Are you considering going to graduate school?
Are you aware of all your options, and what a graduate program involves — financially, mentally, and emotionally?
Entering a graduate program is an important decision that will affect your life for 2-3 years and should not be taken lightly. Understand the pros and cons, how you’ll pay for tuition fees, whether you have the stamina and discipline to get through, whether you have the emotional and financial support, and what your prospects are post-graduation when tuition loan interest is mounting.
20 Reasons to Go to Graduate School
In some disciplines, having a graduate degree is a necessity for getting a “career” job. That does not mean you should dive right in immediately after completing your undergrad degree. Just make sure you have a good reason for going. Some of the reasons below are more valid than others, but they are all common reasons for which people attend grad schools.
- Greater earning power. This is a popular reason why people go to grad school. However, it should not be the only reason, since getting a grad degree is a very serious commitment.
- Advance your career. A grad degree can open up a wider array of career opportunities: in psychology, social work, healthcare, for example.
- Career change. Many people are finding their current careers unrewarding. An advanced degree can help transition to another career—whether out of desire or necessity.
- Enhance your education. Graduate schools can provide opportunities to explore theories you may have about a topic.
- Get community recognition. If you explore your theories and discover something new, you will get recognition for it.
- Get international recognition. Carry that recognition further. If your discovery is truly groundbreaking, you may receive international recognition, not to mention awards. Who knows? Maybe you have a Nobel Prize within you.
- Get research opportunities. Even if you do not get to explore your own theories, there are other opportunities to participate in funded research.
- Upgrade your education. Your knowledge of your field is outdated and you find it difficult to keep up with advancements without following up and getting an advanced degree.
- Enjoy travel opportunities. Some programs, such as archaeology, require studying abroad for research purposes. For those who like to travel, this is a bonus.
- Find teaching opportunities. Not everyone is suited to teaching, but for those who are, getting a PhD can lead to a tenured position at a university or college, with a nice salary, a teaching or research assistant to help with workload, consulting opportunities (partly shared with your department), and a nice pension upon retirement.
- Work on advanced projects. For example, the computer scientists who delved early into computer graphics set the standards for much of the CGI technology used in movies today.
- Access to advanced equipment and tools. In a similar vein, entering a grad program could mean having access to advanced equipment on campus—such as the astronomy lab, supercomputers, rare books, and even great minds.
- Higher potential for future promotion. While obtaining a graduate degree does not necessarily always lead to a high-paying job right away, it can open up opportunities for future promotions.
- Not being stuck behind a desk. If you have the necessary education to qualify for a high-ranking position in your chosen industry, it means that you often have the option of not sitting behind a desk all day. You might go meet colleagues or clients, travel, or even play golf in the afternoon on a nice day.
- Employer incentives. Some large corporations have funds set aside that will pay partial or full fees for qualified employees.
- Be part of a chain of knowledge. This doesn’t tickle everyone’s fancy, but just imagine that the knowledge handed to you by your professor came from another professor who learned it from someone who learned it from a famous scientist or philosopher. You become part of a chain of knowledge.
- Because you want to. To learn, to think critically, to accept the academic challenge.
- To stand out. By attending grad school and completing a degree, you join an elite segment of the population.
- 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 assistant or research assistant.
- Realization of interest. Not everyone realizes during undergraduate studies that they are suited for grad studies. Some of your professors might recommend it to you and offer to supervise—with tuition waived and a research assistant position to cover expenses.
15 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School
Now for the flipside. Completing a grad degree has many rewards, as indicated above. However, there are also many reasons not to go.
- Highly competitive. Graduate programs always have fewer spots than undergraduate programs. There’s competition for seats, research positions, grant money, and often as a result, departmental politics.
- Enables the “professional student” mindset. Some students just don’t want to leave school. One of the reasons for this is said to be a fear of going out into the workforce.
- Requires ability to set priorities. Successfully completing a grad degree requires a great deal of discipline and priority setting. This can be a strain on family and personal relationships, not to mention yourself.
- Relationship strains. If you’re married, housing might be an issue. You might be offered a grad/research assistant position and free tuition but no accommodations for your spouse in campus housing.
- Stressful. Emotionally exhausting. Completing a graduate degree, especially a PhD, requires emotional maturity.
- Writing a thesis. Some grad programs require writing a thesis on a topic that your degree supervisor picks out for you. Writing an original thesis is not easy compared to course work, and it is often the reason grad students take a lot longer than program duration. Each semester you delay might mean a “penalty” fee in the form of extra tuition that has to be paid.
- Requires support. You might need a strong support network to get through emotionally.
- Might take 2–7 years of your life. Not everyone finds they can complete a grad degree in the typical 1 or 2 years. Personal obligations often intrude or lack of finances makes it difficult. Or your supervisor doesn’t like your research. This doesn’t even factor in the costs and how long it might take to pay back loans.
- Extra cost of education. Graduate schools can be very expensive. If you are not going to work during your studies or will not receive an assistant job and waived tuition fees, the cost of your education is going to mount.
- 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 the degree you get is in an academic field, finding work outside of teaching or research may be difficult, and thus, not necessarily worth it to you.
- Undesirable job locales. Teaching positions offered after graduation could be in areas you simply don’t want to live in.
- 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.”
If you are determined to go to grad school, consider spending a few years getting relevant work experience first. You could take the time to save the money for tuition and expenses, which would allow you to devote dedicated time to a degree. Or if you’ve built up trust in your employer, they might foot part of the tuition and give you time off each day to attend to studies. All this allows you some peace of mind, which might be what you need to succeed in grad school.