A graduate degree can cost upwards of $100,000 or more, especially when you factor in living expenses, technology, textbooks and accrued interest from debt. In light of these costs, there's one big question: Is it worth it?
In the end, a simple "yes" or "no" can't answer this question. Your education is an investment that you can leverage, regardless of what your specialty is and what school you decide to attend. No matter what, you need to be able to market yourself in a field where you can succeed, and of course, success is measurable through a range of interacting qualities like happiness, money, career growth, and more. Regarding these qualifying factors, some people might tell you that graduate school isn't worth it, while others say it is the best decision that they ever made. The difference isn't about luck. It's about your plan and whether it's a plan that works for you.
Above all, graduate school is a time to specialize. Building upon what you did as an undergraduate, graduate programs help you refine a niche set of skills. Before you decide where to go or what to do, you need to pinpoint a specialty that makes sense. Even if you're still in college or don't have work experience you should — at the very least — understand what skills the job market demands.
Here are six types of degrees that will equip you with highly practical skills. You probably won't get rich quick, but if you work hard, you'll have a solid set of marketable skills:
Master of Science program in predictive analytics
Located in Chicago, Northwestern University offers a Master of Science program in Predictive Analytics. This program caters to people who are interested in data analysis across fields and discipline is practical for people who are interested in data modeling, management, communication and analysis. These skills are essential for people who are interested in sales planning, market research, marketing and business analytics — all fields that accommodate a variety of backgrounds ranging from finance to healthcare and media. Designed for working professionals, the degree is 100 percent online and equips students with a marketable and unique skills portfolio.
A graduate degree in demography
Demography is the study of population dynamics, which means that students analyze topics including fertility, immigration and migration. Integrated with these themes are topics of risk analysis, consumer insights and trend extrapolation, which are all highly relevant to the business world. Because the field is data-driven, students of demography learn how to analyze and communicate patterns using sophisticated statistical methods. Currently, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Irvine, the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University offer graduate programs in demography. Programs in demography are relatively rare and are frequently listed under population studies or sociology.
Programs in specialized communications
The University of Southern California features a number of master's programs through its Annenberg School of Communications. These programs feature diverse tracts, ranging from specialties in broadcast journalism to specialties in online communities and new media. Currently, programs are available in communication management, global communication, journalism, public diplomacy and strategic public relations. In the fields of public relations, marketing and online media, and strong communication skills are invaluable.
Public health, epidemiology and biostatistics programs
Graduate programs in public health equip students with the skills to thrive in a research, business or nonprofit environment. Students can specialize in healthcare communications, or they can pursue a mathematical track in epidemiology or biostatistics. These programs cater to analytically-minded students who are interested in health but don't want to pursue careers as practitioners. The healthcare industry is one that will always be important, and people with this degree provide a unique perspective to the field. Public health, epidemiology and biostatistics programs are available at a number of academic institutions throughout the United States.
Public affairs programs
Public affairs graduate students tend to specialize in topics related to local, state or federal government, completing courses in public finance, management, research and budgeting. Even though students study topics related to government, they do not necessarily pursue careers in government — options are available at think-tanks, nonprofits and consulting firms throughout the United States. These specialized degrees enable broad applications. Public affairs programs are available at institutions throughout the United States.
Graduate programs in informatics train students in computer applications across industries. For instance, health informatics curriculums include coursework in patient record administration, clinical data management, research and programming. The skills are practical for researchers in business and nonprofit entities.
The bottom line
Your graduate degree is what you make of it. A niche degree is something that you can leverage, especially if the skills that you'll develop are in high demand. Economics 101: know your market, and know where supply undershoots, meets, or overshoots demand.