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Go to grad school or get a job: what’s a grad to do?

by Andrianes Pinantoan
Graduating university is no doubt an exciting moment—you’ve spent the last several years working hard to earn your degree, and making decision after decision about your studies (Which classes should I take? What major suits me best? What clubs shall I join?). Finally, you can relax…or so you think. With graduation comes another incredibly important decision: should I get a job? Or go to graduate school?

For many students, the answer isn’t clear. Throughout my undergrad at UC Berkeley, I had always imagined that I’d go on to earn an advanced degree in History. But alas, as graduation drew near, my desire to jump right back into school faded. I spent months, maybe even years, thinking about the ‘grad school v. get a job’ dilemma, ultimately choosing to get a job. If you find yourself toying with the idea of pursuing a graduate degree, but just can’t come to an informed conclusion, here’s how you can decide…

Do your research

This extends far beyond simply researching jobs and prospective graduate programs. Before deciding to go to grad school, you need to have all of the relevant information. In my job at an online test prep startup that prepares students for the GRE, I come into contact with students everyday who are simply unprepared and rushing in to graduate school immediately after graduation. You should first ask yourself these questions:

Is an advanced degree necessary for my career path?

If you’re going in to a field like law, medicine, or academia where an advanced degree is required, then grad school is a no-brainer. However, not all careers require an advanced degree, and for some fields, getting a masters will only put you in debt.  The point of getting a masters or a PhD is to advance your career in the long term. Do your research!

Do the numbers add up?

how education affects income

Australian figures of how your level of education affects your income.

Next, you need to determine if you’re financially capable of going to grad school, and if it will be worth it in the long run. While some graduate programs offer students assistance, some do not. This depends on a variety of things—degree, your qualifications, the program, etc. And of course, some degrees are more lucrative than others—a degree in computer science, electrical engineering or economics, for example, will pay itself off much more quickly than will a degree in library science or history.

With such high costs, you need to determine if grad school will pay off in the future. Will you make more money when you graduate? What will your job prospects be like? According to The Atlantic, not only do those with graduate degrees make more money, but they also only have an unemployment rate of 3.6% for a masters and 2.5% for a doctoral degree. But again, this certainly depends on the degree you’re getting and the related job market. So, are you willing to go into debt now, in the hopes of future riches?

Weigh your options

Making this decision requires a huge amount of introspection and soul-searching, and ultimately you have to choose what is best for YOU. As horribly cliché as that sounds, it’s true.

Are you simply defaulting to grad school because you have no other option?

Considering the intensity and cost of getting an advanced degree, it shouldn’t be your backup plan. After all, some grad programs can take up to 6 years—that’s nothing to take lightly.

Are you thinking idealistically or pragmatically?

Personally, I’d always thought that something about being a scholar suited my personality—I could picture myself opening dusty, old manuscripts, spending hours in Ivy League libraries, traveling to do groundbreaking research. But, I never once imagined the practical side of things—hard work, sleepless nights, not a lot of pay. Thinking pragmatically, while definitely not very fun, is necessary. Life in the ivory tower may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Now v. Later?

Just because you forego grad school to get a job doesn’t mean you can’t go later. I think that’s something that recent college grads often forget.

Rachel Wisuri

Delaying graduate school in order to make a more informed decision is not only possible, it’s also a great idea. There’s no need to rush.

This post was written by Rachel Wisuri of Magoosh, an online test prep startup that prepares students for the GRE.

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