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the true cost of graduate school after Peace Corps

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first two articles in this series:


The Golden Rules of Grad School After Peace Corps


5 Reasons in Favor of Grad School After Peace Corps, and 4 Reasons Against It


Even if you have a full ride, graduate school can be costly.

School fees are the most obvious costs, but not the biggest ones. Don’t forget to include these crucial factors in your cost calculations.


1. lost income opportunity

How much could you be earning if you took a job today? Even a full ride with stipend likely won’t put anywhere near the amount of money in your bank account as a full-time job would. 


2. interest on student loans and other debts

Since you’re not earning what you could be, then you’re not paying off the debts that you could be.


3. lost compound interest opportunity

The earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to earn interest on interest. That means more, better, or earlier retirement. Without a job that offers retirement benefits or enough extra income to invest, you’re missing out on years of compound interest.


4. real-world experience

Most employers value experience over education. Many will accept a couple years of experience in place of a degree.  A lot will choose a more experienced candidate over a more educated candidate. A few years of grad school means less real-world experience.


5. lost promotions, raises, and incentives

The Millennial generation has shown a strong tendency to change jobs frequently, so employers are offering increasingly strong incentives for staying on the job more than a couple years. Grad school puts you a few years behind on those benefits.


6. out-of-pocket personal expenses

Even if your fees are covered, you may still be paying living expenses from savings, loans, or credit cards. Same goes for the cost of relocating for your grad program. Spending your savings means less compound interest. Going into debt means paying for accruing interest later on.


7. differences in cost of living

The cost of living in your potential job market may be markedly different from the cost of living at your potential school. 


8. taxes

Full-time students generally don’t earn enough to pay taxes. Account for your federal and state tax rates when you consider how much potential income you could be losing by attending graduate school.  


9. experiences you’re putting off

Graduate school can be a double-edged sword when it comes to cool new experiences. Lots of travel grants are only available to students. Your time is generally more flexible. On the other hand, student stipends (if you have one) don’t generally allow for European vacations. And if your grad work is demanding, you may not have time for a vacation anyway.


But don’t grad degree holders earn more over their lifetimes?

Yes, the lifetime earning potential of a graduate degree currently outweighs these drawbacks over the course of a career. However, that only works if you actually like the field enough to spend the rest of your career working in it. And Millennials–who generally value experience and growth over income and prestige–don’t tend to do that.

To boot, we expect that the longstanding trend of more education = more income will markedly taper off over the next 10 years as the number of degree holders meets or exceeds the number of jobs available for degree holders. 

so what does that mean for your career?

~ Stay tuned! ~


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What to do after Peace Corps

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5 Reasons in Favor of Grad School After Peace Corps

and 4 Reasons Against it


The Golden Rules of Grad School After Peace Corpsare the heavy hitters in the battle of school vs. work. If you have both of them in the bag, the decision is pretty easy.

But life is messy, and sometimes the two Golden Rules end up in opposite corners of the ring. Or some twist in the plot that makes things not so clear cut.

Here we share some other factors to keep in mind when deciding on school. These are frequently overlooked, but always worth a second glance.


in favor of school… 

The job market is terrible.

To be clear, “terrible” doesn’t mean that you personally can’t find a job you want. It means that experts in the field agree that prospects are temporarily poor for professionals in your field. If you want to work for the Environmental Protection Agency or the US Agency for International Development, this might be you. 

Your degree isn’t super useful on it’s own.

Some bachelor degrees are foundational. For example, a B.A. in History doesn’t qualify you for a lot of jobs. Add a M.A, and you can teach at a community college. Get a Ph.D, and you can teach at a university. Go for a J.D., and you’re a lawyer.

Your field of work is tiny.

If your field is steadily shrinking, the pay is terrible for everyone, or employment prospects are long-term poor, then it’s time to shift gears. A grad degree is a great way to do that without starting over completely. 

It’s been almost 6 months since your last skill-development position.

A skill-development position is work that helps you grow your marketable skill set. Peace Corps definitely falls into this category. If you’ve been looking for work but haven’t found anything beyond entry-level customer service-type gigs, then it’s time to move on. Grad school is an expensive fallback, but less expensive than stagnation.

You need a supportive cohort.

Maybe you don’t have a home to go to, you really need a morale boost, or you reel at the thoughts of being away from your fellow PCVs. Much like Peace Corps, grad school surrounds you with a community of like-minded people doing exactly what you’re doing. In contrast, meaningful connections in the workplace are more challenging or even discouraged.

in favor of work… 

You want a PhD.

You have Peace Corps non-competitive eligibility for 1 year, or up to 2 if you go back to school. Legitimate PhD programs take longer than 2 years. So if you’re aiming for a PhD, consider taking advantage of that non-competitive eligibility to load up on cash and experience before you hit the books.

It’s an online or part-time degree.

Degrees that allow you to continue working full time are much more likely to be funded by your employer. When you get that glowing one-year review, come prepared with rationale for how the program will make you an even better worker, and offer to take it in lieu of a raise. 

You’re ready to earn money.

Student loans are hanging over your head, or you’re just overdue for a vacation that doesn’t involve a hostel. Bring home them dollars for a couple years. In the meantime, you’ll definitely learn more about what you want to do in grad school, and you might find a grant or employer to pay for it.

You still feel like a kid.

Grad school is like Peace Corps–you live your job. If you went straight from high school to college to Peace Corps, you might be pretty sick of structured environments and always feeling like a newbie. Dying to finally knowing what’s going on around you, be proficient at something, get paid for it, and clock out in time to raise a ruckus at happy hour? Then hold off on grad school. 


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What to do after Peace Corps Early Termination

What do early termination Peace Corps Volunteers need? Tons of support. Learn more.

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“What should you do after Peace Corps?” is already a tough question. What happens when you add early termination to the mix? 

If you haven’t already, check out What’s Early Termination from Peace Corps Like? and How Early Termination Will Impact Your Life

ETing is sometimes part of change for the better. Take Cecilia Gregg for example. She made the right decision for herself to ET and move on. This is her story.

“…I didn’t earn non-competitive eligibility from Peace Corps, but my service still helped me get a job with the State Department.”

“As a Peace Corps Volunteer in China, I embraced the new challenges of the assignment and learned so much about the culture and people of my university, where I taught English. Still, life wasn’t always easy in Chongqing. The pollution, cultural differences, and rainy days were tough to handle. I also lost my dad and a good friend to cancer while I was there. Luckily, I’d been able to say goodbye to both of them, but these personal issues, along with the health problems I encountered while in China–pneumonia and seasonal depression–left me feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there. After 1 year of being in China, I started looking for other opportunities. I received an offer as an English Language Fellow with the State Department. After 16 months as a PCV and many pro/cons lists, I decided to ET from Peace Corps China. 

Making the Decision

Looking back, I still think I made the best decision for myself.  During my decision, I sought the counsel and advice of the Assistant Country Director, and her words helped me feel at ease with the decision. She said “You have made more of an impact in your first year than most volunteers will make in 2 years.” Her words gave me the confidence that I served Peace Corps successfully. She confirmed what I already knew–that I had served Peace Corps and my university well, and that I had made an impact on my community.

Other People’s Reactions

Still, there were some awkward encounters and comments from other Volunteers, the Peace Corps community, and others that hurt. ETing has such a negative connotation in the Peace Corps. Volunteers, staff, and family that knew me and my reasons for leaving supported me through the transition and were excited about my job opportunity. However, the Volunteers and others who didn’t know me were harshly judgmental and questioned my decision.


Life After Peace Corps


Luckily, I can still look back on my experience as a positive one. I still add the Peace Corps to my resume. Although I did not earn non-competitive eligibility by serving in Peace Corps, my service still helped me get my job with the State Department. In the end, I know I made the right decision to leave. I am now teaching English in Palestine with the State Department and I’m thrilled to be serving another community that needs my help.”



We’re Serious.

ET Volunteers need more support. That’s why we offer Transition Coaching to all Peace Corps affiliates at no charge.