What’s Next: Work or Grad School?

Work or Grad School?Maybe you just graduated from college, or you will be graduating soon…this can be a scary time in life. You might be starting your first job, still looking for a job, or you may be planning to continue your education. Whatever the case may be, the real learning starts now. This month at LTAW we will be giving tips for recent college graduates and soon-to-be college graduates.

Today’s college graduates often struggle with the decision to either enter directly into the workforce or apply to grad school. The answer to this question may be more complex than it seems and the consequences could come with a price.

The fact that you’re reading a blog post about it, is a sign that you are approaching this question the best way possible; with an understanding that it is not something that can be decided on a whim and should take some careful thought and consideration. As a recipient of two graduate degrees who also spent several years working (both simultaneously and in between degrees), I have seen firsthand the costs and benefits of the working-versus-grad-school conundrum.

My personal advice to a recent graduate deciding between work and more school is: it depends. And it depends on a lot. First, I’m a big proponent of formal education and the benefits of academic training, but a lot has changed in the decade since I first graduated college. The advice I received, almost unquestionably, was to “go directly into graduate school because if you started working you will never go back.” This advice loses a lot of its luster in the face of the rising student debt crisis, exponentially higher tuition costs, and the shifting percentage of graduates who cannot find suitable work.

For some graduates, the decision to enter grad school is a no-brainer. If your desired profession requires a graduate degree before entry or the prospects of advancement is impossible without one, then your decision is already made. For the countless other graduates who do not have a clear idea yet of their career path, graduate school is not the safe “waiting place” that it once was. Although enrollment numbers increase in down economic times, many graduate school students will suffer severe financial consequences if they do not weigh all of their options.  If you are still unsure of your career goals, I suggest taking several years to gain valuable work experience until you figure it out. Doing so increases your chances of networking with like-minded professionals, gaining on the job training, finding tuition reimbursement programs, or the invaluable time to narrow your career goals. In fact, many career professionals agree that a pro-active, experience driven approach to graduate studies is the distinguishing characteristic between successful and unsuccessful grad students.

Statistically, graduates of all levels fair better than their non-graduate counterparts. But, those numbers are starting to shift in significant ways. For example, there is initial research indicating that half of some sector of STEM careers do not have advanced degrees, but technical on the job training certificates. Another important factor is the specific graduate degree in question. The salary difference for a PhD in humanities versus a person without one is much less than the gap between those with and without degrees in the medical field or sciences. Add to these figures the risk of being over qualified or having the wrong degree upon graduation, and the need to weigh the decision of graduate school becomes more apparent.

Ultimately, the answer to this question will be different for every person and depend on a myriad of factors, but the fact remains; it is a decision that is more complex and costly than in the past. So do your research and good luck!

You’re Graduating…Now the Real Learning Begins!

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