Are you considering going back to grad school? Have you wondered if the graduate degree you’re looking at will give you a good return-on-investment (ROI)?

It’s important to consider the full cost of graduate school (and its potential impact on your career and earning potential) before you blow $1,000 on test prep, entrance exams, and application fees, and certainly before you send off a deposit and give notice at your job. Our graduate school ROI calculator (below) can give you a sense of what you stand to get (and give up) by going back to school.

How to use the grad school ROI calculator

  • Enter your age.
  • Enter your current salary (so the calculator can include opportunity costs).
  • Enter the total cost of graduate school for one year. Add together the following to get a rough estimate:
    • Total tuition you’ll have to pay at the university of your choice, plus any fees. (This can usually be found on the university’s website.)
    • Your cost for books or other materials. (For an MFA in creative writing, this will be almost nothing; for a law degree, a year of books might set you back $1,800. Do a little searching to find a rough estimate.)
    • Living expenses. (If your plan is to stay in your current city in your current place, your own prior spending should be a rough guide. If your dream school is elsewhere, consider browsing apartment listings and roommate ads to get a sense of how much you’ll have to pay for rent. Then factor in utilities, transportation, food, and entertainment. Your current budget might be an okay place to start, but you should definitely cut costs once you’re in school and living on loans….as this calculator will make clear!)
  • Enter the length of your program (in years).
  • If you want to opt for the advanced settings, enter the amount of student loans you expect to take out, along with the interest rate and term of the loan. Otherwise, we’ll use 6% and 10 years as an average.
  • Enter your expected salary upon graduation. It pays to get specific here: Don’t just look for the average salary for your profession, but for the average salary of that profession in the region you intend to live in. Lawyers in New York make a lot more than lawyers in Tampa. Be sure to use a reasonable first-year salary, not what you hope to make after five or 10 years in the field.

Once you hit submit, we’ll calculate the following:

  • The total cost of graduate school, including opportunity costs, tuition and fees, and loan interest.
  • Your lifetime earnings at your current salary, as well as your lifetime earnings at your projected post-graduate school salary.

Take a look at the lifetime earnings. How big is the difference and is it worth the cost, risk, and effort it takes to go to graduate school.  Keep in mind that things change and nothing is guaranteed.

Also, if you continue to work while in school that reduces your overall costs as well. Perhaps you don’t need to borrow as much, and your opportunity costs will be lower. You’ll still be earning your previous salary while in school, or at least part of it.

Keep in mind that it isn’t always just about the numbers. If a higher degree gets you into a job you love, that’s worth a lot more than just money.


This calculator can do the math, but of course, you need to look at your whole life to make a decision like this. Continuing to work and live cheaply while in school will help keep costs down and reduce the overall negative impact of going back to school.

But also consider lifestyle, if you need a graduate degree to get your dream job the finances may not matter as much.

About the author

Total Articles: 26
Lauren Barret is a staff writer at Money Under 30. She has an MFA in creative writing from The Ohio State University, and a BA from Kenyon College. She lives in Portland, Maine.