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Should I Go to Grad School?

Should I Go to Grad School?

By Dan Green

Graduate school degrees don’t always make sense. They may not get you ahead in your career. Nor do they guarantee a higher annual income. Before you apply to graduate school, make sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons.

What Is Graduate School?

A graduate school is a school where students can earn advanced degrees in a specialized subject.

In the United States, graduate school is commonly called “grad school”. In other countries, it’s known as “post-graduate school”.

There are graduate schools in every state, with many offering full-time and part-time programs. Graduate school degrees can be earned online, as well.

There are two types of graduate school degrees:

  1. The master’s degree
  2. The doctorate degree

Master’s degrees are typically earned in two years, and reflect a mastery in a specific subject.

There are over one hundred master’s degrees for graduate school students to pursue.

Some of the more popular ones include the Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) and master’s degree in education (M.Ed), as well as the Master of Veterinary Science degree, the Master of Science in Computer Science degree, and the Master of Landscape Architecture degree.

More than 16 million people in the United States hold a master’s degree.

Doctorate degrees are more scarce.

Doctorate degrees are typically earned in four years. Studies go deeper as compared to a master’s degree and, in some fields, a doctorate degree is required in order to be recognized as a professional.

As two common examples, a person cannot practice medicine without a medical doctorate (M.D.) degree; and, a person cannot practice law without a juris doctorate (J.D.) degree.

Doctorate degrees also include the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) degree, which demonstrates a person’s research and discoveries in a specific field of study.

Only 2.5 million people in the U.S. hold a doctorate degree.

There are lots of reasons why you should get a graduate school degree, but there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t, too.

Here are some of the signs that graduate school may not be right for you.

1. You Can’t Seem To Get A Job

Graduate school can help you change careers more easily, or jump-start your existing one. However, grad school should never be considered a substitute for actual work experience.

Job-ready career skills show employers that your resume is well-rounded. They show critical-thinking, and an appropriate level of education.

But, when you lack real-world job experience, having that grad school degree can make you look educated, but little else. You run the risk of earning the label: “over-qualified”.

Being over-qualified can hurt your chances for getting a job. Resumes of over-qualified candidates are often thrown out before they’re even reviewed.

This is because hiring managers start thinking things like:

  1. We can’t pay you as much as you deserve
  2. If you take this job, you’ll be bored
  3. You’ll leave as soon as something better comes around

They also wonder whether you understand the job for which you’re applying.

Graduate school can’t be a substitute for real-world experience. If you had a hard time getting a job without an advanced degree, you’ll have a hard time getting a job with an advanced degree, too.

Seek out internships . Do freelance work . Get involved in the community. Do relevant work to build up your resume .

Remember: it’s not the degree that gets you the job. It’s your resume, your experience, and your performance in your interview.

2. You Believe An Advanced Degree Is Required To Get Ahead

When you go to graduate school, you develop high-level skills and competency in a specific field of study.

You become an expert.

But, having a master’s degree, certification , or doctorate doesn’t show how well you do a job. It only shows your education.

To get a salary increase, or new title, or additional responsibility, it takes more than just a graduate school degree. It takes hard work, dedication and good timing.

An advanced degree can help you get ahead, but you can likely get ahead without one.

3. You Want To Make More Money

A person with a master’s degrees will earn 15 percent more money in their lifetime as compared to a person with a college degree only.

Earning a higher income can be attractive. It’s among the top reasons people go to grad school.

But, not everyone who goes to grad school ends up with more money in the bank, and there are a few reasons why.

First, the average cost of a full-time master’s degree program is approximately fifty-thousand dollars from start-to-finish. Some programs cost more and some cost less, but this is a fair starting point for a number.

But, there’s also the opportunity cost of two years of lost wages which have to be accounted for; which averages another one-hundred twenty-thousand dollars.

And, then, during the two years you’re in grad school, whether it’s for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or something else, you miss out on valuable work experience and potential increases in income.

All of this raises the true cost of graduate school and a grad school degree to $170,000 or more.

Yes, you will earn more money after graduating with a master’s degree. Jobs pay more when you’ve got an advanced degree. You may never recoup your investment into grad school, however.

Earning more money is a consequence of getting your graduate school degree. It shouldn’t be your motivation.

The fastest path to earn a higher income is to get a higher-paying job.

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4. You Want To Start A Business

Business school can give an excellent boost to entrepreneurs who want to someday start a business.

This is because business school teaches accounting, finance, and management topics; and, helps you gain access to business funding, which you’ll likely need to get your operation started.

And, business school gives other benefits, too:

  1. Business school gives you access to experienced, helpful professors
  2. Business school helps to build your personal network
  3. Business school is an excellent place to meet a co-founder

All of this is important when you’re starting a business. Entrepreneurs with a good base of knowledge, and access to strong networks and funding are more likely to succeed than those without.

But, you can get these same benefits more quickly — and for a lot less money, too.

First, read books about starting a business; and, learn accounting, finance, and management. Read as much as you can, as often as you can.

Next, make plans to attend local meet-ups to build your personal network.

Through networking , you’ll meet all sorts of people who can help you with your business. You’ll meet potential co-founders and people you can hire; and mentors and seasoned professionals.

You’ll also find access to funding, if you ask for it.

Lastly, just start doing. This is what entrepreneurship is about. It’s about testing ideas, evaluating for success, then trying again.

You can’t succeed in business if you never start to try.

You don’t have to go to business school in order to start a business. You only have to be willing to work.

5. You’re “Curious” About Some Field Of Study

Graduate school studies are focused. For two years or longer, you’ll be deep on a single topic. You may even do research which pushes the known boundaries of your field.

Graduate school can be intense.

You’re immersed in readings and books; you learn from experienced guest lecturers and speakers; you get access to professors and faculty.

A learning experience like this is near impossible in a non-graduate school environment.

It’s also an expensive experience.

Graduate school provides you with an opportunity to pursue a passion. There’s no reason why you can’t pursue these passions outside of a graduate school classroom, too, though.

You can also look for industry conferences and make plans to attend.

Industry conferences typically span multiple days and are a mix of lectures and networking for attendees. They’re great places to learn and, at a conference, you’ll meet great people with similar interests and passions.

You’ll also expand your network, which is invaluable.

You don’t need graduate school in order to follow your passion. You can do it on your own.

6. You Don’t Know What Else To Do With Your Life

Graduate school shouldn’t be something “you just do”. Going to graduate school should be a calculated choice.

At graduate school, your curriculum will prepare you for a specific career doing specific things. If you don’t know what specific things you want to do with your life, graduate school could be a waste.

Without a plan, after graduation, you’ll look back and realize you spent a lot of money on tuition ; lost two years of your earning power at work; and, that you still have very little idea what you want from your life.

Instead of going to graduate school when you don’t know what else to do, consider taking stock of your interests.

With a bit of self-discovery, you can find your way forward.

Take a Career Interest personality test, such as the Strong Profile. The Strong Profile asks you about your interests and your habits, and uses that information to recommend a career.

Or, use temporary and part-time jobs , and internships, to “sample” different industries. You can learn a lot about a career with just a few hours per week on the job.

Lastly, consider service programs such as AmeriCorps, which offer hands-on learning experience and a small, working wage.

Most service programs last about a year.

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Should You Go To Graduate School?

People have a lot of reasons for applying to graduate school. Some of the reasons are sensible, and others are not.

The choice to attend grad school will be a personal one, though. Follow the best path that best fits your life.

There are thousands of schools offering graduate school programs to students nationwide. Find the program that’s right for you.

Written by Dan Green

Dan Green is a mortgage lending expert and the founder of Growella. Prior to Growella, Dan was a six-time, top-producing loan officer; and, ranked repeatedly among the top 1% of loan officers nationwide. Dan's home buying expertise has been in print and on TV with The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Forbes, CNBC, and others.

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