These days, after completing years of undergraduate work, young people are often faced with the some confounding prospects. They can go full speed out into the workforce, or take a gap year, or search for internships, or decide to continue their education through graduate school.
Graduate degrees are not necessary for all, but in some fields they can very beneficial, even mandatory to get the best work available. It’s important to understand what graduate school would mean for you and your career when deciding if it’s right for you. Here are some important questions to consider.
1. Does your college offer accelerated programs?
One of the largest factors to consider is how easy or difficult it will it be to even reach the point where you’re looking at post-grad academics. Could you continue on to your masters from your current college, or will you have to apply to many outside schools? Many universities offer accelerated programs that allow you to complete your masters in just one extra year tacked on to your undergrad work.
These programs typically must be committed to during your first year or two at the university. If you are not doing a program through your undergraduate college then you’re looking at reapplying to a new institution once you’ve got your initial college diploma in hand. You will likely have to take more tests, such as the LSAT or the GRE, to apply to graduate programs. And be ready for application fees, admission essays and letters of recommendation all over again.
2. Does your profession ‘require’ graduate work?
If you’re dreaming of being a lawyer or doctor, the answer to pursuing post-undergraduate schooling is pretty clear: you have to do it. Outside these fields, it is important to assess if your career will be benefited by more schooling. Track the most successful people in the business. Look up the coworkers you would have and maybe even find statistics on whether people who have a master’s make more money than those who don’t.
A lot of professions in business, for example, look for experience and skill gained by getting into the workforce through internships and entry-level jobs. Even with a master’s, you could be starting at these same positions right alongside those who didn’t go to graduate school. If work experience is valued more than a degree, that’s something you should find out before committing to several more years of schooling.
3. Have you considered the price tag?
After taking into account that you truly want to learn more about your chosen field, there’s always the financial reality to consider. Graduate school can add, on average, around $50,000 in student debt. Can you afford to take that on? What’s your future projection for paying it off? Can you earn enough in your field to make it worth it? Look for scholarships, teaching assistantships and assess the debt you may already have from your undergrad.
Of course, if you’re going the more-school route, you may have realized the advanced degree will be worth itself — that you’ll make enough money with the degree to pay it off and then some. There are many loan options for graduate school and possible scholarships. Again, the key is to prepare and do your research before rushing into anything.