It’s 3am, you’re lying in bed wide awake and letting your mind roam. It doesn’t take too long before you start to question your place in the world and what you are meant to do. And ever so innocently, an existential crisis arises out of nowhere. You suddenly become aware of a ticking clock separating your undergraduate career from your “adulting” career. As the ticking gets louder, you query whether or not you are ready for the real world. You wonder if your millennial status will grant you any credibility. Heck, even you aren’t sure about your credibility, you just graduated high school yesterday and your motto is still “due tomorrow, do tomorrow”. Then suddenly a thought forms from the same unknown source of your sudden existential crisis: Should I get a graduate degree?
If you Google “Should I go to Grad School”, 8,910,000 results pop up. On the first page alone, there are at least 10 links telling describing why grad school is a bad idea. For anyone, either sure or unsure of their post-undergraduate plans, this can be both daunting and discouraging. So how do you know if you should go to graduate school?
Identify Your Endgame
Unlike popular belief, obtaining a degree is not endgame. Your endgame is what you want to do with your degree. Once you’ve identified what that is, you’ve accomplished half of the battle. The next step is researching if further education is necessary. If it is then you know the answer to your question. If you don’t know what your endgame is, going to grad school should not be a backup plan for several reasons.
Weigh the Risks
Deciding to go into a graduate program is not risk free. Graduate school is full of pitfalls and ditches that can derail you. Here are a few to consider:
1. Student loans are a real thing
After you walk across the stage with your undergraduate degree, the countdown begins to pay off your student loans. While graduate school may put a pause on your first bill’s deadline, graduate school loans will add on top of your first loans and their interest. If you think you’re going to be broke after your first degree, you will be even more broke during grad school and afterwards. If you aren’t sure about your endgame, this isn’t the type of financial situation to jump into without a plan. But if you know that you’re chosen career/endgame will accommodate for this extra financial strain, grad school might be for you.
2. The competition is fierce
The competition to get into certain graduate programs can be daunting and even discouraging at times. Especially if you decide to join grad school forums where others talk about their qualifications and the nature of their applications. The competition doesn’t end once you get into grad school. Depending on the program, the push and competition to publish, lead and produce research results can be intimidating. It isn’t the life for everyone.
3. The course load is intense
Graduate school coursework is not for the faint of heart. Blogs and testimonials from past and current students are full of tears and woes over the intensity of their studies. Having an endgame goal provides motivation to continue in the program during these tough moments.
4. A job is not guaranteed
Studying yourself out of a job is not an urban legend. Some careers don’t require graduate degrees and will not hire holders of such. You can be overqualified for a position. Plus, with the ever-changing economy some jobs are more stable or available than others. The last thing you want is to be left with a degree you cannot use and more student debt.
Make Your Decision
Deciding to go to graduate school is not a decision to take lightly, it requires a certain level of thought and processing. Do you need a graduate degree for your endgame career? Or do you just need to build up some experience? Are you ready to commit to another 1, 2, 3+ years in school? These are all questions to consider when making your decision. However, if you decide to go forward with it, the potential benefits are endless. A better paying job, a more enjoyable career and stability are just a few. Deciding to go to grad school can be one of the best decisions you ever make. Just remember to make that decision fully informed.