Graduate School or Not? That is the Question
By Bonnie Jerke - Director of Career Services

Is going to graduate school a fix for a poor economy or is it a well-made decision? If your student is considering going to graduate school, it is very important for them to consider all aspects surrounding that possibility. As a fall back to not finding a good job, going to graduate school could result in a less than satisfactory experience especially since the cost is high and the outcomes may not be as anticipated. Have you heard of the lawyer who after grad school confessed he didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore? There are other stories like this that one does not want to emulate. On the other hand, going to graduate school as a well-thought out decision can be significantly rewarding in terms of career outcomes.

The temptation to attend grad school for the wrong reasons can be strong. Tara Kuther, PhD on Guide says, “Students choose graduate school for many reasons, including intellectual curiosity and professional advancement. Some choose grad school because they aren't sure what to do or don't feel ready for a job. These aren't good reasons. Graduate school requires an intense commitment of time and money. If you're not sure that you're ready, then it's best to wait.”

There are some ideas that can steer one in the direction of a fix but could instead be valuable secondary considerations:

  1. The economy is poor, jobs are hard to find, so one should go to grad school and keep the knowledge base strong.
  2. I am in the groove of higher education, I understand the system and know how to study so it might be best to go now and not delay.
  3. My bachelor’s degree is only equivalent to a high school degree in this fast-driven technological, information based society.
  4. After graduate school, I am likely to be more marketable.
  5. I think I can just postpone the payment of my educational loans for my undergraduate degree.
  6. Almost everyone in my family has a graduate degree.

In order to avoid going after graduate school as a fix, one must seriously deliberate on some of the following primary considerations in order to arrive at a good decision:

  1. Does my career choice require that I get advanced education? Do I have an interest occupationally (a specialization) that graduate school could meet?
  2. Am I prepared for graduate work in terms of ability and meeting requirements? Am I ready to commit to extended timeframe such as 2-6 years?
  3. How will my financial need be met? Am I willing to postpone making a full salary while I am in school? How will I pay for graduate school?
  4. Are my personal circumstances conducive to the grueling demands of graduate school work? Am I willing to sacrifice/postpone/change my lifestyle?
  5. Have I considered other alternatives in my career planning so as to avoid tunnel vision? Have I clarified and prioritized my values so I know what is most important in this decision?
  6. What are the programs that would be suited to me if I were to pursue this? Are my options realistic? What are the employment projections for this profession?

Seeking a graduate degree can be competitive in admissions but also competitive later on in the job market. The outcomes/marketability of having the degree can be different than initially expected and even disappointing to some. See Peterson's Grad School Guide for a list of reasons to go or not to go to graduate school. For additional thought-provoking ideas on why graduate school might be outdated for some, check out Advice at the Intersection of Work and Life.

On the other side, “recent college graduates face rough times in today's marketplace and are constantly on the lookout for something to set them apart from their classmates. The latest trend suggests that the master's degree is the fastest-growing option. A master's degree is considered the new bachelor's degree in many fields and is often what tips the scale in favor of degree-bearing job hunters. From 1990 to 2009, the number of people in the United States with a master's degree has more than doubled, according to the latest data from an article published July 24 in The New York Times. “–

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports more fully the percentage increases for graduate degrees over a 10 year span: “percent higher in 2008–09 than in 1998–99, …the number of master’s degrees was 49 percent higher, the number of first-professional degrees was 17 percent higher, and the number of doctor’s degrees was 54 percent higher. “ The number of graduate degrees conferred is trending upward. As you probably know as parents, going to graduate school is not a decision to be taken lightly. As you guide your student in this process, consider this advice for them: “Going to graduate school affects the rest of your life. There are both pros and cons to continuing your education. Seek information from multiple sources including the career-counseling center, your family, graduate students, and professors. You’re your time with it. Most importantly, trust your judgment and have faith that you'll make the choice that's best for you.” -Tara Kuther, PhD, Guide

Our Career Office can help guide your student through this decision making. We offer workshops, resources, graduate school reps, and individual counsel. One of our recent surveys indicated our students didn’t know this service was offered. Please help us get the word out and get your student in.

Bonnie Jerke, Director Career Services
Engage in Career Services, Envision Your Best Future!
Stevens 1st Floor, 503-554-2339
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