Yes, No, or Not Now? How to Make the Grad School Choice

Thinking of grad school? Like any major decision, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before taking the plunge. Here are a few things to consider before you decide.

Why you should attend grad school

There are a few practical reasons to consider getting an advanced degree.

Your career requires a graduate degree

Talk to an advisor and ask them if employers in your niche prefer applicants to have a graduate degree. If you have contacts in the industry, ask if you can get by with a bachelor’s or if you need a master’s.

Popular careers that often require a postgraduate degree include:

  • Librarian
  • Occupational therapist
  • Mental health counselor
  • Social worker
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Physical therapist
  • School principal or administrator

You could receive a huge pay increase

While some master’s degrees only result in a minor pay bump, others provide a huge benefit. For example, a study conducted between 2012 and 2015 found that those who received an MBA earned between 50% to 118% more, depending on the industry.

“I spent about $90,000 on an MBA, and it was worth every dollar,” said personal finance expert Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability.

It may not cost much

Some graduate school programs will have lots of scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. You can also work as a teaching assistant to pay for part of your tuition. If you can get a graduate degree for little money out of pocket, then it may be worth it.

Why you shouldn’t attend grad school

There are also plenty of good reasons why going to grad school can be the wrong choice.

You’re scared of the job market

Grad school can seem like a tempting option if you’re having trouble finding a job. It may feel like you’re becoming a stronger candidate and smartly avoiding a job market ravaged by the recession.

But if you take a couple years off to attend grad school, your resume may not look any more appealing to employers. Depending on your industry, an advanced degree might mean very little compared to on-the-job experience. In this scenario, taking a low-level position and working your way up might be a better option.

You have no idea what to do

If you’re not sure what kind of career you want or even which industry you’re interested in, it may feel like going to grad school will help you find the answers.

This can be a costly and time-consuming mistake. Grad school is not the place to try on different professions and see what fits. If you’re unclear about what kind of job you want, talk to a career coach or college advisor first. 

Graduates having trouble finding their passion are better off taking an internship or working directly in a few different fields. Real-world experience will provide a clearer path to a career than more education.

If you won’t earn that much more 

Some professions require a graduate degree or pay significantly more if you have one, but others don’t. Some industries, like journalism and graphic design, care much more about your resume and portfolio than your grad school credentials. 

“Make sure it’s for an in-demand field,” said John Schmoll of Frugal Rules. “Otherwise, it may not make sense to do it.”

When you ask people if graduate school is necessary, make sure you’re talking to people who are currently in the industry. You should also talk to those in hiring positions since they’re the ones actively looking at resumes and job applications.  

Why you should delay grad school

Even if you have a good reason to attend grad school, you may be better off financially if you wait a few years after earning your undergraduate degree.

You have a better sense of your interests

Waiting to attend grad school might seem like you’re delaying your life, but a little patience here can pay off. When you graduate college and start working in your chosen field, you may discover you don’t enjoy it. It’s better to find this out before you’ve spent time and money on graduate school.

Let’s say you get a bachelor’s degree in journalism and immediately apply for a master’s journalism program. You graduate with a master’s degree, start working, and realize that you actually hate being a journalist. Now you’re saddled with debt and two degrees you don’t want to use. If you want to switch careers, then you’ll have to start from the bottom or get another advanced degree.

In this scenario, if you had started working at a newspaper before undertaking a graduate degree, you would discover whether or not the career is a good fit. In that case, you may decide to go back to graduate school for a degree in marketing or another field.

Your employer may pay for it

In some cases, attending grad school after a few years in the workforce may save you money. A 2018 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 49% of employers offered graduate tuition assistance.

If you wait to attend grad school until you can get financial help from an employer, you may save thousands or even tens of thousands on tuition.

Look for other options

Attending graduate school full-time may not be the only way to level up professionally or start a new career. Instead, look at certificates or online courses you can take. 

If you want to study computer science, sign up for an intensive boot camp program instead of paying for a master’s degree. If you want to work with athletes, get certified as a strength and conditioning coach instead of going back to school for physical therapy or sports medicine.

Whatever you decide, make sure you’re using a solid process to answer the question for yourself.

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