According to recent surveys, Americans with a graduate degree
earn an average of 35 to 50 percent more than those with just a
bachelor's degree. That's certainly one reason there are more
people than ever applying to graduate school.
When weighing whether or not to go to grad school, you should
realistically assess what you expect from a graduate degree and
exactly what program will suit you best.
Many people make the decision to return to grad school after
working in "the real world." Some feel that their career options
are otherwise limited. Others find that their interests and
abilities have developed over the years and no longer have
anything to do with their undergraduate education.
Career Or Salary
The upper levels of your field may be closed to people without an
advanced degree, no matter how talented or industrious they
Switch From Practitioner To
After working in the trenches for a while and developing a strong
sense of how your organization is run, you may be interested in
moving up to the management level of your field. This often
requires some graduate education.
The Lure Of Ivy Walls
To teach at two-year colleges, you'll need at least a master's
degree and maybe a doctorate or professional degree. To teach or
do research at four-year colleges, universities, and graduate
programs, you'll need a doctorate and/or the "terminal"
professional degree in the field — MBA, JD, MD, etc.
Social workers, psychologists, therapists, and others who
directly treat or counsel generally need graduate education to
meet national and state licensing requirements. The proper
licensing and credentials are also essential for getting
insurance reimbursement. Many insurance carriers authorize
payment only to practitioners who meet certain educational and
Love of Learning
Many people choose grad school simply because they love the
field, job prospects or money notwithstanding.
The Job Market
A slow economy is a popular reason for going right from college
to grad school. The reasoning is: "Since I'm not going to get a
job anyway, I might as well go to grad school. Maybe the job
market will be better when I get out." This may not be the best
idea. Bottom line: Add a realistic appraisal of career prospects
to your idealism and career hopes when you're making grad school
Making Your Investment Pay
Any graduate degree is a significant investment of time, money,
and work. Most master's programs take a year or two to complete —
at a private school, tuition can easily run $20,000 a year or
more. A doctorate generally takes at least four years, and
usually more, so the financial strain is even more significant
(financial aid is generally more available at the doctoral
than at the master's level though). Even if you're willing to
take on loan debt to finance your degree, you may be looking at
twenty years of loan payments!
Then there's the job market. In many fields, jobs in academia
are hard to come by. In some industries and businesses, even an
advanced degree is no guarantee of a dream job. The bottom line
is that grad school is usually a huge investment of both
time and money. Before you take the leap, be sure that you have a
pretty clear idea what your degree will cost you and what the
actual benefit will be.
What are the job prospects like for people in your field these
days? What is the job-market likely to be by the time you
actually finish your degree?
Jobs — A Four Letter
Even if you're primarily going to grad school for the love of
learning, you should still find out what recent grads of your
program are doing now and what sort of track record the program
has in getting its students jobs. What sort of career and
job-finding help does your program or school provide for its
graduates? What kind of jobs have people in your program gotten
recently? Are they the kind you'd like to get? What are grads
doing five years after getting their degrees?
If you're considering work in business, industry, local agencies,
school, health-care facilities, or government, find out whether
these employers visit the campus to recruit. Major industries,
for instance, will often visit a campus to interview prospective
science graduates about jobs. Are the potential employers you'd
like to work for visting the campus you'd like to attend?
If you're going into academia, find out if recent grads have
gotten academic positions, how long their searches took, and
where they're working. Are they getting tenure-track positions or
one-year contracts? Are they working at reasonably prestigious
schools — ones where you'd like to work — or are they taking
virtually anything that comes along? Answering questons like
these will help you add a realistic appraisal of your career
prospects to your idealism and hopes when you're making grad