Do I need to go to graduate school?

Over time, hiring trends have swung the answer to this question from a hard “no” to a “often, yes,” and in 2017, the best answer is a very confusing, “it depends.”

Meeting Business Corporate Business Connection Concept

With a smaller variety of schools to choose from and fewer professional tracks, prior generations had a very different choice to make than today’s college grads. In the modern era, graduate school needs can vary: it may be the only path to a specific profession and a great way of increasing your earnings – or – a largely wasteful endeavor that puts you in major debt without furthering along your career or salary. Here are some guidelines to help you decide whether grad school is the right choice for you:

What is your professional goal?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10? 20? Plotting some points along your professional path, even tentatively, will go a long way towards making smart decisions about your education. If, for example, you have a specific professional goal that requires advanced degrees, it’s time to get started. Want to be a veterinarian? An attorney? An engineer? Consider grad school now rather than later, and price out your options. Although there are some career paths that allow (and sometimes even encourage, as is oftentimes the case for law school and business school) gaps between degrees, there is something to be said for tackling your schooling before you have significant additional responsibilities to attend to (like a house or a family).

Be smart about cost

If you’re in a position to charge your significant graduate school tuition to an employer and further your education, don’t think twice. The United States military also offers options that can allay the cost of graduate school. Private companies often match tuition or offer fixed amounts contingent on time of service. If you’re employed by a University, you may have a free tuition option. Never leave these options on the table! Money for school is worth taking advantage of if you want to pursue a graduate level degree.

But if you are going to need to take on a large debt load in order to fund graduate school, you will want to be particularly thoughtful about your choice and determine if it is really a wise move in relation to what the payoff will be. Research what your salary will be without a graduate degree, and see how a graduate degree will change that. Will you be able to afford your loan payments with the degree you earn? Return on investment is always worth considering when your choice involves debt.

Push back your employment start date

Using grad school to simply put off starting a career will usually result in a graduate degree that doesn’t do you much good. It can be a useful tactic, however, if you’re battling a rough economy or a competitive job sector, or if you’re sure that a graduate degree will give you a significant advantage when you do enter the workforce.

Work and study

If possible, work while you complete a graduate degree. It will help to minimize debt, but it’s also an important way to show future employers that you’re goal-oriented. Many degree programs are designed with working students in mind, so you may be able to wrangle a part or even full-time job as you complete your course of study. If that simply isn’t possible (medical students and law students will be completely unable to work, at least at the beginning of your program) then make sure to talk to your school’s administrators about grants and other funding options for graduate students.

Grad school isn’t for everyone, but for many college grads it’s an important option. Weigh your options carefully and choose a path that will pay the highest long-term dividends!

In the meantime, if you aren’t sure grad school is right for you, try out a career path or two by getting an internship. Start your search at www.bridge.jobs.

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