Money Talks

Teaming Up On Grad School: Should I Help Pay For My Partner’s Harvard Education?

Couples with one or both partners considering graduate school may be asking themselves, can we really afford it?

A graduate degree may add thousands of dollars to your annual income eventually, but it can also add tens of thousands of debt to your household.  According to the Brookings Institute, in 2014 the average graduate student borrowed more than $65,000, up from under $19,400 in 1990.  What happens if, after the numbers are crunched, your partner is not onboard with your grad school ambitions? Is your partner or spouse required to help pay for your advanced degree?

David Rae, a certified financial planner based in Los Angeles, says that if your partner is adamantly opposed to grad school, “You really want to think about the relationship and how bad you want to go to school. What’s more important grad school or your marriage? If you are married, you are both responsible for [student loan] debt, so you want to get on the same page.”

In 2016, the Executive MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania  was one of the most expensive programs in the world, thanks to its $192,900 price tag. That’s $80,000 more than the estimated cost of nine months at Harvard Business School.

The price-tag on higher ed is beyond daunting. If you’re even remotely mulling over a graduate degree, your partner should be your friend and confidant, and you should start the conversation early.

“Education and career are major parts of adult life. If you’re dissatisfied, curious or need more education to advance and haven’t told you partner, start the conversation immediately,”says S. Tia Brown, life coach and licensed therapist.

The first step towards selling your partner on graduate school is articulating the reason for additional education. Brown encourages you to ask yourself three questions: “Are you looking to increase your household income? Are you seeking a specialized skill? Or, are you just bored at work and waiting out the job market? If it’s the latter, you may want to give up on selling this dream [to your partner].”

When Is The Investment Worth the Price?

A master’s degree is a one of the many ways to boost your income and acquire more opportunities and skills. But every master’s degree is not created equally.  The Washington Post did a debt loan analysis on graduate school to determine which industries were worth the cost. Of the 10 careers examined only three were projected to have higher salaries than the target salary needed to make student loans affordable. Those three careers? Nurses, speech pathologists and engineers. Careers that didn’t make the cut? Accountants, lawyers, and journalists…

“Some degrees are an investment and others are an indulgence. If your additional degree won’t increase your income, it’s an indulgence,” says Brown. “If the degree is for a career change that can’t be monetized, find the cheapest method to the degree—no pricey school.  You have to pay as you go.”

Getting a graduate degree can lead to a bigger check in some cases, but not always. The  projected median starting salary for recent MBA graduates in the US was $110,000, according to GMAC. But, don’t expect a six figure salary for a master of journalism or the humanities. And of course, not all grad schools are created equally—or priced equally. (And sometimes the highest cost doesn’t translate to the best education.)

According to PayScale, in 2016, the three graduate schools with the highest earning potential were University of California at Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania.

“What we know is that graduate school is an investment, and the school you attend should have actual, not perceived, power in your field,” says Brown.“Avoid the pricey schools unless it translates into dollars and cents or will open major doors. For example, an MBA and a graduate degree in education will leave you with similar debt but will produce drastically different incomes. Be strategic. Invest in the name brand degree only when it will pay off. If not, just focus on getting a debt-free degree.”

According to Brown, a nursing degree at an Ivy League school may not be worth the cost, unless you have a free ride. Instead, look at reputable and competitive programs elsewhere. But the same rule does not apply to business school or law school, “where attending an Ivy will open up doors you may not even know existed.”

Managing Marriage & Graduate School

If you’re married or in a committed relationship, your grad school decision should be made as a team. Remember, graduate school is not just a financial burden, it’s a disruption of routine. And sometimes, it requires immense emotional support. Going to school probably means you’ll have less free time or money to spend with your partner.

To get a rough idea of how much time a Master’s degree takes, Best Colleges Online suggests working with an estimate of at least 2 hours per credit hour. This means depending on your student status, you can expect anywhere from 12 to 30 hours on a master’s program per week.

With that in mind, how you broach the topic of grad school really depends on the nature of the relationship. All couples are unique, with unique needs, stressors, and financial personalities. . “You want to create a plan that limits debt and ensures the degree has a tangible return on investment,” says Brown.

If you are married, you are both responsible for [student loan] debt, so you want to get on the same page.”

Teaming Up to Financially Tackle Grad School

  1. Schedule a sit-down with your partner, where you can present an outline of your expected costs and your expected return on investment. Ask for their input, and discuss how much—if any—of the cost they are willing to assume responsibility for. If they’re not willing to pay any of your tuition, are they willing to take on a greater percentage of living expenses? You may want to make an agreement in writing.
  2. Explore financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Check out Financial Aid for Graduate or Professional Students for facts and tips on school, state and federal aid.
  3. Explore tuition reimbursement at your place of employment. Ask your Human Resources director if your company offers any support or reimbursement.
  4. Pay for graduate school upfront, from your individual account, if at all possible. If not, make sure you are able to meet your minimum loan payments. You don’t want to end up paying interest on your interest. Deferring will increase, and may even double, the amount you pay in the long run.
  5. Explore student loan opportunities. Private loans or federal loans tend to be the debate when it comes to graduate school.  Usually, but not always, federal loans have lower interest rates and are the safer bet.
  6. Make a plan, in writing, for how you will cover graduate school expenses and living expenses while in graduate school.