As I begin writing application essays, I’ve been confronted with a topic I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about in recent months: the pressure to go to graduate school.
With diploma mills flourishing and record unemployment, the bachelors degree is losing some of its cache. As a result, more people are turning to advanced degrees – masters, PhD, J.D., M.B.A, etc. – to get a leg up. Many are making calculated and informed decisions about their career path and needs. But, for a lot of twenty-somethings , an advanced degree is just a way to put off adulthood or “ride out the recession.” Unsure of what to do with their lives, afraid of wading into the tough job market, and needing something to placate mom and dad, they head for grad school.
Education is a good goal but, , as Mark Twain explained in his famous quote, education and schooling are not the same thing.
Considering Graduate School? Ask Yourself These Questions:
- Why do I want to go to Grad School?
Succumbing to pressure to go to graduate school is easy. Some parents start talking about Masters and Doctorates before we even get our first degree. When friends or co-workers start to enter graduate school en masse, it’s easy to feel left out. Still, you have to resist the pressure to pursue more education because it’s what someone else wants or what other people are doing.
Figure out the specific reasons you want to go to grad school. Will it advance your career? Help you change careers? Contribute to your intellectual and personal development? Knowing the exact reasons you want to go to grad school will help you do the cost-benefit analysis necessary to determine if grad school is actually worth the time and money.
- How does graduate school fit into my career goals?
If you have no idea what you want to do with your life, another degree won’t necessarily get you closer to the answer. Graduate schools are all about specialization – and there’s no use in specialization before you’re sure of what interests you. Plus, most schools will want you to clearly communicate your career goals as part of the application. If you’re not sure, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to figure it out – get a job that challenges you, get involved in professional associations, get involved in community organizations – put yourself in a place to meet lots of people doing different things and ask them questions about their jobs and their lives.
- What will I give up by going to get a graduate degree?
Make sure you’re ready to give up some work experience and a steady paycheck to head back to school. There’ll definitely be financial opportunity costs. Also, consider how graduate school will impact your career trajectory. Will you be lose our on important promotions by leaving your job at the current time? If you’re still in college and thinking of graduate school, you may lose out on perspective and hands-on experience that comes with a few years of work.
- Is this something I need?
Not all career paths require advanced degrees. Yes, you’ll need a JD to practice law but, depending on your goals or industry, your time might be better invested in something other than school. For example, if your goal is to run a small business, think carefully about whether you should get that MBA or continue working to save up money and/or bootstrap a gig on the side. If you do feel like you’re lacking some skills, consider whether you’ll be better served by taking a few courses at a local college rather than a full-on degree
- Do I have the motivation to succeed?
Graduate study involves going back to a daily grind of reading, writing, and analyzing. Whether you choose to go full-time or part-time, you’ll likely have more commitments and pressures than you had as an undergrad. And, depending on the program, you’re looking at two to seven years. You may have to give up some the perks that working full-time allowed you to enjoy (e.g., being able to leave work at the office or the money to enjoy a nice Friday night out). You may also have to sacrifice some personal time with family and friends to focus on school work. You have to make sure your motivation to earn your degree will outweigh these other important commitments and that you’re ready to make the necessary sacrifices.
Question: Have you recently made the decision to go or not go to grad school? What factors influenced your choice?
This post was originally published on zora-alice.com, the precursor to Zora magazine. Learn more about our history.