How to Decide if Graduate School Is Right for You
BY JORI HAMILTON
Remember your very first day of college? You may have felt nervous and out of place, unsure of where anything was, what your professors would be like, and who you’d become friends with. Now, four years later, it’s time to graduate, and it can be hard to believe how fast the time zipped by. While your classmates and pals are heading back to their hometowns or moving far away to enter the job market after graduation, you’re wondering if you should continue your education.
Or, maybe you graduated a few years ago and have been working since then, but you feel like you’d get higher pay or a promotion if you had a graduate degree. Many people in the workforce, tired of being unable to advance their careers, often resort to common resume lies, but doing so can present serious problems.
Instead, look into furthering your education by pursuing a graduate degree. In some cases, your employer might even be willing to pay for it, and you know that it will benefit your career if you can find the time to fit it in. Let’s explore why you may want a graduate degree, as well as the pros and cons of going after one.
Reasons for Attending Graduate School
Understanding how to get a graduate degree and what to expect from graduate school is important, but they’re not nearly as important as discovering why you want a master’s degree in the first place. Here are some questions to answer when deciding if graduate school is right for you:
- Will your employer pay for graduate school? Alternatively, will they pay you a high enough salary to justify the expense of graduate school?
- If they will pay for your education, what requirements do you have to fulfill? For example, you may have to work there for a certain amount of time after completing the program.
- What will your job look like once you have your graduate degree? Is there a promise of higher pay or a better position? Will you advance more quickly?
- Are there other ways to achieve more pay and higher status without going to graduate school?
You don’t have to be in love with your coursework, but you should have some level of investment or interest in it. Otherwise, you may fail your classes or drop out before you’ve earned your degree. By finding a driving “why” behind your choice to attend graduate school, you’re more likely to stick with it — even when your schedule and workload become burdensome.
Pros of Attending Graduate School
There are a lot of perks to attending graduate school. Put time and effort into researching graduate programs so you can enjoy these benefits:
- If you’re already working, it’s possible that the college of your choice will waive your GMAT score (the test students take to determine eligibility for a graduate program) due to your work experience. This can lower the barrier of entry for a graduate program and encourage you to continue your education.
- Depending on the school you attend, you may have excellent networking opportunities through your graduate program. For example, Oprah Winfrey taught a course at Northwestern about leadership. Attending classes taught by industry influencers can improve your reputation in your field and maybe open up doors you didn’t have access to before.
- While research isn’t a mandatory part of master’s degree programs, some courses do require or allow it. If you want to research a specific topic, attending a master’s program that requires a thesis is an excellent way to dive into what excites you.
If you feel like you want to explore your education more, graduate school could very well be the best decision for you. While career advancement and a higher income are nice, you’ll get the most out of the program if you enjoy what you’re learning.
Cons of Attending Graduate School
On the fence about graduate school? It’s not for everyone, and it may not benefit your career quite as much as you think it will. Here’s what to consider:
- Remember studying for your SATs? Passing the GRE, which is required for many of graduate programs, is harder. Before you even start your graduate program, you’ll have to spend time and money to study in order to pass the test. Note that some grad programs these days will also waive this test, much like the waiving of the GMAT, so do your research!
- Graduate degree programs vary in cost, but most of them will cost you several thousand dollars — that could be as low as $30,000 overall or as high as $30,000 or more per year, as public schools tend to cost less than private schools. There’s also less financial help for graduate students than undergraduate students.
- Graduate degree programs can be demanding. Grad students work year-round and complete the program faster than an undergraduate program, with a lot of condensed, hard work in a shorter time frame. If you have other responsibilities, like a full-time job and a family, you may have to sacrifice something you’re not willing to give up.
Ultimately, determining whether getting a master’s degree is worth it depends on your particular circumstances. Will it open new employment avenues that you’d be interested in pursuing? Would it enable you to earn more money and do things in your personal life that you’d be unable to do otherwise? Can you go to school while upholding your other responsibilities in life? Answering these questions honestly will guide you in the right direction.
While going back to school to pursue a graduate degree may do wonders for your career, make sure that you’re not simply trying to stay in college instead of moving on with your life. If that’s the case, there are a number of ways to stay involved with your school even as you start your career. On the other hand, if you’re in a field that requires a graduate degree even for entry-level employees, like STEM fields, you may not have a choice about whether or not to continue your education. Whether you’re opting to go to school or are required to, do your due diligence when researching schools, as there’s a lot of variety between graduate programs.
Bio: Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Northwest who is passionate about education and social justice issues. You can follow her on Twitter @HamiltonJori