Everything comes with a cost.

Counting that cost is an essential part of deciding whether or not to pursue graduate school.

Do you know what grad school will cost you?

Already accepted to a graduate program? You might be interested in our article with 27 great tips for graduate students.

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1. Grad School Tuition is Expensive

Paying for grad school takes some serious cash. According to 2015 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average net price for a masters degree is $20,400 and it’s between $25,000 and $44,000 for a Ph.D. even after you factor in grants. How do most people pay for grad school? Loans, mostly.

Costs of Grad School - Average Debt from Graduate Studies Alone = $45,890

The top 10% of graduate students (for debt load) end up borrow as much as a mortgage on a house!

2. Graduate School Will Require a Ton of Your Time

If you want to be successful in a graduate program, then you are going to invest a serious amount of time and energy into your coursework. Most of your classes are 3-6 hours of lecture and lab time per week, plus many additional hours devoted to studying and completing projects.

Assuming that you’re are ambitious, you can expect to pour enormous amounts of your personal time into being the best in your program. You will be completing your program alongside a lot of hungry, driven people like yourself, so being the best is going to take a lot more work than your undergraduate did.

Even you are not striving to be the absolute best in your program, the workload in grad school is brutal.

Costs of Grad School - PhD Comics

Used with permission from “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham (www.phdcomics.com)

3. Lost Salary and Opportunity Cost

When you total up the financial cost of completing a graduate program, don’t forget the opportunity costs. If you complete your program full time and take a break from the workforce, then you are losing years of salary.

If your goal is to get a Ph.D., then you will be spending a combined 7-8 years without a salary, or with a reduced salary. Let’s say you earn a reasonable salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree, about $50,000/year.

Losing 7 or 8 years of that salary is $350,000 or $400,000! That’s an enormous amount of money to invest into the potential benefits of the having a Ph.D.

When you total up the direct costs (tuition, fees, books, materials, etc) and the indirect costs (lost salary, missed raises, etc) of graduate school, then you can see the substantial amount of money that you will invest in order to get the potential benefits of the having a Ph.D.

Those benefits could very well be worth the sacrifice, but make sure you run the numbers yourself before you make a decision.

4. What Will the Stress of Grad School Cost You?

Costs of Grad School - Grad Students are Stressed Out

Grad school will be stressful.

Very, very stressful.

You already know that the workload in graduate school is brutal. There is so much reading, writing, and re-writing. You will have to work incredibly hard to please your TA’s, instructors, and advisors. Major projects like your thesis or dissertation will become black holes for your time and energy all by themselves.

What will that kind of stress do to you?

Effects of Stress on Your Health

Chronic stress (like the kind you can experience in a program that lasts 2-8 years) has some significant side effects on your body and your mind. The Mayo Clinic lists a few on the web page “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive Problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart Disease
  • Sleep Problems
  • Weight Gain
  • Memory and Concentration Impairment

You can effectively manage the potential negative consequences of stress with healthy lifestyle choices and other techniques, but you need to anticipate these stresses in order to manage them well.

5. How Much Do You Like Your Social Life?

Graduate students have a lot less time for friends, family, and leisure.

If you really value hanging out with people and spending significant amounts of time every week focusing on leisure activities, then you might find graduate school difficult to cope with. You will have less time to spend with other people as well as less energy to want to do anything.

You may have to cut some of your favorite activities from your life, including sports, exercise, and leisure activities.

It’s going to be harder to go to parties, be spontaneous, or spend quality time with your partner or spouse.


Succeeding in a graduate program will require you to make real sacrifices, including:

  • Money
  • Time
  • Opportunity cost and lost salary
  • Stress on your physical and mental health
  • Stress on your relationships and leisure activities

Can you make the case that for you, the costs of graduate school are balanced out by the benefits of the degree?

Sit down sometime before applying to a program and do your own math. Counting the costs accurately is one of the most important parts of succeeding in a venture.

Don’t do yourself a disservice and skip this step in the process.

What did you like or not like about this post? Did I miss some critical costs of going to grad school? Let me know with an email to travis@graduateschoolsite.com. I would love to get your feedback.

The Princeton Review