Is a PhD Worth the Effort?

Feb 08, 2018 | By Kenya McCullum
Article Sources


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For some college students, continuing their studies until they have completed a PhD seems like a natural educational progression. However, whether or not to enroll in a doctoral program is a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. For some, earning a doctorate is absolutely worth the time and expense; for others the answer is not so clear-cut. We hope to provide some clarity for the uncertain reader by detailing some of the pros and cons of enrolling in a PhD program.

Is it Worth it?

Earning a PhD takes a great deal of work, but the potential returns on the investment of time and effort can be enormous. The following are some of the possible results that can reward those who graduate from doctoral programs.

  • Obtaining high-level skills. The rigorous work that doctoral programs expect of their students, regardless of program major, usually arms graduates with a number of high-level skills that can be used in any field. PhD graduates often find themselves having acquired skills such as advanced writing, research, time management, public speaking, critical thinking, problem solving and writing abilities, simply from the process of completing their program.
  • More high-level job opportunities. The point of a PhD program is to acquire advanced knowledge of a field of study. Companies and employers can benefit greatly from employees who possess such advanced knowledge. As a result, PhD graduates can often qualify for executive-level positions after they complete their degrees.
  • Increased earning potential. Since people with doctorates can qualify for high-level jobs, they also tend to have a higher earning potential than their counterparts with lower-level degrees. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median usual weekly earnings for someone who had earned a PhD was $1,664 in 2016, while the next highest demographic -- master's graduates -- had median usual weekly earnings of $1,380. That's quite a difference!
  • Sense of achievement. Although it can't be measured in dollars and cents, there is a priceless sense of accomplishment that can be felt by those who complete PhDs. Knowing they were able to get through such a challenging experience can arm graduates with the self-esteem they need to succeed in just about anything else life might choose to throw at them.

Is it Worth it for You?

Although earning a doctorate can be a worthwhile endeavor for many people, it's not for everyone. Those who are unsure if they should enroll in a PhD program should consider the following things.

  • Time commitment. A doctoral degree can take up to eight years to complete. For some people, this time might be better spent building their career and working their way up the corporate ladder.
  • Debt. While PhDs may be able to command high salaries in some fields, they often still complete their degree programs with student loan debt. Even with the financial aid available for students to earn, it's possible to have a hefty sum to pay back after graduating from a doctoral program -- a sum that might be both smaller and partially paid off by a student who started a career right after a master's program rather than starting a PhD.
  • Pressure. Students in doctoral programs face a great deal of pressure, especially if they're juggling their schoolwork with a full-time job or family responsibilities. Many PhD students develop depression and burn out because of the strain. In some cases, the pressure becomes so great that they drop out of their programs entirely.
  • Demands outside of the classroom. In addition to demanding coursework, doctoral students are often required to teach undergraduate classes, or to assist professors by grading papers and tests and working with students during office hours. These demands and long hours may exacerbate the stress graduate students already feel.
  • Limited academic job opportunities. A PhD does not guarantee a career. For example, a student who is interested in earning a doctorate in order to teach college may find that, despite putting their all into their doctoral program, they're not able to find a full-time, tenured professorship after graduating.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, we can't wave a magic wand to reveal the decision that's correct for you. Prospective PhD students should think long and hard about whether or not pursuing a degree program on this level is the right choice for them. The process can be hugely beneficial for some; for others, the risks may outweigh the rewards. It's important for those who are on the fence to weigh the pros and cons, and hopefully this article has helped to lay them out a little more clearly for your consideration. Think about your career goals and decide if earning a doctorate is the best path to achieve them.

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