Graduate study can be an incredibly enriching experience. You advance your learning, garner expertise in subject areas that you’re passionate about, and receive highly specialized training. And given the current economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, graduate school may also seem more enticing now than ever.
But, regardless of the circumstances, graduate school is a massive investment of both your time and money, and the decision as to whether to attend graduate school should not be taken lightly.
So how can you make the best decision? Below are three key questions to consider as you decide if graduate school is the right path for you.
1. Does your intended career path require advanced study?
In some cases, the answer to this question can be pretty clear. If your goal is to be a doctor or a lawyer, then yes, advanced study is an essential requirement. It’s a similar case for careers such as accounting, which requires specific hour requirements attained through graduate study in order to sit for the CPA exam; data science/analytics, where entry level positions require a graduate degree in a related field; and education, where many states require that teachers have a master’s degree.
You may have also been inspired by one of your favorite professors, or you find yourself most excited by scholarship and producing knowledge. Your goal is therefore to become a professor. Great! In that case, a Ph.D. in your field of interest is the general requirement to gain a faculty position at most universities, from community colleges to major research institutions.
But sometimes the answer is not as clear. So how can you learn more about different career paths that may require attending graduate school?
First, start by exploring the resources for each of the Career Center’s career clusters. On each cluster page, you can explore different industries, each of which includes information about whether graduate school is required. For example, maybe you’re interested in careers in sustainability. Navigate to the Science, Technology, and Engineering page and click on the Environmental/Sustainability industry tab:
Then, scroll down slightly, where you’ll be able to see information about graduate school:
We have this information available for every industry in each of our career clusters. It’s a great place to start!
Second, use career intelligence resources like Vault to find out about the types of graduate degrees that may be required, as well as other important up-to-date information about what it’s like to work in your industry of interest.
Third, network! Use resources like Eagle Exchange and LinkedIn to engage with alumni and professionals to learn about their paths, and if graduate study was involved. These career conversations can provide great insight into whether attending graduate school is necessary for your career path and, ultimately, if such a path is right for you.
2. Do you have to go right after college?
Again, this answer will depend on the industry. Broadly speaking, the decision as to whether you should go to graduate school right after you graduate is still linked to the nature of your industry of interest and to your longer term career goals. Think about the following:
Is a graduate degree essential for starting in my field of interest?
If you’re interested in the types of careers discussed above–medicine, law, teaching, etc.–then the answer to this question is yes. These careers require advanced degrees to obtain most entry-level positions.
Some data to consider: the American Medical Association cites the average age of incoming medical students as 24, which indicates that a large number of entrants matriculate directly from college. Likewise, the American Bar Association notes that, over the last decade, almost half of all law school entrants came straight from college. And, at BC, almost a third of all graduates of the class of 2019 who went to graduate school immediately enrolled at schools of education, law, or medicine.
So, in these cases, it may make more sense to go straight to graduate or professional school after you graduate, especially if you’re certain these are the career paths that you want to pursue. Ultimately, the decision is yours!
Can I obtain an entry-level position in my field of interest with a bachelor’s degree?
If the answer to this question is yes, it does not necessarily mean you can’t go to graduate school in the future. Instead, in this scenario, graduate study is a way to advance your career, as opposed to being necessary to even start it.
In these circumstances, it may make sense to gain work experience and then to apply to graduate school down the road when you feel that it’s needed to gain further expertise in your industry area. Graduate study in these instances can be a way to advance to mid- and senior-level positions and grow as a leader in your industry, and is a common practice in the business and public policy fields. According to the Harvard Business Review, this strategy is also a key way to increase your “salary potential,” and in most circumstances, it’s also more likely that you are in a better financial position to fund your graduate education and not depend solely on loans.
What you ideally want to avoid is enrolling in a graduate program immediately after college because you think that an advanced degree will give you a leg up on other applicants. In truth, in this situation, you’ll be highly credentialed with no work experience, and you’ll still be applying to the same entry-level positions that were open to you with a bachelor’s degree. Only this time, you’ll be a bit older and will likely have more student loan debt, as opposed to maximizing your earning potential in your field of interest.
3. Do you want to go to graduate school to avoid the “real world?”
Be honest with yourself about this question! You may be thinking to yourself, “well, I’m not sure what I want to do, so maybe I should stay in school,” or “the economy isn’t looking too hot right now, so maybe I should stay in school and wait for when there are more jobs.”
These are both valid points, and there are certainly some benefits to pursuing graduate study during a recession. But, you’re still able to explore and build skills that will ultimately be useful for you in the long-term in almost every entry-level position in any industry; graduate school by no means has a monopoly on training and skill-building!
Even if you’re terrified of the real world (totally understandable!), taking a job will still allow you to advance your skillset in a professional setting (thus making you more competitive for other jobs), network with professionals to learn about other industry areas, and earn an income that will allow you to save for the future and, perhaps, put a dent in those student loans (as opposed to taking on more debt for a graduate program).
At this time, it’s understandable that, with the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, landing a job after college may seem even more daunting, and going to graduate school may seem like the better option. But as mentioned above, before you make your decision, make sure you’ve done your research first! The best decision to go to graduate school is an informed decision.
So, as I mentioned above, the decision of whether or not to go to graduate school is not one to be taken lightly. If you have questions, or are feeling a bit stuck, be sure to schedule an appointment with a career coach on EagleLink to discuss your thoughts and to review your options. We look forward to it!