How much are Ph.D. programs worth? For some, the road to a Ph.D. is filled with intangible rewards, such as gaining knowledge and becoming known as an academic expert in their field. Others pursue doctoral programs with the belief that an advanced degree will bring them professional prestige and a large salary.
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How much are Ph.D. programs worth? For some, the road to a Ph.D. is filled with intangible rewards, such as gaining knowledge and becoming known as an academic expert in their field. Others pursue doctoral programs with the belief that an advanced degree will bring them professional prestige and a large salary.

Whatever your motivation, you may be surprised to find out that a Ph.D. degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee you the big bucks, nor does it guarantee a prestigious career in academia, although it certainly increases your odds. The road to a Ph.D. is a long and arduous one. You should be sure you want to travel it before embarking on it.

Earning Power After a Doctoral Program

There is something to be said about being able to measure the value of a Ph.D. degree's earning power. The fact is, on average, people with graduate degrees, especially professional degrees, make more money than people without them. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that doctoral degree holders earned a median weekly salary that was 52% greater than bachelor's degree holders.

However, once you have a Ph.D.—after paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket or through student loans—employment and a high salary are not certain. Depending on your field, it is possible for Ph.D. graduates to be considered overqualified, which can lead to a lack of job opportunities or a salary that is the same as bachelor’s degree holders in the same role.

However, the BLS predicts that the job outlook for postsecondary teachers (jobs commonly sought by graduates of Ph.D. programs) should be fairly bright. Employment in that area is expected to grow by almost 19% percent by 2020, which is a rate that is faster than average for all occupations. So, your timing may be just right if you’re just starting a Ph.D. program and hope to take root in the world of academia.

Consider the Ph.D. Degree: Value to You

Regardless of your salary aspirations, before you enroll in a doctoral program, ask yourself very honestly what it is you’re seeking. In the end, the degree may be priceless if it opens the door to a subject or career you love, but it's also a serious commitment. Make sure you're ready to handle it.

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