Determining if or when to go to grad school is a big decision. You may have read our companion piece Good Reasons to go to Grad School where we examine how grad school can open doors and presents an exciting opportunity to continue your education. In this piece, we take on the flipside and consider some not so great reasons to go to grad school. We also take a look at some alternative next steps that may improve your readiness to pursue grad school later on or advance your career without graduate school.
Let’s dig into some not so great reasons as well as some common misperceptions about what graduate school can provide!
1. You think that a graduate degree is necessary for your next step in your career
Do your research first. A graduate degree is an expensive and time consuming endeavor. A great first step is talking to people who are doing what you want to do. Ask them if a degree is necessary or matters for that job or field. If so, ask which degree they recommend and seek their advice on when you should go to grad school. If not, ask them what the steps are to get to where they are and do what they are doing. Also, take a look at alternatives to enrolling in a graduate program such as professional development workshops, individual college classes, or certificate courses. Depending on your goals, a course or two may help you advance in your field or tee you up for a promotion or next career step.
2. You want to make a career change but don’t know how
If you're interested in a career switch a graduate degree may not be necessary. It all depends on your specific fields but something like a continuing education course may provide the necessary skills without the expense and time commitment of a degree-granting program. To help assess and make that determination, consider volunteering or interning at an organization in the field you’d like to eventually work in. This kind of hands-on experience can help you gain insight on what skills are needed and figure out if a job in the field would be a good fit for you.
3. You have always been curious about X, Y, Z
You can explore a subject or field of interest in many ways without having to commit the resources required for grad school. Depending on how you like to learn, consider:
- Volunteering with an organization that focuses on issues related to a particular topic such as the American Red Cross for public health and safety.
- Taking a continuing education class at your local community college or .
- Joining a membership organization that allows you to learn more about a topic through events like discussions, lectures, and trainings.
- Reading books written by subject matter experts in your field of interest.
If after pursuing your interest area through one or more of these avenues, you find that you are still left wanting for more, than a graduate degree may be an option for you.
3. You don’t like your current job
Grad school is a very expensive solution unless you were already considering graduate education and feel that you’ve reached a point in your career where further education is necessary for advancement.
Keep in mind that even if your degree is entirely funded, there’s a chance you might not work full-time during school, meaning you will lose your salary during your years in school. It’s a classic case of what economists call “opportunity cost.” For example, if your salary is $30,000 per year, two years of full-ride, tuition-paid grad school is still costing you at least $60,000 (in lost wages). That’s steep! And possibly worth it, if your degree eventually helps you increase your salary or attain a more fulfilling career. Consider this hidden price tag especially if you have financial goals such as reducing undergraduate loans or other debt, paying for a car, saving for a house, or planning for retirement.
If you don’t like your current job,consider finding a new job or addressing issues at work directly. Those solutions won’t cost you a dime! Finding a new job may further help you determine your interests and strengths.
4. You don’t know what to do with your life
Plenty of people don’t know how they’d like their careers to map out. Maybe you’re one of them: you don’t know what exactly to do with your life, so you’re considering grad school. If this is the case, applying to grad school is among the last things you should do. A graduate education can be an invaluable tool to help you accomplish what you want to do with your life, but it will not resolve any confusion or uncertainty about your career or life’s purpose. To help figure out what you’d like to do, considering instead:
- Researching jobs or organizations on sites like Idealist to get a better sense of what opportunities are out there.
- Talking and networking with peers or mentors in potential fields of interest.
- Utilizing online networking tools to meet new people or do exploratory interviews. LinkedIn can be a great tool to network with people in your dream job or field of interest.
- Taking a self-assessment test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 16Personalities, or Strong Interest Inventory.
- Finding a career coach or guide to help point you towards individualized resources.
- Interning can allow you to “test drive” different jobs to help inform larger career choices.
- Assessing your skill set or taking an inventory of the kinds of tasks and projects you enjoy can help you learn more about yourself professionally.
- Volunteering or participating in a service program like Americorps or the Peace Corps.
5. You are avoiding or having difficulty in your job search
If you are avoiding looking for a new job—especially if this is your first job out of college—realize that when you complete grad school, you will likely find yourself looking for employment again. While an advanced degree can improve your prospects, employers place a great deal of weight on your experience, not just your education.
Working, even in a less than ideal position, within or outside of your field of interest, can provide its own learning and growth opportunities. It may help you define your career interests or lead you to change your graduate education plans down the road. Your job experience can also provide personal and professional development opportunities. These experiences can help you advance your career as an alternative to going back to school.
Additionally, most graduate admissions staff prefer to see some work experience from applicants. They want to know that you can apply what you learn, as it will inform your success within the school and course of study as well. As a grad student with some or substantial work experience in your field of study, you bring a valuable real-world perspective to the theory you and your classmates learn in grad school.
If you are having difficulty with your job hunt, keep the faith! Be sure to check out the opportunities on Idealist in your search!
Still not sure? A good litmus test for the clarity of your vision may be your graduate school application personal essay. If you are having a difficult time articulating your reasons for applying to a particular graduate program to yourself, it may be that much harder to convince the graduate admissions professionals who will eventually read your application this is the right next step for you.
Whatever your rationale, you should not make the decision lightly. Graduate education requires a significant investment of your financial and personal resources. It's important to be able to dedicate as much of your attention, energy, and time as possible towards earning your degree to make the most of your grad school experience. We hope digging into some of these reasons helps you clarify your vision and pursue what feels best for you.