The Grad School Dilemma: Are You Going for the Right Reasons?

Kathryn De Shields

The Grad School Dilemma: Are You Going for the Right Reasons?

At some point or another, most adults with undergraduate degrees will question whether they should go to graduate school–be it immediately after graduating or after a few years in the workforce. Attending graduate school can open doors, but it only works if there’s a game plan to go with it. Read on for the right and wrong reasons to sign up for a grad school program.

The Right Reasons

It will strategically advance your career goals

Moving up the career ladder is the most common reason behind the decision to pursue an advanced degree. But before you decide that an extra degree is the only way to move further in your career, take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of those who have the position you want. Study how they have advanced their careers. Did they bite the bullet and go back to school for a time, or did they maneuver through different career moves to gain the experience on their own? Not only will this help you decide if grad school is right for you, it just might help you develop a plan on how to get to the next level in your career. And if you have more questions, it never hurts to send a message asking for advice!

You can’t advance in your career without the degree

There are some professions, like law or medicine, where it is impossible to advance without an advanced degree. But for many other professions, a graduate degree isn’t the only way to take that next big step in your career. Take a college professor, for example. Though most colleges look for candidates with terminal degrees, work experience and being a subject matter expert can equally create opportunities. If a graduate degree is the only bridge that will take your career from Point A to Point B, it’s definitely worth pursuing.

It will increase your financial prospects (despite the debt you’ll take on)

This can be a bit tricky to predict as the economy fluctuates, but in most cases, securing a graduate degree should lead to a pay increase so long as it’s relevant to what you do. The thing you can do is go to a school that fits within the budget of what you’ll be making after you graduate. It makes no sense to go to Harvard to further your education as a middle school teacher at public school–unless you get a full-ride scholarship. There are more affordable options out there that won’t crush you in debt after you graduate.

You’re exploring a career shift that requires additional education

When you’re looking at a career change, sometimes the only thing you can do is go back to school. But before you look at 2 – 4 year programs, do some research on executive courses and graduate certifications. Often, these options are less expensive and take less time to complete compared to a full degree, but they still give you the necessary information you need to be competent in a new area (especially if you already have work experience).

The Wrong Reasons

You can’t find a job

When the economy crashed in 2008, a lot of people went back to school to wait out the recession and level up their resume in the meantime. A few short years later, and this caused a bubble of over-educated people looking for jobs without enough placements — nevermind the fact that they were also competing with people with a lot more work experience who were laid off. Though it’s tempting to defer student loans by going back to school, you don’t want to be a PhD graduate working at Starbucks. Do your best to find employment, even if it means taking the leap into entrepreneurship.

You expect a piece of paper to magically create new opportunities

Another common reason people go back to graduate school is to “figure things out,” or they think it will spark some drastic change in their life’s trajectory. While this is true for some, it is not the norm for all.  If you’re considering using the safety net of academia and “free money” to avoid making decisions about your future, just know that extra piece of paper is not a golden ticket to an empire. It’s only worth the amount of time and effort you put into it to create opportunities outside of the lecture hall — and you don’t need to go back to school to do that.

You want to relocate to a new city

Sometimes, the desire to get away and start fresh can make you do some strange things — like signing up for an advanced degree you don’t really need. Unless this move is coupled with a few of the good reasons listed above, the expenses you’ll incur by borrowing from Uncle Sam (never mind the interest) isn’t worth it. If you really want to move to a new city but are afraid of taking a step without structure, try to find a job, first.

You’re doing it just for fun

Unless you have a couple thousand worth of “just for fun” money to cover your student loans, you might want to reconsider going to grad school just for the heck of it. Graduate school is too great an investment of both time and money to take lightly. Ask yourself how is this going to help further your goals, and, how are you going to pay back the money you borrow? Though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing your passion, you also have to maintain a certain level of practicality.

Most people will find themselves on both sides of this list. If you find that most of your reasons for attending grad school are weighted towards the “wrong” side, fret not! You can still attend grad school if you find a way to evaluate your situation and create a game plan that aligns with the right reasons. If you step into the grad school arena with a clear picture of what you hope to accomplish in and after school (and a way to make it work), graduate school will not be an opportunity wasted.

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The Grad School Dilemma: Are You Going for the Right Reasons?