How to Decide Whether to Attend Grad School

So you’re almost finished with your university degree and are considering grad school. Why? Still thinking? If you can’t answer that question in about 30 seconds, you should give careful consideration as to whether attending grad school is the right move for you.

Far too many people invest a lot of money – not to mention several years of their lives – without a clear idea of what they expect to accomplish. And that’s kind of like owning a car when you live in New York City. It may be nice, but it’s not necessary, and it could even be a hindrance.

So how do you decide whether grad school is for you? Ask yourself these questions:

Why are you considering a graduate degree?

In some professions, the need for grad school is obvious. You can’t be a lawyer or medical doctor without an advanced degree. In other professions, while a graduate degree may not be necessary to work in the field, having one will open up a whole world of possibilities. Take psychology and teaching, for example. You may not need a graduate degree to find a job in those fields, but having one would open up significantly more opportunities. On the other hand, there are other careers in which having a graduate degree won’t gain you anything except bragging rights. Companies aren’t going to pay you more to have a graduate degree if it doesn’t add any value. Take my writing career, for instance. I’m sure my first employer would have been impressed if I had had a graduate degree, but they wouldn’t have paid me any more, because a graduate degree wasn’t necessary to do the job. It would have been nice to have, but my ROI would have been next to nothing.

What’s the real cost?

The cost of graduate school can vary widely based on the program and the school, but, even at the low end of $30,000, that’s a big investment for most people. And you can’t stop there when you’re calculating the costs. You also have to factor in the money you give up by going to school rather than working. If you could make $40,000 right after earning your bachelor’s degree, for instance, you’d have to add an additional $120,000 (annual salary x three years) to your costs. And, if you have to take out a loan, you have to count the cost of financing your education.

Do any of these poor reasons for attending grad school hit a little too close to home?

  • Delaying real life
  • No idea what you want to do with yourself
  • Trying to find yourself
  • Thinking that you’ll earn more money just by having a graduate degree – even if the job doesn’t require one
  • All your friends are going
  • You think the job market will be better when you graduate (It may – but your colleagues will have a 2-3 year head start on you.)

What are your other options?

So...what if, after a lot of thinking, you realize that you want to go to grad school because you don’t know what else to do? There are other ways to find your passion without racking up a bunch of debt. You can do volunteer work that exposes you to many different types of people and occupations. You can work and take some night classes. If that still sounds too tame, you can join the Peace Corps! The two-year commitment is less time than most graduate programs require, and you could find yourself on the opposite side of the world, doing work you had never even thought about before.

You may absolutely need a graduate degree to pursue your career goals. Then again, you may not. Spending some time examining your real reasons for going to grad school will help you clarify your goals, and just may save you a lot of time and money.


photo credit: flickr via Evonne, 2013

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