A growing number of students are returning to school for education beyond a bachelor’s degree, spurred by disappointing salaries, increasingly stringent job requirements, and other factors. The earning potential between people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees can vary by $10,000 or more, so going back to school seems smart for people who are ready to earn more or have more job opportunities. Even if it’s not college, a trade or vocational school can be a great way to get on a fast track to making money with a range of options. Graduate school also tempts many bachelor’s degree graduates, who face a high unemployment rate and loan repayment if they return to the job market. However, experts now suggest that graduate school is not a guaranteed path to higher earnings or better job opportunities, and that people should truly weigh the pros and cons ofattending.

 When Higher Education Does — and Doesn’t — Pay Off

Although graduate school seems like a safe choice, it takes away other opportunities, such as gaining work experience and narrowing down career interests. It is generally best to pursue a graduate degree for the sake of learning or indulging a passion rather than in a calculated attempt to find job security or earn more. It’s also best to spend time working in your field and speaking with experts, from professors to employers, about the benefits of earning a master’s degree before doing it. Realistically evaluating the financial cost of going back to school is also critical.

 Graduate School Debt Is Common

The expenses of graduate school are nontrivial; the average student spends over $26,000 per year on tuition and living expenses, according to U.S. News and World Report. Upon graduation, the average graduate student owes $23,700, according to Nellie Mae’s National Student Loan Survey, not to mention money lost from years unemployed. Taking part-time classes is one way that graduate students can maintain some cash flow and earn on-the-job experience while pursuing higher education. Attending public schools is another smart way to reduce costs.

 Alternative Options Can Help Students Save

For people who are still set on graduate school, there are ways to receive an education while working or keeping costs low. An MBA can often be earned through night or weekend classes, and many universities accommodate part-time or remote students. Online degrees are also an increasingly recognized alternative to graduate school. An added benefit of many of these options is that they allow you to work and put what you are learning to immediate practice, increasingyour appeal to future employers.

 Tips for Making the Final Decision

You should always keep sight of your personal goals, career trajectory, and earning potential when considering graduate school. If you hope a graduate degree will help you land a high-paying job or edge into a hot field, you should remember that the job market might look different by the time that you graduate. This is why you should pursue a graduate degree in an area that genuinely interests you and allows you to take your career in different directions. Although a graduate degree may be preferred in certain lines of work, in others,advancing without one is possible. Ultimately, when deciding whether graduate school is worth it, try to consider your personal interests and avoid enrolling out of a desire to have more job prospects or a higher salary, since graduate school may not always pay off in these regards.