Ask Money

Is the degree worth the debt

Chris Farrell Mar 9, 2011

Question: I’ve decided to start a Master of Natural Resources program and have gone around and around with friends and loved ones over whether or not the debt I’ll incur is worth it. I’ve researched other less expensive programs, but none have fit the educational focus I want, unless I were to quit my current full-time job.

I believe it is worth it and have done the basic research on what I can expect as salary following this degree. What I can expect matches (approx.) what I’ll incur as debt. The degree is expensive – it’s a nonresidential, nontraditional program designed for working professionals. I can and am keeping my full time job during this 18 month program.

Is this rule of “cost of program should equal first year salary after program” truly the golden rule? Given that I believe this program is a good investment, how can I best plan to cover the debt I’ll incur (about $62K).Any input is appreciated. Maggie, Lansing, MI

Answer: My reaction: Go for the degree you want and borrow the money. Now let me explain.

It’s a career you really want. You’ve researched your options and talked it over with friends and loved ones. You’ll be earning an income while getting your degree. You understand the downside risks of the debt. But remember, there’s also a deep problem with leaving a dream unfulfilled, the haunting refrain of “what if” while earning a paycheck at a job that doesn’t engage you. After all, life is not a dress rehearsal.

Questions like yours are all about trade-offs. You will be taking on a considerable debt burden to accomplish your career goal. It may mean you don’t buy a home for a long time. You’ll drive your car into the ground and you’ll live everyday life frugally.

More immediately, since you’ll be earning an income while getting your degree you should be able to keep the overall amount you borrow down somewhat. Your mantra for the next few years should be: frugal, frugal, frugal.

It seems like a reasonable price to pay to me.

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