Should You Go Straight to Grad School After College?
Published: Mar 15, 2016 By Jasmine Coole
Right now, spring break is in full swing for many college students across the nation. While freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are likely spending their days at the beach, graduating seniors are stressing over two scenarios: whether to enter the workforce or dive right into grad school. As it turns out, many college students have recently opted to continue their education versus getting a job. According to a 2015 study, first-time graduate school enrollment shot up 3.5 percent—the biggest annual increase since the Great Recession.
With the fluctuating job market and increasing demand for top talent, going straight into a graduate program seems like a no-brainer. But what if you’d be better off spending that time gaining valuable work experience instead? It’s important to consider your chosen career path, long-term goals, and current obligations when weighing your decision.
Going to grad school makes sense if...
Your chosen career path requires an advanced degree.
Pursuing a career in law, psychology or the medical field? If so, you’ll likely need to go straight into a graduate program—and even further for some fields. Speak with professionals or professors in your chosen industry and, if needed, consult your academic advisor about your chosen program’s requirements. Some career paths actually require you to work a few years in the field before starting a grad program, so it’s important to double check.
You don’t have many obligations outside of school.
If you’re young and single with no kids, in a stable financial situation and certain about the two-to-seven-year commitment, congrats! You’re an excellent contender for graduate school. Many graduate students tend to be on the younger side—say, their late twenties—because people within that age bracket tend to have fewer responsibilities. There’s honestly just no better time in your life to attend graduate school.
You’re certain the return on investment is worth it.
Graduate programs certainly don’t come cheap, and it’s important to really consider whether you’re getting your money and time’s worth by completing the program. If the cost of tuition for two years is $100,000 total, how long will it take for you to earn that money back? You’ll also be spending yet another few years in the classroom with a much heavier course load than what you’re used to in your undergrad studies—not including your thesis. Would that time be better served working for a few years instead?
You should hold off on going to grad school if...
You have no idea what to do after graduation.
This is perhaps the worst reason to decide to continue on to grad school. Not only are you wasting money, time and resources, you’re potentially showing future employers that you don’t have a solid sense of direction when it comes to your career goals. Attending graduate school simply cannot be done “on the fly” either. In order to succeed, you need to be able to envision the end goal after completing your degree.
You want to increase your marketability.
You read that right. Some employers view getting a grad degree directly after your undergrad as a detriment. Sure, you’ll have that pretty piece of paper and entitlement to earn more money. But if an employer has the choice between hiring someone cheaper with a few years’ experience under their belt, versus someone who expects to earn more with less work experience, take a wild guess at which candidate they’ll choose.
You can’t afford it.
If you’re looking to take out loans or ask your parents for assistance, take a step back for a second. Do you really want to put yourself in more debt? Finding yourself in this situation isn’t ideal, but this should be a big sign that a graduate program isn’t in the cards just yet. Get a job first and start saving some money. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to find an employer who’d be willing to reimburse your tuition for a graduate program down the road!
When it comes down to it, there’s no “right” path for anyone to take when it comes to making this decision. It’s all about assessing your career goals, aspirations, personal situation and willingness to commit to whichever decision you make.