Should You Go to Grad School? The Pros and Cons
They say today’s bachelor’s degree is like yesterday’s high school diploma: everyone has one, and it won’t get you as far as it used to. Take it from a grad student himself: A lot of that is true. So what’s the next step? Grad school!
You’re probably thinking of taking the leap into grad school yourself. Maybe you’re stuck in a rut at your current job, maybe you’ve always wanted a master’s or maybe you’re looking to take your career in a slightly different direction.
But you have a tight budget, a full-time job and maybe kids on the horizon. Let’s face it: grad school isn’t cheap. According to FinAid.org, the average master’s degree will set you back anywhere between $10,000 to $30,000.
With that said, will an extra degree really help boost your career prospects? Or will it leave you in a mountain of debt like the Everest you acquired in undergrad?
Here’s what you should consider before committing to grad school. The following are reasons you should go, and reasons you shouldn't.
You Should Go If: You’re Looking for a Career Change
When someone is 18 and they're forced to choose a major, not everybody makes exactly the right choice.
Or maybe they did, but the post-undergrad life job market isn’t what they expected. Who could blame them? They were barely out of high school!
Whatever the case, graduate school can help you get a leg up on potential candidates for your dream job.
This is especially true if you majored in something that can lead down a variety of career avenues, such as the humanities and social sciences.
You Should Go If: You’re Getting Paid To Do It
Similar to undergrad, there are many sources out there, from various scholarships to your state and federal government, that are willing to pay for your education.
Many Ph.D. programs will offer to pay for your entire graduate education in exchange for assisting the department with research. You’ll get a monthly stipend and the chance to add some very prestigious letters to your name afterwards.
Even if you’re not going all the way to a Ph.D., there are still grants through your university and special organizations related to your major.
You Should Go If: You’re Looking for Teaching Opportunities
Teaching isn’t for everyone. But if you think you’ve got what it takes to survive the tenured lifestyle — research, develop class syllabi and publish a few books — then the Ph.D. path might be for you.
Getting your Ph.D. can land you on the tenure track to a full professorship and a nice salary and benefits to boot. You’ll also have the benefit of having a grad assistant — just like your professor had when you were theirs.
Be warned though: the tenure track life is a rough one, and many times you’re at the mercy of your colleagues.
You Should Go If: You Want to Expand Your Knowledge
There’s a lot to learn in grad school, especially if your undergraduate education sparked your interest on a particular field or theory of thought.
Do you want to make it your life’s work to study the human mind or the physics of space travel? Graduate school allows you to hone into specific aspects of subjects that interested you in undergrad, without all the learning you didn’t really like.
You’ll get to develop research of your own and maybe turn it into a great career.
You Should Go If: Your Future Job Requires It
There are plenty of jobs, such as teaching, psychology and research that require an advanced degree. You won’t be able to teach grade school without at least a teaching credential, and working as a therapist will require at least a master’s degree in many cases.
Many upper-level jobs in other fields look favorably on a graduate degree, and you’ll shoot to the top of the list if you come into the interview process with at least a master’s.
If you’re looking at one of these advanced career paths, many times you won’t have a choice but go to grad school. But hey, if it’s the career of your dreams, signing up for more school is just the next step.
You Should Go If: You Want To
At the end of the day, this is what it really boils down to, right?
If you love the challenge, love the learning process and want to accomplish something you didn’t think you could do, then grad school might just be the perfect fit.
Sure, there are going to be lots of sleepless nights, tuition and money issues, lots of classes to balance with work and lots of bureaucratic forms to fill out, but in the end, wearing that academic hood is worth it.
And Now for the Cons
Those are the 6 reasons you should go to graduate school.
And now, here are the 5 reasons you shouldn’t go to graduate school.
You Shouldn’t Go If: You Don’t Know What to Do Next
Indecisiveness is part of human nature. We often don’t know what to eat, what to wear or where to go. For many of us, that goes for our careers too.
If you think graduate school is the answer to all your career woes, it isn’t. Graduate school is for those who want to enhance and advance their career path not if you’re lost trying to find it.
You don’t want to (potentially) spend thousands of dollars and a few years of your life because you couldn’t think of anything else to do. Instead, sit down and figure out your top three or four careers.
If you can get them without grad school, then a master’s degree might not be for you. If not, then you should consider grad school.
You Shouldn’t Go If: You Don’t Want to Give Up Years
For some — especially already established professionals — a graduate degree might take more than the typical one to three years to complete. Depending on the discipline, a Ph.D. can take some closer to a decade.
Work and family obligations might force you to go part time, ensuring you won’t graduate for at least three years. That’s a lot of time to commit if you’re not ready.
That time can take away from your current job and tank your performance, and it might mean you’ll have to delay other important life goals, such as buying a home or getting married.
Is it worth waiting? Only you know best.
You Shouldn’t Go If: You Think It Will Be Like Undergrad
Gone are the days where you spent your time in the dorms watching copious amounts of TV, sleeping through your class or partying till 2 am.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but graduate school is hard. Many never get around to finishing.
If you do commit yourself to getting a postgrad education, be ready for many nights of research, intense seminars and the most rigorous and life-draining academic endeavor of your life: your thesis.
You Shouldn’t Go If: You Want a Higher Salary
A master’s or Ph.D. will not guarantee you a better salary, even in competitive job markets.
And even if you do get a higher-paying job, the debt you’ve acquired during grad school might not offset your new salary.
Think twice about financial motivation and maybe consider grants and scholarships if you still want to go to grad school.
You Shouldn’t Go If: You Aren’t Ready
Undergrad was pretty much the only place where you could claim “student” as a job. You’re an (older) adult now (for real), which mean you’ll most likely have to hold down a job along with going to school.
That’s not ideal if you have a physically demanding job, or if you have to spend long nights at the office to get your new project through to your boss. Graduate school is a major time commitment, and if you don’t have your time management skills down, both your academic and career life will suffer, to say nothing of your personal life and relationships.
Make sure you have your life organized before considering an advanced degree. Don’t worry too much if you let a few years slip by. Any graduate program, regardless of concentration, will have at least a few older professionals who want to give the ivory tower one more go.
If you’ve considered everything and you think grad school is for you, get ready to hit the books and good luck!