(This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA Premium and Life members. Learn more about the magazine here; learn more about joining MOAA here.)
There’s no doubt that further education makes financial sense. College graduates earn an average of $524 per week more than their peers with only a high school education. But averages don’t tell the entire story.
Every individual has a different rate of return on further education, whether it’s finishing high school or finishing a doctoral program. So, how do you decide if it makes financial sense for you to pursue more education?
First, look into salary information for the degree you’re pursuing. What does the average history major earn? Then, consider what type of work you would do with that degree, and investigate salaries for those types of jobs. It’s also important to consider the availability of jobs: All the preparation won’t help if no one is hiring.
While you’re looking at jobs, check out the benefits typically offered with that type of employment. A generous benefit package that includes retirement contributions and health care coverage can add tens of thousands of dollars a year to the salary, while freelancers and contract employees may
need to cover those costs themselves.
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If you’re currently in the workforce and need to stop working or reduce your hours to attend school, factor in the lost wages for the time you are
studying. Don’t forget the value of any benefits you get from that work, including retirement contributions. They add up!
Lastly, think about how long you plan to work. Improving your earning potential makes a lot more sense if you plan to work for a long time. But if
you’re already plotting retirement, the time to recoup the cost of your education is less. A short time frame doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get more education, but it can change the math dramatically.
Of course, education isn’t only about money. There are many other valid reasons to pursue more education — personal satisfaction, opening the door to different opportunities, even just learning more about something you love. But if you’re going back to school simply because it will help you make more money, make sure the math makes sense.
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