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At what cost is education no longer worth it?

  1. May 18, 2015 #1
    Hey everyone, I'm curious what you guys think about the cost of tuition/fees and the education you're receiving. I'm a few years out from grad school, however, I want to make sure I know where I'm aiming to go. Obviously I looked at all levels of schools, and obviously somewhere like Cambridge/Oxford were thrown into the mix. However, because of where I live, I'm overseas, and the cost per year is ≈$70,000/year (everything in).

    Do you guys, personally, think that's worth the graduate degree from that sort of institution, or is that never worth it?
     
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  3. May 18, 2015 #2

    russ_watters

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    We have no idea. It depends largely on what type of degree and what you want to do with it. For example, if you are looking to get a PhD in Art History and would like to be an assistant manager at Starbucks (after working the counter for a few years), I'd say no.
     
  4. May 18, 2015 #3
    I'd agree with that for sure, haha. I meant specifically within some form of physics, weather it be astrophysics, biophysics, etc.
     
  5. May 18, 2015 #4

    Choppy

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    $70k per year is a lot of money for graduate school in physics.

    I'm not really in a position to comment about graduate school in the UK, but unless I'm mistaken, a PhD in there takes about 3 years, so you're looking at over $200k of debt - just for gradaute school. In North America you normally get paid to go to graduate school and I would assume the same is true in the UK, which makes that number seem suspiciously high, but again, I don't have any experience there.

    From a purely financial point of view, that kind of investment doesn't seem worth it to me. In fact far from it. Even in a field of physics that has a professional track associated with it such as medical physics or geophysics, that's a lot of debt to be adding onto whatever debt you already have from your undergraduate years. To first order, you'll end up with the equivalent of a mortgage payment as you start out in life. Unlike colleagues who start working in their early twenties, you'll be older, if you stay in physics you'll be living on a post-doc salary for the first few years anyway, and typical post-doc salaries won't facilitate paying down that kind of debt quickly.
     
  6. May 18, 2015 #5
    Yeah, I'm not too sure if the pay there or not. In Canada you're paid because of work you are required to do, but I don't know if I'd say they are actually "paying you" to go to grad school. The other problem, is since I live in Canada I will more than likely be leaving for grad school. Canada has some good schools, but in the concept of world rankings, there are certainly better ones. So, if I was to attend the states, I'm looking at ≈$50,000/year. For $20,000 more, does the degree that says you went to Cambridge pull any strings with where you work?
     
  7. May 18, 2015 #6

    billy_joule

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    It sounds like you don't know what you want out of your degree..
    ROI? Prestige? An academic career? Crippling debt?

    I saw an interesting study on salaries of ivy league (IL) vs non ivy league (NIL) graduates - It concluded that IL graduates earn significantly more than NIL, no surprise there.
    It also found that those that gained acceptance to an IL but attended a NIL had similar incomes to IL graduates. That is, if you are smart enough to get accepted at an IL school you will get an IL level income even if you go to a NIL school.

    There is a fair amount of data on education ROI, lifetime earning vs degree type etc out there if that's what you're interested in.
     
  8. May 18, 2015 #7
    It isn't so much that I'm looking for prestige. I spoke with the grad advisor at my school and they said how we can often expect out of our grad years to work at a university (if that's the road you chose) one step below where you attended. Which, personally, I think makes sense. I have a feeling this fluctuates between the US and Canada, which could yield problems with this specific question as to how it's viewed by everyone haha.
     
  9. May 18, 2015 #8

    billy_joule

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    I would take anecdotes like this with a grain of salt.
    If you want to be a scientist, you need to question everything :wink:
     
  10. May 18, 2015 #9
    That's why I'm asking what people here think. I've looked around and some places say going to a place like that opens a lot of doors. Others say it won't matter.
     
  11. May 18, 2015 #10

    e.bar.goum

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    Personally, my view has always been that if the institution or the prospective supervisor is not willing to fund your PhD, they don't really want you enough.
     
  12. May 19, 2015 #11

    Choppy

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    But why does world ranking matter so much? You can get a great education in Canada - to the point where your academic and employment prospects will be the same had you attended some of the more famous institutions. Your personal performance and the skill set you develop matter a lot more than the brand name of the institution you attended.

    Even if it did make a difference you might want to look at the math. Straight out of undergrad in Canada you would be fully supported, making in the ballpark of $25 - $35k per year (depending on entrance scholarships, school specifics, etc.) You have to pay tuition out of that, but you'd still have enough left over to make a modest living for yourself and not accumulate further debt.

    If you go to the US, you're assuming that's going to cost you $50k per year. Typical PhD times would 5-6 years (in the US, they usually don't do the MSc first) so you could be looking at $300k of debt. The UK would be cheaper because, even though your annual cost would be higher, typical PhDs take less time - about 3 years. That still gives you $200 k worth of debt.

    I'll leave the math as a homework assignment for you to figure out how much more money you would have to earn per year for each route to end up on par with the Canadian track. Either way I would have to have some very solid evidence of a guaranteed increase in income to justify taking on that kind of debt load.

    And if it's worth anything, once you're done if you still really feel like you want experience from a big name school, post-doctoral fellowships are always an option (where you will be paid).
     
  13. May 19, 2015 #12

    Vanadium 50

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    This.

    There comes a point where it matters more what you've accomplished than what other people who went to the same school as you have accomplished.
     
  14. May 19, 2015 #13

    BobG

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    In general, the "prestige" of your degree and how well you did in college will determine what your first few years of income will be since that's all you have to show. Eventually, it's what you accomplish at work that will determine how much you make and where you got your degree might matter a bit (the difference in perception between an employer thinking he's made a great find or an employer thinking he's definitely competing with other employers for you).

    Being a professor would be one of the exceptions. Where a professor got their degree will go into advertising for the university; advertising that will be viewed by prospective students who know nothing about the professors other than their degrees. The standards a university will apply for prospective professors will be on a similar level to that applied to the students (the "best" universities only want to accept students and professors that will later enhance the university's reputation).

    So, you have to look at where you think you'll be working after you graduate: private industry or in the academic world.
     
  15. May 19, 2015 #14

    Ryan_m_b

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    This isn't true, the UK doesn't operate a grad school system or costs like the US. Most (but decreasing over time) PhDs are funded meaning that you get paid to do them. Average yearly stipend is usually £13k a year, which isn't much but it's tax free making it equivalent to around £16k. Exception being London where you get an extra £3k. Also some labs may top up your stipend but that's not hugely common. From that you don't have to pay any fees or any equipment costs, those are already paid for.

    If you aren't funded and instead are self funded then you have to pay £4k a year to the university as a fee and pay for your equipment costs and living expenses. So around £50k if you're self funded for the whole thing. That's a lot of money but again most are funded so you will get paid.
     
  16. May 19, 2015 #15
    Quite a bit to consider for sure.. The debt obviously is a huge deterrent, if not the only one. The reason I mentioned world ranking was because I was under the understanding from what my grad school advisor told me, made a difference in the job you obtained right out of the gate, which is exactly what was stated by choppy. I do know that the work you do obviously matters more. But, if a school is ranked higher, it seems like a good assumption to make that the education would be better.

    Either way this has given me some insight and some things to think about, and thankfully I have a few years to refine that thinking to make sure it's the proper choice. Thanks everyone for the advice, if you have any more stuff you'd like to add, please don't hesitate, the more the better.
     
  17. May 19, 2015 #16
    Who pays for graduate school in physics? I've never heard of anyone paying a dime to go to grad school... you'd be out of your mind to do that.
     
  18. May 19, 2015 #17

    Choppy

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    Where did I say that?
    I don't think it really makes that much of a difference unless you're comparing very top schools with very bottom schools.

    That's one of the issues with school rankings. A ranking is determined by a large set of variables, many of which are not likely to have any relevance to you. The number of publications put out by the English department is unlikely to be very relevant to someone interested in a physics PhD. Having a newly renovated fitness facility is not likely to be of any importance to you if you work out by running cross country. Or having a highly regarded physics program is not going to matter much at all if you don't get along with your supervisor, or if no one there is doing anything you're interested in.

    When deciding on a graduate school take the time to figure out what you really want to be doing and what it is you want out of a school. I know a Ferrari is a Ferrari, but it's not much use to you if you need a minivan.
     
  19. May 19, 2015 #18
    My mistake, it was bobG who said it,

    Those are all very good points. I was basing ranking strictly on physics though, I didn't even look at the school "overall" for that exact reason. I didn't realize universities paying you to attend grad school really was that big of a deal. I thought it was just a small bonus some schools put in, but evidently they pay quite a bit haha.
     
  20. May 22, 2015 #19

    G01

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    This. Any qualified candidate should be able to find a program to fund their PhD through assistantships. It doesn't matter how prestigious the program or university. I'd never tell any physics grad student to attend a graduate program that didn't offer them funding.
     
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