I have gotten mixed feedback about whether I should go straight into grad school or work in the field for a few years before starting. When I think about my long term goals, I am more concerned about future employers and career opportunities, rather than the short term goals of having more money now. Do you think it would be best to push through and get my Master’s now, or would the experience in the field be helpful?

--More School or Work Now?

Dear More School or Work Now,

This is a great question, and can often depend on the opportunities that are available to you after you graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. If you have an opportunity to start your career when you complete your undergraduate degree, it can be hard to pass on that type of offer.

Getting experience in the field can give you a new and more seasoned perspective than that of graduate school. Many employers are more concerned with your ability to maintain a job and successfully become integrated in a company than they are in the education level noted on your resume. Furthermore, many companies are happy to offer assistance in financing a Master’s degree as it promotes loyalty to the company. Furthermore, many companies see this as a smart investment because it serves to improve the knowledge base of existing employees that already have a strong track record within the company. It is often more cost-effective for a company to give a current employee necessary training and education than it is to seek out a new employee with a pre-existing education and skill set. If a company that you would be excited to work for is interested in enveloping you into their team, I would highly recommend taking that opportunity. This is especially true because many graduate programs offer weekend and evening programs that are designed for those already working full-time jobs.

However, it is important to note that many of the jobs you might be interested in pursuing may not be available to you until you have completed your graduate degree. In those cases, the decision will be made for you. This is not always disadvantageous. Individuals who obtain Master’s degrees make on average about 18% more than those with only undergraduate degrees. Additionally, the longer you wait to go back to school, the more difficult it may be to make the transition into being a student again (e.g., balancing school and work, report-style writing). Thus, in addition to the opportunities available to you upon graduation, the ultimate decision may depend on insight into yourself. If you believe that a few years in the workforce might suppress your current motivation and desire to seek a graduate degree, it may be more fruitful to earn your graduate degree before beginning work. In contrast, if you believe that you will be more motivated to receive your Master’s degree after working in an entry-level job, it may be best to gain hands-on experience (and possibly help in paying for your education) from your employer first.

--René Paulson, PhD

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