Is Getting a Ph.D. Degree Worth It? It Depends...

There really are a few good reasons to get a Ph.D.

Many people ask the question, is getting a Ph.D. degree worth it? And of course the answer is that it depends. Perhaps a better question to ask is, what is a Ph.D. degree worth to you? The cost of an advanced degree like the doctorate - also known as a Ph.D. -  is hard to measure, either in dollars, or in time, effort, and quality of life.  And then to try to determine if the payback will be sufficient to match all of those costs - well, you can see that it gets a little complicated. There are some good reasons to get a Ph.D.  degree, and some not so good reasons. It all depends.

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It depends on your area of study. If you are a research scientist, say in jet propulsion or planetary exploration, or computer engineeering even, an advanced degree may pay off. You are part of an elite few that will be employed by upper echelon universties, agencies, and think tanks. Without a doctorate, you won't get very far. Just having a Master's degree (you do have one of those already, right?) is not enough to get you a position at these levels. So, in the sciences and in engineering, a Ph.D. just might be worth it.

What about all of you MBA holders out there? Is getting a Ph.D. worth it in business? It depends on the areas you are experienced in and want to pursue. Investment bankers who want to rise to the top of the Wall Street heap are well-advised to get the doctorate if they can - it will serve as  an introductory ticket to those heady upper climes of money and power. But don't expect immediate payoff - it could be a while before you can step up to the real power positions.

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In the liberal arts and education, the value of a Ph.D. is very questionable. Unless you have a real need and strong desire to stay in academia and get tenure in your field, a doctorate in English or Higher Education isn't going to do you much good. In fact, you may be considered over-qualified for teaching jobs at community colleges, and the number of jobs at four-year schools is decreasing yearly.

It also depends on how much you are willing to sacrifice for the degree, no matter what your chosen area of expertise might be. If you have a family, they will have to endure near-poverty and some deprivation for a few years until you get your Ph.D. finished. And you will undoubtedly have to take out a few tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to allow everyone to live halfway comfortably during that time. And speaking of time, it will take you at the very least 3 years after the Master's to complete all the requirements for a doctoral degree. Is getting a Ph.D. worth it? You should probably ask the poor ABD student, or all but dissertation, if he or she could do it all over again, would it go the same way?


So, what is a Ph.D. degree worth to you? Will it pay off in the long run? Will you still be alive when you finally finish it? What about the current economic climate and the prognosis for tomorrow? Maybe it's not such a great idea right now. Maybe earning a decent living with the degree you have is enough for now. Or maybe not - it depends!