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Is Getting a PhD Worth It?

Perhaps you’re finishing up a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or maybe you’ve hit a wall in your career. Now you’re wondering: Should I get a PhD? In the long run, is this the best choice for my career and personal goals? 

You may have friends who have completed doctorate programs or even observed coworkers or professors excelling with PhDs but wondered if it’s the right fit for you. There’s usually a series of roadblocks between the initial daydreaming and enrolling. You hesitate, wondering if this is the right time, if it will pay off, or if you’ll be able to succeed. 

The short answer: Yes. Most PhD students will tell you the time and effort are worth it. The long answer? Ultimately, only you can decide that but the pros outweigh the cons. 

What benefits are there to earning a PhD?

Well, most importantly, you’ll get two new letters in front of your name: Dr. Knows A. Lot.

Reputation Building

Jokes aside, earning a PhD earns you credibility. Employers, whether within academia or off-campus, understand the discipline, knowledge, and tenacity required to complete a doctoral program. 

In most cases, completing a PhD program is enough for others in your field to consider you an expert. Pursuing and completing a PhD shows all future employers you know your industry and you have the fortitude to work hard.

Return on Investment

It’s not always easy to calculate the monetary value of a PhD, but many PhDs will tell you that the return they’ve received on their investment (ROI) was more than worth it. When it comes to ROI, it matters where you get your PhD. 

Depending on your field and the school you choose, the ROI on a PhD is made significantly higher if you don’t have to pay tuition. Many schools, SMU included, offer fellowships and stipends for PhD students, often in addition to a full tuition waiver. This isn’t meant to convince you that PhD students are raking in cash — just a reminder that tuition isn’t necessarily a burden for doctoral students.PhD students do get paid

Pursuit of Passion

You may have experienced the dread that comes with a job search where you’re under qualified. You see the posting. You notice the employer and job title. Wow, this is your dream job. You skim the description and think, “I could probably do that!”. You get to the bottom, “Preferred Qualifications”. Yikes. You’re not quite there. Your PhD will open those doors, remove the barriers, and welcome you to the highest level of your career. Gone are the days of being under qualified. This is your time to shine.

Remember those doors that were closed before? Your PhD helps you find a network of people who can help you open them. Your classmates turn into colleagues, your professors into trusted friends, and those barriers start to fall down as you surround yourself with people who share your passion. 

Oh yeah, that little thing. Your passion. The subject and field you’ve been dreaming about since you were a child. Or maybe just since undergrad. It’s become part of your personal identity. Pursuing a PhD allows you to learn more, dig deeper, and climb higher in the field that you already enjoy. Even if you’re not looking to stay in academia forever, the PhD in your chosen field gives you the ability to stay a while longer and decide how best to use your skills.

What are the Reasons Not to Get a PhD?

Getting a PhD has a lot of benefits, but there are risks to consider, too.

The time commitment: this may take years. PhD programs take an average of 6 years to complete. 

The financial commitment: if you’re not in a fully-funded program, this may cost a lot. Not only in tuition, but in “lost wages,” too. Most PhD students don’t have time to work on top of earning their degree. 

But, the financial commitment is often offset by the earning potential of a PhD. On average, PhDs make over $30,000 more annually than those holding only a bachelor’s degree, but keep in mind that number varies between the humanities, business, and science industries. 

The energy commitment: earning a PhD can be hard work. The good news is you’re not in it alone at SMU. We offer a robust career services office and dedicated student support services for PhD students like housing, counseling, and community connections.

The risk: what if this doesn’t work out? But what if it does? 

Have you ever considered that in pursuing a PhD, you’ll be the expert on your chosen topic? You’ll have your classmates to lean on, but your thesis is specific to you. Your dissertation, though a lot of work, will put you as the thought leader of that specific topic. Combining your passion, credibility, network, and dreams to launch into your next phase of life. 

So, is a PhD worth it? We think so.

Learn more about

doctoral degrees at SMU, and how you can choose the right program and thrive in it, in our Guide to Getting a PhD.

Read the PhD Guide

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