219: Is Grad School an Investment or Opportunity Cost?

219: Is Grad School an Investment or Opportunity Cost?


In this episode, I discuss the topic of whether grad school is an investment or an opportunity cost. I define these terms and discuss examples of when it might be a worthwhile investment and when the opportunity costs might outweigh the benefits of pursuing an advanced degree.

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219: Is Grad School an Investment or Opportunity Cost?


Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. This is your host, Dra. Yvette. Today I have a short and sweet solo episode for you. I'm going to be talking about whether grad school is an investment or an opportunity cost. I'm bringing up this episode because this conversation has been coming up a lot more for me this year than in years past.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I have folks who come to me to ask questions about whether or not they should apply to grad school. In most cases, it's folks who show up and book a free half hour consultation. And in that half hour consultation, I get to know a little bit more about them. I get to know a little bit more about their background, their circumstances.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: their short and long term career goals. And then based on that conversation, I helped them arrive at the [00:01:00] conclusion or at the decision about whether or not they should go to grad school. I Recently had a session actually with someone No, no, no. This person actually booked me for a full session. So full hour session.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And the whole purpose of the session was to determine whether or not they should go to grad school. That was it. So I asked, what are you currently studying? If you were to go to graduate school, you study, what do you want to do? You know, what are your career interests? What do you want to do with your life?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And based on the conversation, I realized one. This person didn't need an advanced degree to pursue a career of their choice. And in fact, you know, most people in that field and in that industry don't pursue an advanced degree, but they were thinking, well, maybe I should pursue a master's degree in X so I can get the skills and the experience and the [00:02:00] network.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But at the end of the day, I'm like, you know what you are in an industry or you're interested in pursuing an industry where. Experience is really, really valuable and you can gain the skill set on the go. And really what you need to get good at right now is networking with folks who are already in the industry and doing your research as much as you can read books, read blogs, whatever you can get ahold of on the industry so that you can learn the jargon, learn.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And so at the end of the session, uh, we made sure that there was, you know, some actions and an action plan of the next steps to take to ensure that after they graduated, they had a plan for what to do to get a job. And even if that job. wasn't the perfect job or the ideal job. It would be the stepping stone that would get them to that job eventually.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So [00:03:00] in that case, I was happy to send them off knowing what they needed to do to pursue a career of their choice. And yes, we talked about The topics of whether or not it's a worthwhile investment and also opportunity costs. So let's go back to those terms. When I'm talking about investment, I'm thinking about you getting something, you putting something in and getting more out of it than what you put in.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So typically when people talk about investing in the financial sphere, they're talking about investing their money and how do they invest their money? Their money, uh, in some sort of brokerage account or investment account or retirement account. And then they set that money to be invested in some sort of, I don't know, index funds in the stock market, assuming that there's going to be a return on their investment.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: They're going to get back a [00:04:00] certain percentage of that money. every year. So they might expect to get 6 percent back, 8 percent back, 10 percent back. So at the end of the year, they should have that money plus 6 percent more, plus 8 percent more, plus 10 percent more. You get it, right? That's investing basics.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And I am not a personal, uh, or financial advisor. I am not a personal finance expert, but I do know a thing or two about, uh, financial literacy. And so that's why I'm making this comparison. So thinking about investing as getting more out of something than what you initially put in. So in the educational setting.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Are you going to get more out of graduate school than what you're putting in? What are you putting in? You're putting in time, you might be in graduate school for two years, perhaps three years for a master's program, four, six, eight, even 10 [00:05:00] years for a doctoral degree. And you're also putting in energy. A lot of programs are very, very rigorous.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: They require a lot of your time to get through the workload and they also require a financial investment. A lot of people have to take on student loans, especially if you're pursuing a master's degree. It's It's not as common to get fully funded for a master's degree, and even if you pursue a doctorate degree that's fully funded, your income is so low that you might still have to take on student debt or one or more jobs on the side to make ends meet.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So that's a financial investment now on the side of. opportunity costs. Opportunity costs, when I use that phrase, I'm talking about your other opportunities that you could pursue instead of graduate school [00:06:00] and what the value are of those opportunities. So instead of going to graduate school, if you went and got a job right out of undergrad, what is the value of that?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Instead of going to graduate school, you pursued certain other personal milestones that perhaps you feel like you might not be able to pursue them at the same time as grad school. That's an opportunity cost as it's really thinking about. all the other things that you could potentially be doing with your time, with your money, with your energy, instead of putting that towards grad school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So that's what I mean by those two. And you know what? It's not a clear cut. answer. So in the previous example that I mentioned about, um, this person wanting my guidance to decide whether or not to go to grad school and we determine, you know what, you actually don't need to go to grad school. Okay. That was one scenario, but sometimes it's less clear.[00:07:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Sometimes in some cases, folks are pursuing a career that requires an advanced degree. And again, it seems really. Clear cut. Okay. I want to become a professor. I definitely need to get a PhD. I want to become a doctor. I definitely need to get an MD. I want to become a pharmacist. I definitely need to go to pharmacy school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I want to become a lawyer. I definitely need to get a JD. I want to become a psychologist. I need a PsyD. All the things, all the things. Those are very, very clear cut. reAsons to go to grad school because you need it because it's required. There are also another segment of the population of folks who are lifelong scholars, who love learning, who thrive in educational settings and who know that it's going to bug them.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: for the rest of their life if they don't pursue that advanced degree. Now, of course, I also want to acknowledge that [00:08:00] I'm the type of person, I value education, but I value it whether or not you have a degree behind your name. Because I know there are a lot of people who are not formally educated, who are brilliant, who have learned so much, who know way more than what I do, in fact, and they just haven't had the formality.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Of going through graduate training and getting that advanced degree, but that doesn't mean anything about their brilliance, their intelligence, what they know, etc. So I just want to mention that that if you are a lifelong scholar and you decide I'm good with the bachelor's degree. And then you go on and pursue your own independent learning.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Definitely do that, especially if you don't need that advanced degree. But what happens if you go to graduate school thinking, I want to become a professor and then you start to doubt it. And then you're thinking, Hmm, maybe I want to do something else with my life. Or what happens if, you know, [00:09:00] you pursue a career in one thing and you are needing to pivot or you've already landed that position, you've landed that job that you thought was the job of your dreams, only to realize that, you know what, this isn't it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So then think about that, like, was it a worthwhile investment? And what were the opportunity costs involved? That's That's a tougher thing to figure out or to realize. Now I think about that all the time because I hear this from my own friends and colleagues who have left higher education. A lot of us wonder, you know what, we have this very niche specialization.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We are subject area experts. We have a PhD and we've switched career tracks and now we don't ever talk about the thing that we were trained to be [00:10:00] subject area experts in. I have a PhD in theater and performance studies. My dissertation was titled Trans indigenous, uh, materialities. Gender, indigeneity, and objects in Mexicana and Chicana performance.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So I trained in, uh, performance studies. I learned about the theory. I learned to conduct research in that area. I focused on Mexicana and Chicana theater. And now how often do I talk about that? Very, very rarely. With the exception of actually one client that I have who is doing research in performance studies, which is kind of nice.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: This client is a graduate student, and and I get to support her in that way of having a familiarity on her topic and her reading lists. But that's, that's rare. That's very, very rare. So when I talk to my friends, they often wonder, so now what do we do? We have all this [00:11:00] knowledge. Yes, the skills we gained in graduate school are transferable.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yes, no one's ever going to take that away from us. We can implement it into other areas of our life and we don't, you know, feel like that was a waste. But that subject area expertise can sometimes feel like, hmm, was it worth it? Was graduate school worth it if at the end of the day, I didn't pursue a career related to that advanced degree?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Only you can decide the answer to that question. I know for a lot of us, because we have found a way to take everything that we've learned and in some way use it in our future careers, we're okay with that. But if I can guide someone to a shortcut path to a career of their dreams, if I can help to minimize the time, the money, the energy that they will [00:12:00] spend to eventually get to the career that they want to living the life that they want, I will.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And so if one of my clients says, you know what? I think I want to transfer grad programs. I'll be like, you know what, if that's what you want to do, then so be it. Let's do it. And I have done that. I have helped people transfer graduate programs. I have supported people with not pursuing graduate school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I have, you know, I, I basically support people in whatever decisions that they've arrived at that are intrinsic decisions based on their personal circumstances and personal and professional goals. But when it comes to whether or not it's an investment, whether or not it's an opportunity costs, you need to sit down and think, okay.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: How much time am I putting in? How much money am I potentially going to have to put in? Like, am I going to have to take on student debt? How long is it going to take me to pay off that student debt? Like, [00:13:00] for med school folks, they're going in knowing that they might take on 200, 250, 000 worth of loans.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: How long is that going to take to pay off? Uh, you know, I heard someone tell me that, that they were set on, you know, well, I'm just going to have student loans for the rest of my life. And I'm like, wait, no, no, no, no, no, no. Let's go over a bunch of scenarios. Working under the assumption that you don't absolutely have to be paying off loans for the rest of your life.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Are there forgiveness options? Are there other career paths? Like what, what else can you pursue so that you don't have to one day wake up and realize, Oh no, why did I do this? That's what I don't want. I don't want you to wake up one day and feel regret. I want you to make decisions that are informed decisions that are personal decisions that are linked to what you want.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And that are not, you know, What I [00:14:00] recently heard someone call them borrowed decisions. I was on the Cafe Con Pam podcast recently and Pam Covarrubias was saying that for some of us, sometimes we pursue paths that are borrowed paths that someone else told us to go on this path. I definitely wasn't a borrowed path in pursuing kind of becoming a theater professor.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That was not initially my dream. As a child, I didn't dream of becoming a theater professor. That wasn't my dream. I always knew I wanted to make an impact. I always knew that I loved kind of acting and being in the spotlight in some way, shape or form, but not too much because of my introvertedness, but no, it was never my dream to become a professor.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It was my dream to become. a teacher and a fashion designer and, uh, what was it? An astronaut and researcher. That was my dream as an elementary school child. Those were my career paths at the time. But no, becoming [00:15:00] a college professor was not my dream. And so that was a borrowed path. And in your case, ask yourself, Am I on a borrowed path?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Am I only pursuing extrinsic goals? Am I only doing what other people are telling me to do? And use this time. This is great. This is a great season. You know, winter is more of like a hibernation type of season. It's a season to slow down. It's a season to reflect. So sit down. and think to yourself, what do I actually want to do with my life?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Do I absolutely need to pursue more schooling? How much time and energy and money is this going to take? And am I going to get back more than what I'm putting in? Sometimes the community that you have access to is going to be the thing that you're like, you know what? It was worth it because of access to network and the community that could [00:16:00] be lifelong.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Like for me, my home girls that I've known since undergrad and since grad school, that's invaluable to me. So maybe it's that maybe it's access to community network and for you, it's worth it. Maybe a graduate school is worthwhile for you. Because, you know, right out of graduate school with that degree, you can make a certain type of salary, like, you know, that advanced degree is going to ensure that you're making whatever that salary band is, and without it, you'd be in a lower salary band.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And if you do the math financially, it makes sense. Great. That's another reason when it's a worthwhile investment. Financially, it makes sense. Maybe personally, it makes sense. But again, I'm going to keep sounding like a broken record. Only you can decide. Only you can figure that out. It's not easy, I know.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But, you know, you could do some [00:17:00] journaling. You could, uh, write a pro cons list. You could create a mind map. And in the mind map have two sides. One of them for opportunity costs. Another one for investment and figure out, you know, which one has more things to it. If there's more opportunity costs, maybe don't go to grad school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If there's more of the investment side, then maybe yes, pursue grad school, but sit down, think about it. Don't just pursue it. Because you've been rushed, because you've been pressured, because someone else is telling you to do it, do it for yourself, do it because it makes sense for you and your circumstances, what you value and what you ultimately want to do with your career and life.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That's it for today. I didn't have any notes. I'm actually testing out a new a new recording software today. And I've [00:18:00] recently been messing around with. new editing software. And now I'm messing around with new recording software. And I know that for this software, it's best to minimize having a bunch of tabs open.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So I didn't, I didn't come with notes. So no notes. I'm just speaking off the cuff. And sometimes I feel like I ramble when I speak off the cuff. But what's interesting is that my solo episodes, hands down every single year, so Since I started my podcast in 2019, they're always my highest rated and the ones with the highest number of plays.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I was looking at my Spotify wrapped data and over 80 percent of my listeners started listening to me this year. So we've had tremendous growth in terms of listenership, but also the episode that had the most plays was the episode I'm preparing for grad school interviews. So I know. Y'all want to learn about grad school?[00:19:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I know that you all like or have a preference towards the solo episodes. I'm still going to keep doing the guest episodes because I learned a lot from my guests. I know you all learn a lot from guests and you know, I am, I am not the expert on all things and I want to make sure that I have a space where I can amplify voices other than my own.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So just. Tune in. I've got a whole roster of client. I'm not, it's not a client. Sorry. I have a whole roster of future guests that I'm so excited for you all to listen to. So yeah, that's all I'm going to say for now. I just, I'm really, really excited with the people that have kind of been part of my sphere that I've been able to connect with that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I can't wait for you all to hear their stories, to hear their knowledge and to keep learning from them. You know, so that's it. Thanks so much for listening today. If you enjoyed it, please, please rate and review the show. That's one thing that if I [00:20:00] ask for anything this year, I'm not one to ask for presents for the holidays, but if you want to give me a little present, please review the show, add a little.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: memo, uh, letting us know what you're enjoying about the show. Uh, leave us a five star review if you know that's what feels right for you, but just please, please, please leave a review. It makes a huge, huge difference. Okay. Talk to y'all later.

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