By Caroline Kurzawa

My undergraduate chapter is coming to an end after four years, and I am seriously considering graduate school. More specifically, I’m wondering if I can afford it. In exchange for two more years of my life, countless hours of studying and an advanced degree, do I want to commit financially to a master’s program? Is graduate school the next chapter of my story?

I have had the advantage of the Zell Miller Scholarship for my undergraduate experience which means that my tuition, the largest part of my bill, is covered. Zell Miller is a Georgia state-funded scholarship that is awarded to high school seniors with good grades, test scores, and plans to attend college in-state. To maintain the scholarship, you must have a 3.3 GPA.

However, I’m not able to use this scholarship in graduate school due to the hour limit it has. I will have to find another way to lessen the financial burden of an advanced degree at UGA, costing an average of $11,168 for in-state students and $27,476 for out-of-state students.

As someone who is interested in governmental communications, a second degree could be the deciding factor between being hired for a position over another applicant. In addition, research has shown that the maximum salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is about $50,000 in my field of interest while someone with a master’s in public administration can earn about $68,000, a significant difference in salary.

A master’s opens many avenues for my career path, many of which come with advancement opportunities and higher salaries. Therefore, even though I would be spending money on my education, I would be able to make a return on this investment through the increased salary I would be able to earn.

I have decided that I will pursue a graduate degree, but I want to explore the many avenues through which I can reduce the cost of a master’s degree.

For the MPA program, students are eligible for assistantships, which would grant a tuition waiver for up to four semesters. This is a great opportunity to decrease the cost of attendance. It could also function as a resume-builder because it would provide me with more work experience. Additionally, there are plenty of external scholarships to apply for in this field. It is simply a matter of taking the time to look for them and fill out the required information.

More often, students pursue a graduate degree in order to be competitive in the workforce but end up facing both the financial and personal costs of that degree. Deciding whether or not to attend graduate school is a choice that many students, myself included, agonize over as we realize our undergraduate years are coming to an end.

The hope is that the time and money spent will allow us to step into the next chapter of our lives with confidence and a career we’ll love.

Caroline Kurzawa is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.