mentioned in this article pursued a masters from U Delaware or Queen’s College. There’s even a chart in the article that lists earnings/debt and it only lists Ivy League universities.

But I agree with your point that all students should be aware of the earning potential of their graduate degree if they are going into debt for that degree.

EDIT: Now that I look at it again, I think it’s possible the article was implying, if not saying so directly, that some of the profiled students were prestige chasing.


The cost difference between those schools and the Columbia’s etc is very significant and worth discussing. That takes nothing away from the fact that others have debt for less expensive schools.


It’s not about which school, it’s really about what fields you get the master’s degree from. Try a CS master degree, you will pay off the debt.


My son did a BS/MS in Engineering at Cal Poly. He had an opportunity to move to Stanford after his BS. His MS was only one additional year at CP, due to the efficiencies of being ahead and taking graduate courses early, plus it was funded and thesis based. The Stanford MS would have been 2 years, non-funded and non-thesis based. Between the Stanford tuition and a loss of a year of income, choosing Stanford would have cost him an extra $200K. There’s always a little FOMO though passing on an opportunity like that even if the earnings numbers don’t support it.


Ding, ding, ding, ding. Hitting the nail on the head. Any debt bad. Debt with low pay employment prospects - horrendous.


Few unfunded masters programs are worth the full price. I can only think of a
few in CS and engineering that may (but still are far from certain to) make sense. Most are just money makers for the colleges, prestigious or not.


D20 is seriously considering a 4+1 program in International Relations with the Geneva Institute. Tuition is a measly $9,000 with living expenses under $20k. We think it’s a pretty great deal. Is it “worth” $30K total? Maybe not but it won’t break the bank, especially with no undergrad debt.


and yet we need teachers and social workers and psychologists and medical / health professionals more than ever… how to make these socially important career paths affordable?

even for physicians it can be dicey to take on that debt for medical school…


Don’t choose the overpriced prestige name for careers where it won’t make a difference.

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And even then, some engineering and tech companies do tuition reimbursement for their employees, so it makes sense to wait and have the employer pay for that master’s degree.

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That’s a double edged sword. On the surface it seems like a no brainer to wait. Family can complicate the issue to the point where it sometimes doesn’t happen.

This is the article I’d like to see, coupled with student understanding of the one in the OP.

We need viable pathways for interested/capable students to reach the careers we want filled without having a bucketload of debt hobbling them for life.


It may be worthwhile to have an employer pay for a master’s degree, but I’d argue that such a degree shouldn’t be viewed as cost “free”. It’s usually accompanied by a commitment that the employee has to stay with the company for at least certain number of years, so s/he may have to give up some other opportunity during that period.