Grad School: To Go or No?

There are a lot of factors that go into the decision to attend graduate school. Big questions loom: How will I pay for this? Where is the best program? How in the world do I get a decent score on the GRE?

Deciding to work toward an advanced degree can be a complicated decision. It’s important, however, to take a step back before getting bogged down in details about applications, financing and programs to figure out if attending graduate school is the right move for you. Stepping back could potentially save you time, money and energy, or re-confirm for you that a graduate degree is the right choice.

Consider the Reasons to Go:

im_why_graduate_0407It’s required to get the job you want. The industry you would like to enter requires a masters degree or more. Do you dream of being a professor? Want to be a psychologist? Doctor? Lawyer? You will need an advanced degree. This applies to recent college grads or individuals planning to change careers.

It’s expected by an employer. If you work in a field where promotions are given to those with an advanced degree, and you plan to stay in that industry, give some thought to graduate school.

Passion. You have a passion for the subject matter you want to study. Perhaps most important of all, but maybe not enough on its own (we’ll get to that below).

These are the major reasons to go.  Are any of these your reasons?

On the flip side, there are some reasons not to go, or to at least give pause:

Employability. If continuing your education in your desired field doesn’t make you more employable, 2-7 years later you’ll be in the same position you are in now. Except poorer and more frustrated. Do some research, talk to you career advisor or connect with professionals in your field to learn if a graduate degree will help you meet your career goals.

Unrealistic understanding of the job market. Certain areas of academia, such as social sciences and humanities, have low demand for faculty and researchers and a high supply of passionate, talented masters and PhD graduates. Competition for jobs is fierce. Relocation, underemployment and long job searches are likely. You must understand the realities of the job market and then evaluate whether or not this is the only way, or the best way, to pursue your passion.

GraduateSchoolAvoidance. Do not go to graduate school to avoid a job search. Many of the same skills you use to find and get a job are the same as ones you’d need to find and gain acceptance into a graduate program. The process of writing essays, interviewing with graduate school faculty and seeking recommendation letters is not far removed from writing cover letters, interviewing with employers and cultivating professional references.

Avoidance tends to happen more often when the economy and job market aren’t very strong. The flood of grad school applicants trying to hide from a recession makes it more difficult to get into graduate programs. Even if admitted, the influx of applicants makes for more competition upon graduation.

It’s your back-up plan. If grad school is your plan B, think twice about pursuing additional education. Do you really want to spend time and money to settle on something other than your passion? Plus, graduate schools prefer to accept applicants who demonstrate a clear passion for their subject matter, not applicants who are settling.

So, where do you stand? Is grad school for you?


Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Kelly received her masters degree in Higher Education/Student Personnel Administration from New York University, and her bachelors degree from UW-Madison, where she majored in Political Science and Women’s Studies. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, LinkedIn or BrazenCareerist.

Related posts:

  1. The Grad School Personal Statement is a Brand Statement
  2. How Grad Students Should Approach the Job Search
  3. Is Graduate School the Solution?

One Response to “Grad School: To Go or No?”

  1. Great post! As both someone who obtained a position post-graduation, and also someone who started grad school the fall after graduating I completely agree with your post. I would also like to add that grad school has very different expectations and procedures, so it’s a good idea to talk to professors and grad students about what grad school life is like. Perhaps it’s different in an MBA program, but I’m in a communication MA program, and classes are structured completely different at the grad level than undergrad (even though I’m at the same school with the same professors).

    Generally classes are always three hours long at night, and require you to do intensive reading each week. You can no longer skip out on these readings as you might have done at the undergrad level because your professor is no longer a lecturer but a discussion leader. For the three hours a night that I’m in class, three days a week, I engage in three hour long discussions in which I am expected to participate the entire time. It will be quite noticeable if I don’t because grad classes are typically small (5-10 people, maybe 15 in a large class).

    The director of my program said, “you go to undergrad to get a job, you come to grad school to ask questions that don’t necessarily have answers yet… and then you try to answer them.”

    Grad school is definitely not for everyone; you have to be passionate about what you want to study, and be willing to juggle the work world ALONG with the academic world.

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