The price of getting an education has never been higher. And while the problem of debt for undergraduates has long been on our radar, new studies are illustrating how going into debt for graduate school is even worse. Slate has a good look at the numbers here. As a study they cite from the New America Foundation points out, loans for graduate school debt now amounts to about 40% of federal loan disbursements. That’s a lot of money flushed down the shitter by people who wanted to put off real life for a little while longer while they figured things out.
New America’s report, The Graduate Student Debt Review, suggests that debt for graduate students in a range of master’s and professional degree programs accounts for some of the most dramatic increases in student borrowing between 2004 and 2012. Moreover, this trend is not limited to what many already know are high-cost credentials, like those in medicine and law. According to the data, in 2004, the median level of indebtedness for a borrower who earned a Master of Arts degree was $38,000. In 2012, that figured jumped to $59,000, after adjusting for inflation. Debt levels for other master’s degrees, such as a Master of Science or a Master of Education, show similar trends. For borrowers at the 75th percentile of indebtedness, the increases are even larger in absolute terms. For most master’s degrees, debt at the 75th percentile jumps from about $54,000 for degree recipients in 2004 to $85,000 in 2012, after adjusting for inflation.
It’s sobering, and saddening stuff. I think back to when I was applying for college and grad school in [year redacted], how little concept I had of just what this sort of money actually means. I took out loans to pay for graduate school, figuring, eh, what’s another $35,000 on top of the $100,000 or so my parents and I paid for college? I’ll pay that off once I get a real job, right? I was a fucking idiot. But why would I know otherwise? It’s drilled into our heads from an early age that more education is always better, no matter the cost. Strangely, we don’t let teenagers drink alcohol because they’re irresponsible, but we encourage them to take out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. It makes no sense.
The sad fact is, for most of us, graduate school is simply not a smart choice, particularly if we want to go into a creative field. Even knowing that, you still may find yourself tempted to go, which is why I’ve put together this chart to help make that decision a lot easier for you. Consider yourself warned.