As women of color, we are often told that we need to be twice as good to go half as far, but do we need Master’s degrees to be successful? When you factor in the costs ($80,000 for a moderately ranked 2-year program and more than $100,000 for top 2-year programs) compared to the increase in salary (only 10-15% for human services; 25% on average and 60-150%+ for top MBA programs), is the input worth the output? Even if we decide with a resounding, “Yes,” that it is, we must also ask: ‘how do we make the most of this investment?

To answer our questions and ensure that we make the most out of our very expensive academic situations, Syd is sitting down with Dra. Yvette Martínez-Vu,  a Chicana mother-scholar, author, academic, host of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast and academic coach. She focuses her scholarship and coaching on empowering first-generation students of color as they navigate higher education. After working in higher education for over ten years, she transitioned out and relocated her little familia from California to Portugal.

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Where should we start in terms of figuring out whether or not to go to graduate school? The first step in this process is to DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  • Do you need it? First determine whether you NEED a graduate degree to take the next step(s) in your career. Look at the job descriptions for the jobs that you’re interested in and see if a graduate degree is a required qualification , preferred qualification or not mentioned at all. If a graduate degree is not required for the types of jobs you’re seeking, you may want to reconsider getting one.
  • Where do you want to go? Next, determine where you want to go. Research the top schools in your discipline. Also look on LinkedIn for individuals who currently hold the jobs you’re seeking. See where they attended graduate school. You may also consider reaching out to them to ask about their experience at their alma mater.
  • Why do you want to go? Then, once you’ve narrowed down your list of prospective schools to your top 3-5 programs, begin reaching out to the professors at those institutions and ask them about the culture of the institution and the value of the program. If you are a person of color, try to find other persons of color within the program to ask about their unique experience as a person of color.

Once you’ve determined where you want to go, it’s time to figure out how to FIND FUNDING for your degree.

  • Student Loans: If you need to take out student loans to fund your degree, find a debt repayment calculator online and calculate how long it will take you to pay off your student debt at your elevated salary.
  • Full Funding: If you receive “full funding,” full funding may include poverty level wages as a living stipend. Figure out how you will supplement your funding with a part time job or additional scholarships.
  • Merit Scholarships: Talk with your admissions office about the process for obtaining merit-based scholarships awarded by the institution.
  • Independent Scholarships: Research independent scholarships available in your field.
  • Pay As You Go: If part-time programs are available in your field, you may also consider attending graduate school part-time and self-funding your tuition and/or living expenses as you go.

Even if a particular role does not require a graduate degree, do you think that women of color need to have graduate degrees to be competitive in the job market?

No. Obtaining a graduate degree is a huge financial and time commitment that you should not take on unless one is required for progression universally in your career. Going to graduate school for the wrong reason(s) can you put you in a worse position (financially) than when you entered.

Is there a wrong time to go to graduate school?

There is no wrong time to go to graduate school. The BEST time to go to graduate school is when you’re sure that you need the degree to move forward in your career, you are financially ready to take on the financial obligations of graduate school and you’re mentally prepared to navigate the rigors of graduate school.

If a school doesn’t require you take an entrance exam (GRE, GMAT or LSAT), should you take it anyway?

If a school does not require it, then DON’T TAKE IT; unless you have time, money and resources to dedicate to preparation, you’re a good test taker and there are other portions of your application that aren’t as strong that a high entrance exam score can supplement.

What can we do if we’re on the fence about obtaining a graduate degree?

  • Internships: If you’re not currently working in the field where you want to obtain your graduate degree, consider interning or volunteering in your target industry to see if you like it. You can also reach out to folks in your target field to conduct informational interviews and ask if you can shadow them.
  • Apply for Jobs in Your Field: Try applying for the jobs you want even without the graduate degree. If you’re able to get the job you want without going to graduate school, then you may not need to go at all.
  • Certifications: See if there is a certification that you can get that holds comparable practical value for progression in your field. 

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Hosts & Guests

Sydnee Mack (Host)

Dra. Yvette Martinez  (Guest)




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