“To be or not to be” a graduate student – that is the question many young professionals face when thinking about the next phase of their career.
Some start thinking about graduate school while they’re still completing their undergraduate degree, while others don’t consider it until they’re a few years into the workforce.
When contemplating whether or not to pursue a Master’s degree or PhD, it’s common to turn to family, friends, and mentors who may have gone to grad school in the past. While it’s encouraged to have lots of conversations and seek out different perspectives, it’s also helpful to remember that others’ opinions are based on their personal experience and likely come with some bias.
One thing that was helpful for me as I considered whether or not to apply to grad school was to make a list of 20 – 30 professionals who had jobs I’d be excited to hold one day – and at least 10 years of experience. I typically found these people through LinkedIn, but you could also find them at conferences, workshops, or in the workplace. Once I had a list, I (again) used LinkedIn to look at their educational trajectories. How many of them pursued graduate school? What kind?
This helped me see that there are lots of possible paths to career success – and also gave me ideas of what specific grad programs may make sense to help me reach my goals!
Since grad school is costly – both in terms of the time and money it costs to attend – we always recommend taking a structured, methodical approach to the decision. And, most importantly, giving yourself lots of time for authentic introspection. However – all too often, we see students make more impulsive decisions and end up in grad school for the wrong reasons!
Below we’ll cover 5 solid reasons to go to graduate school – and 5 reasons not to!
5 Reasons To Go To Grad School
Increase Your Salary Potential
It’s no secret that getting a graduate degree is a great way to increase our earning potential. An MBA, MS, or PhD from a top university can easily give you a 25% increase in pay right from the onset.
Your grad school degree indicates your willingness to put the time, energy, and effort to re-skill yourself and makes employers willing to pay more for your services. The accomplishment of an advanced degree also shows initiative, ambition, and work ethic that employers tend to highly value. Lastly – depending on what you study and how in-demand that skillset is – you may acquire a specialized skill set during school that employers will place a premium on, for example, a Master’s in Data Science may give you an expertise in Machine Learning – an incredibly in-demand skill that you would not have previously had otherwise.
Pivot Your Career Path
The professional world is changing rapidly – with technology is making some functions less necessary and, at the same time, creating new fields that did not exist just 10 years ago! Or, maybe you started your career in one field and then – after spending a few years there – decided you were much more passionate about something else. After all, we’re always learning and growing, so it makes sense that our interests would evolve over time.
Regardless of your reason for wanting to switch fields, graduate school presents a natural opportunity to pivot your career focus. When I got my MBA a few years ago, I found that many of my classmates were making major career pivots! For example – one friend had previously worked in non-profits and was shifting into consulting. Another friend had worked in finance and wanted to work in startups after school.
To drastically change your career path, you would likely need to attend an appropriate grad school and get a degree to showcase that passion and potential to employers. Identify what degree will be in demand not just right now, but a few years down the line, as well.
Gain Valuable Connections
One of the biggest takeaways from most graduate programs is the deep and meaningful connections you develop with your classmates – many of whom will become the leaders of tomorrow! If your chosen university has a strong alumni program, you will start to see the impact of the network right from the beginning by interacting with people who have already begun making strides in their respective fields.
Fulfill Your Intellectual Curiosity
Being interested in a profession or a field is one of the most important reasons to explore it. Along the way, you will get a chance to immerse yourself completely in the subject and learn about it in a much deeper way. Going to grad school can expose you to not only the skills you need to excel in that field but also provide you with an opportunity to interact with academics and professionals from the field and learn from their experiences. Interested in psychology? Going to a graduate program in psychology will give you the chance to spend several years learning from experts in the field – and deciding what you might want a future career in the field to look like.
Meet Your Potential
Feel like your current role is not challenging you to grow? Grad school is a perfect place to push yourself and your boundaries, and identify new career possibilities. The grad experience is intentionally grueling – you’ll be taking lots of challenging (but interesting!) classes, working in groups on research or projects, and learning about yourself along the way.
(Maybe) Your Employer Will Pay For It
We’ll put this in the category of a reason you might want to consider going to graduate school. Given the rising cost of education globally, knowing your tuition will be covered is definitely an appealing reason to consider going.
However, you’ll also want to consider if you’ll be able to go full-time or need to continue working during school, if you actually want the degree your employer will pay for, or if you’ll need to continue working for the same employer for a certain number of years after school. For example – with employers who pay for MBAs, it’s common to require students to work for two additional years after school, otherwise they may ask you to reimburse them for the cost of tuition!
Let’s now tackle the reasons for not going to graduate school.
5 Reasons Not To Go To Grad School
Because Everyone Else Is
Are you thinking about grad school just because people around you are applying, or are you passionate about the field you’re considering grad school in? It’s human nature to be drawn to what the people around you are interested in, so it’s totally understandable, but ultimately – you need to decide if graduate school is the right move for you!
Often, we seek out graduate school because it seems like the easier path than spending the time to figure out what we really want to be doing, and there are application deadlines which can create urgency to decide whether or not to apply.
But, remember, grad school is likely going to be more challenging than your undergrad experience. If you are there for the wrong reasons, it will be difficult to keep yourself motivated throughout the program – and you may not ultimately end up with the career that’s best for you!
Because You Don’t Know What Else To Do
Grad school can be an appealing option when you’re not thrilled with how your career is going – or aren’t sure what to do after undergrad. A lot of people think “How could having a Master’s degree or PhD ever hurt me!?” And, to some extent, they’re right. Having higher education can be very beneficial – however, getting a degree in a field you’re not ultimately interested in working in can be a less valuable use of your time and money, especially early in your career.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met with graduate degrees who aren’t using them. While some people are still happy with their grad school experience, others wish they’d used the money for a different graduate program, or something else altogether!
Remember – the best degree for you is the one that aligns with your long-term career interests and will help you build the network and skills to be successful in it!
Grad school applications can be a long, difficult process with low chances of admission so it can be tempting to apply to schools that are easier to get into, or might give you immediate acceptance! While it may seem like the easier path to go to the first school you get accepted to, for some students it eventually leads to regret if the program they end up in isn’t as academically rigorous as they’d hoped or if it proves challenging to get a job out of school.
Regardless of if you go to a program with easier acceptance rates – graduate school is still a significant undertaking and investment, so we recommend spending ample time on the application process and applying to at least a few dream schools so you can ensure you get the long-term career results you’re hoping for!
Make a list of your preferred grad programs, give yourself enough time to build your application, prepare for the GMAT/GRE, and do tons of introspection before writing your essays. Patience is a virtue in the grad school application process!
Because You Got In
While it can be really exciting and certainly flattering to get accepted to a school you’ve applied to, it’s still important to evaluate if the program is right for you. Often students are tempted to go to school just because they got in – or choose the top program they were accepted to – rather than thinking about if the program is truly a fit for them.
Because It Could Lead to Career Success
A lot of leading companies invest in the upskilling and reskilling of employees irrespective of their academic background. Could you get your desired career path if you get a diploma or a take a few certification courses? Attending a graduate program is a big commitment – in terms of effort, time, and money. You can likely save on the latter two if you see a clear path to your desired goal through other part-time courses or certifications!
Going to grad school is a huge undertaking – at minimum, a year of your life and, at maximum, eight to 10 years if you pursue a PhD. Make sure you are aware of all the risks and opportunities that come along with it!
You need to be honest to yourself regarding how much time, money, and effort you can invest in a program before committing to such a big life decision. It can also be helpful to look at different formats of programs since those can fundamentally change your graduate school experience, and the cost of a grad degree!
At the end of the day, going to grad school or not is a completely personal decision. There is no right or wrong option. Make a decision that you are fully on board with and then work dedicatedly towards your career goal without looking back, whether with a grad school degree or without.