Going to graduate school has received a bad rap from the people who are in graduate school. If you are an undergraduate who wants to go to grad school or a first-year grad student just starting out, there is no doubt that graduate school is a long-term commitment that involves a lot of hard work. There are plenty of grad school humor websites poking fun at the hopelessness of graduate school, but having an advanced degree opens a lot more doors than having simply a bachelor’s degree or even an associate’s degree.
Here are some advantages to going to graduate school:
- On average, people who hold a master’s degree or higher enjoy higher pay and lower unemployment rates than people who hold a bachelor’s degree or lower (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).
- Some career choices are only possible with an advanced degree. For example, you can’t become a pharmacist without going to pharmacy school.
- For people who love learning, graduate school is the perfect environment whereby your main job is to learn and apply knowledge.
- Graduate school offers a unique period of time when students can create social networks with researchers, professionals, and other people working in your field. If you go to conferences and workshops, you’ll enjoy reduced registration and dues fees, and you’ll be able to rub elbows with some giants in the field.
Here are some disadvantages to going to graduate school:
- Graduate school is very expensive. The more competitive the program (i.e., the harder to get in), the more likely those schools offer funding and assistantships. The less competitive the program (i.e., the easier to get in), the more likely you’ll have to pay your own way.
- Graduate school takes a long time. You really need to be sure this is what you want to invest your time in, because you’ll potentially be in a program for 6 years. Think about what you were planning to do in those years, and if you’ll be able to accommodate some of your personal goals (e.g., starting a family) with graduate school.
- The pay-off may not be that great. You’ll hear oodles of stories of people with just a bachelor’s degree making more money than you could dream of making when you graduate. Make sure that this is what you want to do, and be satisfied with the rewards. You may be paying for a less-stressful career in the long-run with the time and stress you pay during graduate school.
Make sure you choose a graduate program that gives you the highest chances for success. Not all graduate programs are alike. Check out the National Research Council data for rankings of various master’s and PhD programs. Some career paths also do not require an advanced degree. In some cases, a master’s degree may be just fine. Investigate the different career options in your field. Try to pick an industry (e.g., education, healthcare) that is always in demand. Although you may have dreams of hitting it big in Hollywood, perhaps your singing interests could stay a hobby in the meantime.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Education pays: Education pays in higher earnings and lower unemployment rates. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm