Deciding to embark on the path of studying for a degree or a doctorate can be a significant experience in a person’s life for a whole host of reasons. It entails an investment of substantial time, for example, and can incur a financial cost — either now in the form of an upfront payment or the future in the form of debt. But it can also be a hugely rewarding experience, and it’s no surprise that more than one in three adults in the US has at least a bachelor’s degree.
As with any significant life decision, planning and imagining how it will all work is essential before you proceed. Therefore, you should always consider what effect enrolling in a degree or doctoral program will have on your life, whether in terms of time or something else. And it’s also vital to assess what skills are required to ensure that your skill profile matches that of the institution or qualification you are interested in. This blog post will take a deep dive into these issues to help you get started on your journey towards increased knowledge of the world of doctorates and degrees and will also look at some of the key practical questions — such as the role that money can play.
The financial cost
Completing a doctorate or degree is undoubtedly not reducible to cold, hard cash. A degree or doctorate offers many benefits, including personal enrichment, enhanced knowledge and skills, and even a sense of being a part of a community of learners and teachers, which is hard to get in any other way. But it’s important to consider money, especially your potential earning power, before you apply, so there are no unpleasant surprises further down the path.
Take, for example, the cost of enrolling. The average cost of a bachelor’s degree in the US is $102,828 over four years. That is a significant amount, although that’s only if you’re living on campus at an institution located in your state. Meanwhile, the average cost of a doctorate is even higher and begins at around $131,000. Many people who pursue a degree or doctorate find that they need to take out a loan to fund their studies, at least in part, so there’s certainly a long-term consideration about loan affordability to be made.
However, it’s also worth taking heart from the fact that there is significant financial support available for many degrees and doctorates. Grants from foundations and the government are available in the form of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Scheme (FAFSA), which the US government runs. What’s more, it’s possible to enroll in a degree course on a part-time basis in many institutions and then work alongside it; this is particularly popular for those who want to ensure they have a good work/life balance with time available to care for dependents. In short, money shouldn’t automatically be perceived as a barrier.
It may even be seen as a motivation for getting a degree or doctorate. Studies show that the average degree graduate is likely to earn several hundreds of thousands of dollars more throughout their working life than someone without such a qualification. This can mean that while the upfront cost of a degree can be very high, it’s also the case that you’re likely to earn more when you graduate — in many cases, it can balance out, leaving you better off over time. It’s essential to take the long view when making considerations like this and to emphasize just how much more earning power you can theoretically have over your lifetime if you’ve got a degree under your belt.
It’s also necessary to consider the time commitments of studying for a degree or doctorate. The time required will likely depend mainly on the type of qualification you go for. With some exceptions, a bachelor’s degree will probably take less time than a doctorate.
But the subject matter is also important here. The standard length of study for a bachelor’s degree in the US is around four years; however, those who decide to go for a degree like medicine can expect to study for a minimum of four years for the undergraduate portion alone, while the ongoing studying and training are likely to take up to a decade. Doctorates, meanwhile, usually take a minimum of four years but can take as long as eight years or even more, so it’s possible that, depending on what you go for, you’ll be studying for a significant portion of your life.
Some doctorates don’t even have specific timeframes. For example, if you study for one of the best Doctorate in Education programs at Marymount, you should check with your potential new tutor how long it might take and draw up a bespoke learning plan. Not all doctoral students will complete their degree at the same pace, and that’s fine: it’s all about using your communication and planning skills to work out a path of study that suits your particular set of circumstances.
Overall, and however you do it, it’s essential to research the length of time that your desired course is likely to take to complete and to understand this before committing to that particular discipline. That way, you’re unlikely to find your preferred degree option is out of your range in terms of time commitments. You can balance this against the other parts of your life, too. For example, if you have kids, having this information about course durations to hand means that you can plan with greater detail who will look after them after school and how long you’ll need childcare. If you play sports, knowing how long you’ll be studying for will mean that you can tell those you play with how long you’re expected to be away from the team or change the day of practice.
But perhaps the most pertinent time-related question that most people embarking on a degree or doctorate will ask is what sort of time commitment will be required daily. Regarding the number of hours, this is again down to the course and institution: some will insist on a full-time commitment, while others will likely have more flexibility. Don’t be afraid to contact your potential new tutor to learn more about this: if you have questions, such as how long you’re likely to have as a deadline to complete an assignment, they may be able to give you the answers simply through an email.
What skills do you need?
In some ways, this question is impossible to answer, although it’s one that almost every student who seeks to enroll in a course is likely to have asked themselves at one stage or another. The reason it’s difficult is that the answer is so different depending on the course being taken.
Therefore, it’s best to look at the question holistically and in terms of personal development and character rather than practicalities. There are some basic skills that a person enrolling in a degree or doctorate is likely to need, no matter what they’re studying or their preferred topic area. For example, a student needs to be able to apply themselves to problems and solve them. This is the same whether you’re studying for a bachelor’s in math and need to be able to solve advanced equations or whether you’re going for a doctorate in history and need to be able to explain why different historians had different interpretations of an event.
Another skill you will need is the ability to concentrate. Focusing on a niche subject matter is essential to the work of a student: it’s inherent to the occupation, whether that’s focusing on the components of chemicals or the rhythm of a text of classical literature. Engaging with a small number of specific pieces of information, and being able to sustain your interest and your critical faculties while doing so, is essential to being a student of either a doctorate or a degree. It’s possible to try out your skills in this regard before you commit to the real deal, perhaps through a voluntary role in the sector in which you’re considering studying.
Dedication, finally, is a significant requirement no matter your chosen subject matter. Being able to continue your studies even when the going gets tough is an essential part of being a student. While studying is a highly enriching experience, it’s almost certain that you’ll have experiences that aren’t fun. You may find that you have to meet deadlines from time to time and perhaps make some small sacrifices so that you can complete an assignment. But this doesn’t mean that you have to become a hermit. It may mean that you need to give up one night out of every ten, but it doesn’t mean you need to lose your friends. You’re likely to make new friends through your course and perhaps even have new social experiences that you’d never have had before.
These milestones are, reassuringly, a part of the life of most students. But, as this is a learning experience, they require a skill: the skill of dedication. You need to be able to imagine the bigger picture beyond this moment and look into the future: While it may be difficult in the here and now, it’s likely to be much better in the long run because you’ll be equipped with skills and earning potential that can transform your life.
In sum, enrolling in a degree program or doctoral program will present you with a fantastic opportunity to enhance your life through learning. By preparing, planning, and being more organized, completing one of these courses of study is within your grasp. It must not be mistaken for something you can’t do, and it’s vital to be on guard against the risk of impostor syndrome.
As this article has shown, it’s all about preparation: you must work in advance on your basic study skills and ensure they’re up to scratch before applying. By making a solid plan in advance, in terms of time, money, and commitment, there’s no reason why you can’t pursue a degree or doctoral program and reach where you want to be in whatever profession you choose.