Deciding to Go or Not to Go

Student Talking with Professor

Reasons to Go to Grad School

In some fields, having a graduate degree may be required to gain entry. Here are common reasons for which people attend grad school

  • Greater earning power - This is a popular reason why people go to grad school
  • Advance your career - A grad degree can open up a wider array of career opportunities
  • Career change - An advanced degree can help transition to another career
  • Enhance your education - Grad school can provide opportunities to explore theories you may have about a topic
  • Get research opportunities - may have more chances to participate in funded research
  • Update your education - if your knowledge of your field is outdated and you find it difficult to keep up with advancements
  • Find teaching opportunities - getting a PhD can lead to a tenured position at a university with a nice salary, possible assistants to help with workload, consulting opportunities, and a nice pension upon retirement
  • Higher potential for future promotion
  • Employer incentives - some employers have funds to partially pay your way for qualified employees
  • Free tuition - In some cases, grad schools might not only waive your tuition, but also give you a stipend for living expenses in return for taking on the work of a teaching or research assistant

Reasons Not to Go to Grad School

Completing a graduate degree can be rewarding. However, there are many reasons not to go

  • Highly competitive - Grad programs have fewer spots than undergrad programs
  • Enables the "professional student" mindset - Some students don't want to leave school for fear of going into the workforce
  • Requires ability to set priorities - Completing a grad degree requires a  great deal of discipline and priority setting which can be a strain on you and, family, and personal relationships
  • Stressful - Emotionally exhausting. Completing a grad degree, especially a PhD program, requires emotional maturity
  • Writing a thesis - Some require writing a thesis which can often delay graduation and may mean extra tuition costs
  • Graduating with a large debt - This state of financial affairs might push you into accepting any job after graduation out of necessity
  • No guarantee of higher salary - Getting a grad degree does not necessarily mean you'll get offered a job with a much higher salary than you are getting now
  • Return on investment might be slow - Even with a higher salary, how quickly will that offset tuition loans and the negative cash flow due to not earning while studying?
  • Limited job opportunities - If your degree is in academia, finding work outside of teaching and research may be difficult
  • Undesirable job locations - Teaching positions post-graduation may be in areas you don't want to live
  • Too qualified - During an economic downturn, should you find yourself looking for employment, having an advanced degree can be a liability. You might hear, "Sorry, you're overqualified."

Credit: Peterson's A Guide for Potential Grad Students: Should You Go To Graduate School?

Benefits of Going Right After Undergrad

  • You’re still in study and student mode
  • You may have fewer family, work or financial commitments

Benefits to Working First

  • Gives you time to be sure of your career goals
  • Experience can make grad school easier and may help your chances of admission
  • Graduate school is demanding and you might be more motivated after a break