Elizabeth joins the Broke Professionals staff writer family. Please give her a warm welcome. Elizabeth quit her full-time job as a TV news producer to work from home as a freelance writer and digital media research consultant. In addition to Broke Professionals, she writes for several other finance, parenting and technology websites including Smart Money Focus (http://www.smartmoneyfocus.
It’s always been my goal to earn my doctorate degree. After earning my bachelor’s degree from Duke University and my master’s from Syracuse, getting a doctorate degree in history (my undergraduate major) or communications (my focus in grad school) seemed like a natural fit. But here I am, seven years removed from my grad school days, and I’ve yet to even apply to any of the PhD programs that abound online and on physical university campuses. So why not?
What it takes to complete a PhD Program?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, it takes the average student five years to complete a PhD program. Earning any graduate-level degree requires concentration and dedication and, for many students, it also requires you to leave your full-time job. That means you could be looking at up to five years without a full-time paycheck. If that weren’t enough, factor in the average cost of earning your doctorate degree: in 2008, roughly $48,000 a year at public schools and more than $60,000 at private institutions. In case you’re not a math major, I’ll do the calculations for you: that’s potentially a quarter-million dollars out of pocket to earn a degree that, unless you plan on pursuing a tenure-track position at the college level or working in research, you may not even need.
Of course, there’s help along the way. An estimated 93 percent of graduate and doctoral students receive some type of financial aid. However, most of that aid, according to the Princeton Review, comes in the form of teaching assistant positions. These positions give you all of the workload – without all of the benefits – of a professor. You’ll be in charge of teaching lower-level courses in your field. Factor these duties in to your course load – an average of three classes per semester for a first year PhD candidate – and you can see how a PhD program can take over your life.
And take over your life it does; I have a friend who has spent the last seven years of his life getting his doctorate degree in environmental engineering. His goal is to improve the construction and implementation of natural-material dams in the Great Lakes. After his first three years of mainly classroom work, this friend started working on the granddaddy of them all: no, not the Rose Bowl, his dissertation. Think of it as the mother of all research papers. It involves not just reviewing and digesting previously accepted scientific research, but conducting research of your own in many cases. The process of crafting a dissertation typically takes several years, depending on the breadth of your research and your field.
My friend, under the guidance of his sponsors, spent four years working on his dissertation. He presented it to faculty at his Midwestern university in December… and was told to go back to the drawing board. The faculty rejected his dissertation, urging him to make major revisions that he estimates will take the greater part of a year to execute. He’s now going into his eighth year without a full-time paycheck.
Sure, when he graduates – if he graduates – he’ll become among the one percent of Americans who can call themselves “doctors” without ever going to medical school. But is it worth it?
PhD Programs: Are They Worth It?
For me, the answer has been – and continues to be – no. While my ego longs to see the letters “Dr” on my Christmas cards, I know that essentially leaving the workforce for the next half decade, at the very least, isn’t financially feasible for my family. As a broke professional, I’m still paying off my debt on the student loans I took out to pay for my undergrad and master’s degrees. Maybe once I’ve paid off those, I’ll consider enrolling in a PhD program.