10/16/2013 11:24 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

9 Reasons to Pursue a Master's Degree Besides the Paycheck

Is grad school worth it? The debate rages, and the economic rewards or ramifications are compared ad nauseam. While I have weighed in on the debate already, I am yet to expand upon the non-financial reasons why graduate school is worth the money (in fact, few people have considered these aspects of the argument.)

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I am well aware that for the majority of people, grad school is a fiscal decision. That being said, it is not purely financial. The cost-benefit analyses yield differing results, largely based on the degree in question, however even for the degrees that offer little monetary incentive there are numerous reasons why graduate school is a good idea.

1. You get to know more about the subject you love..

By the time you reach graduate school, you should at least enjoy the subject you're studying. If you love law, grad school is a chance to learn as much as you can about it. If you love engineering, it is a chance become the best engineer you can be. If English is what makes you happy... you get the gist.

2. You get to spend more time in school.

I've been told that "school is fun," and that "it's the 'real world' that's a struggle," by more ex-students than I can remember. The message is, "the workforce sucks, stay out as long as you can." While this is a rather cynical perspective, it has its merits.

Sure, school is expensive, hard work and a lot of stress. But it is also short. The typical college grad is out of school by 22, which is about a quarter of a lifetime, begging the question, isn't three more years (or more) worth it?

3. You can finally get a "free" education.

Many graduate programs offer stipends, effectively covering some of, all of, or more than tuition costs. Yes, this is ostensibly a financial reason to get a graduate degree, but consider it an incentive to do something for more than money.

4. There will be more job opportunities in a field you like.

While a graduate degree is valuable monetarily speaking, the reason it garners an inflated salary is also the reason for several additional benefits. Generally, a higher salary accompanies a more skill-requiring position (let the angry comments fly in). As, for most people it is desirable to work in the highest skill level of their field, a grad degree opens doors that, though inherently financial, are nonetheless more fulfilling for the person who appreciates his or her field.

5. Grad courses are better than undergrad courses.

In college, students are forced to take General Education Courses (GECs), which are relatively unrelated to their majors. Grad school offers students the opportunity to focus their education on a subject they find interesting. While undergrad English majors are forced to suffer through irrelevant math requirements (more angry comments?), graduate law students take only law classes.

6. Graduate school offers the opportunity to change careers.

This serves as an example of number four. For the person who are dissatisfied with their career choice, a master's degree is a great opportunity to earn a relatively expedited education in a field that may only recently have piqued that person's interest. Consider the engineer who realizes he really wants to be a lawyer. He can spend three years in grad school and begin a new career.

7. You gain respect.

Narcissist or not, the ability to wave a fancy degree around is appealing. And let's face it, "I'm a PHD" sounds a little better than "I'm a college grad (not to diminish the respectability of a college degree, of course)."

8. There are some jobs that require a grad degree.

There are several jobs (doctor and lawyer, for example) that are unattainable, sans grad degree. While there is much debate as to whether going to school for these jobs (particularly the latter) is worth the time and money, the intangible facets of law and med school are factors to be considered.

9. Grad school is a chance for intellectual growth.

Higher education is measurably rewarding, however a largely unconsidered aspect of graduate programs is the intellectual stimulation and the overall cognitive development yielded by extra education. Just as extended years of exercise will improve one's physical condition, three or four additional years spent in school will yield a more intelligent graduate.

There are doubtless more reasons why grad school is worthwhile (and, assuredly, some reasons why it isn't), but aside from money, these are the most prominent. If there are any that I missed, please add them in the comments below.

By William Sharon, Ohio State University.

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