decisions

Should I Go to Graduate School?

Graduate school is a huge commitment for your finances, your time, and your relationships. It should not be entered into lightly. True, in some disciplines, a graduate degree is a necessity. If you want to go into healthcare, law, teaching, or social work for example, you will need an advanced degree.  But think long and hard before jumping into a graduate program.  

Here are three reasons to definitely not go to graduate school:

  1. You are dissatisfied at your current job. This happens to everyone at some point. Find a different job or make the most out of your current situation. Going to graduate school is not a guarantee of job satisfaction.
  2. You are having a hard time finding a job.  Job hunting can be long, hard, and scary, it’s true. But remember, you are going to have to do the same thing after you have finished an advanced degree, and it will not necessarily make the job hunt any easier. You are just putting off the inevitable.
  3. You don’t know what you want to do with your life. Think of graduate school as a tool to accomplish a specific goal in your life. If you do not know what that goal is, don’t go to graduate school. Unlike undergrad, graduate school is not the time to explore what you are interested in or want to do. Figuring out your life’s purpose is a big question that does not have an easy answer, but there are great ways to help you figure it out without getting an advanced degree. Talk to a career counselor; it is their job to help you with this very question. Volunteer or find an internship or job in a field you are interested in.  While a time commitment, it is a great way to get your feet wet, network with people, build skills, and hopefully help clarify if this is a field or direction you are interested in. Read extensively or take a continuing education class on a subject you are interested in.  Join a group or organization that is related to your point of interest.  You will be able to meet like-minded people and learn more about the subject. If after doing all these things you are still interested and passionate about the field and have an idea of where you want to go with it, then maybe consider a graduate degree.

Here are three reasons you should go to graduate school:

  1. Depending on your field, a graduate degree can offer you more earning power and open up doors.  It can give you more options and help you make the switch to a new career. However, these are not a guarantee, and you have to consider the costs necessary to obtain said degree. Also, depending on the degree you pursue there may be very limited job opportunities outside taking a job as a professor, since advanced degrees are much more specified than undergraduate degrees.
  2. You might reach a point in your career where an advanced degree is necessary to move forward or you have been out of school for a while and need to gain more relevant information in your field in order to stay on top of  advancements and changes. Before jumping into a degree program, consider taking other professional development routes, like workshops or certificate programs, which are less time and money and less risk. If graduate school still seems the best option talk to people who are in your field and doing what you want to do.  Find out how they got where they are, whether with school or another route. If they did go to school, as them if they think it was necessary or not.
  3. There are those people for whom graduate school is necessary to pursue an intellectual passion in a specific academic subject. Graduate school allows for the space to envelop yourself in a specific subject in a way that is very difficult outside the world of academia. If there is a topic that you live and breathe and desire to use the degree to expand your expertise in that area in order to both learn more and to use what you have learned in academia or in an applied environment, then maybe graduate school is right for you.  

There are a couple of other things to know about graduate school. It is possible get your degree fully or partly funded. Employers will sometimes help cover the cost in the name of professional development.  However, you will be expected, generally, to continue working at least part-time, which will add to the amount of time it will take you to complete the degree. Depending on the field, a university might waive tuition and even give give you a small stipend in return for teaching undergraduate courses.

Remember, take your time. Spend a few years after undergrad getting relevant experience and make sure this is a field you actually want to devote your life to. This will also give you time to save money and depending on where you work, as mentioned above, you might even be able to get your employer to help you pay for it.  Remember, a graduate degree is a tool to help you achieve a particular goal.