So You Want to go to Graduate School? The First Two Questions.

Yes, yes, everyone has an opinion about higher education and whether high school students should continue on to college – much less graduate school.

And no, no, this is not another one of those blogs where I opine about how we are diluting our education system, how a college degree is becoming the equivalent of a high school degree, or how our student loans are going to destroy us all. Those are for another day.

The origin of this blog post is desire to have a sit-down conversation with all my friends on Facebook and Twitter who are beginning to ask themselves and their social media networks, “should I go to grad school?”

So grab a cup of coffee, and pull up a chair. Let’s pretend we are having a heart-to-heart about if you should go to grad school. (I realize you are probably already sitting, you are awesome.)

To begin, yes. I am currently in graduate business school. I realize that this means I am in no position to tell you that you should not go to graduate school, as I obviously have found value in the experience. The argument could be made that I’m simply ignoring the sunk costs, but give me the benefit of the doubt here. I’ll explain my thought process as we talk through your situation. So let’s get started…

First Question: What Does it Cost?

The cost of graduate school is so much more than the tuition. If you just think that a trip through graduate school would be fun, you better be able to prove that this is cost-neutral proposition, that you don’t need a job right now, and that you will not be hurt in the long-run by delaying your career. Basically, you (or your family) have a lot of money and you (or your family) are totally ok with spending your money this way and if you don’t have a new source of income (a job) in the next many years, you will still be able to maintain your lifestyle.

I make the point about not needing income right now or in the next few years, because it is not enough to prove that graduate school will be cost-neutral for you. You may qualify to receive a full scholarship, and that would be awesome, but a good graduate school takes years and you have to consider the value of the opportunity cost of graduate school – what could you be doing instead? How much money could you make in those years, how much success could you experience in your career, what kind of people could you meet outside of graduate school?

Ask yourself:

1) Is graduate school cost-neutral?

2) Do I need income from a job right now?

3) Do I need income from a job in the next several years?

There are those people who can answer these three questions by saying that graduate school is cost-neutral, that they do not need income right now, and that they are not harming their career by taking the time off. If you are that person, feel free to stop reading at this point and go enjoy graduate school.

I am not that person. So when I approached this question, I had to make a convincing case that I needed the degree. If you are still reading, I’m going to proceed assuming you are in a similar position.

Second Question: So do you really NEED a graduate degree?

Tell me about your real reason for wanting to go to graduate school. Is it that you love the topic so much? Do you think it could lead to a promotion? Do you want to switch careers? None of those are good enough reasons.

You love the topic? If you didn’t fall into the “I don’t need income” category, this isn’t a good enough reason.

You think it could lead to a promotion? You think? Unless you KNOW, consider yourself very wrong. Unless it is built in to your company’s pay scale and you have in writing the process from your boss or human resources department, do not assume that you will receive a promotion just because you chose to invest your time and money into a graduate degree. Just like college degrees doesn’t guarantee you a job, a graduate degree doesn’t guarantee you a promotion.

You want to switch careers? Again, a graduate degree doesn’t guarantee you a job in your new field. Ask yourself if this means that you will need to quit your current job? If yes, go back and reconsider the questions about income.

This seems like a good place to point out that you if you are considering graduate school because you graduated from college and haven’t found a job, or are not in your preferred career, just stop right here. The reality is that your difficulty in finding a job has more to say about the job market in your industry than it does about your education. More education is not going to fix the fact that your industry doesn’t have the jobs.

Friend, take note. If you go to graduate school only to buy time, hoping that the economy will have improved upon your graduation, you will only find yourself in the same position – unemployed, or not in your preferred career – with more debt, less work experience, and less time.

So in what cases do you really NEED a graduate degree? There does remain some careers that require graduate degrees. The main among these are medical and academic professions, though there certainly are others. If your career goals include becoming a doctor or a college professor, for example, you have a good case for needing a graduate degree.

There are also those cases, as mentioned before, where large employers (government, and large firms mostly) have established pay scales which note that graduate degrees are required for certain positions and promotions. Often times these employers will pay for you go pursue this necessary degree. This undoubtedly is the best solution – it’s cost-neutral, you retain your job and income, and you know that it will lead to promotion. If this is your scenario, you have a great case for needing a graduate degree.

Ask yourself:

1) Do I want to pursue a graduate degree because I am unemployed or not in my preferred industry?

2) Are my long-term goals to pursue a career that requires a degree, such as a medical or academic profession?

3) Do I know, for a fact, with legal recourse at my disposal, that my employer will reward a graduate degree with a raise or a promotion?

When I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to go to graduate business school, but I determined to gain full-time employment first. When I was able to secure a job in my desired field, and I was able to rule out that my interest in graduate school was only to buy time, I moved on the next questions.

My desire for a graduate degree is primarily driven by my desire to work in academics long-term. I know that at some point I want to pursue teaching on the undergraduate level. This career requires a minimum of a masters degree. This is why I decided to move ahead with my graduate degree.

If you have arrived here and still are leaning towards going to graduate school, there are more questions I have for you. You aren’t in the clear yet, but take some time to think about this discussion.

More coming soon…

So You Want to go to Graduate School? Part 1


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