Afraid of Life? Grad School Isn’t the Answer

As I begin my slow descent away from the nostalgic highs of my undergrad yesteryear it has become very interesting to me to see what paths many of my old peers are taking.  Many have of course moved on to jobs, others to careers, and still others are pursuing leisure travel or other whims.  One option I am seeing taken more and more is to go back to grad school.  Now for some people this can be a great idea (at least I hope so… since technically I’m going back to become a grad student, albeit while working full time), but for others, I’m fairly certain it is simply a way to put off “the real world.”

I Could Quit Grad School Any Time I Want!

It’s easy to become addicted to the student lifestyle.  There are a lot of reasons why being a student rules.  I thoroughly miss the atmosphere of learning and debate.  There is the obvious fact that you’re surrounded by thousands of eligible singles who are around your age and share your interests, but there are many less obvious and less admit-able reasons that many of us feel compelled to be students.  Many of us get used to the nice little cocoon of learning and structure that post-secondary instruction provides, especially those students that have learned how to do very well in their academic field.  The positive reinforcement combined with the familiar structure and patterns can seem so comfortable when juxtaposed against the hypercompetitive working world.  Sure you don’t have much money, but in return you can hold yourself up on your ivory tower pedestal in the belief that your pursuit of knowledge is much nobler than work is anyway.

If The Undergrad Sees Their Shadow – 4 More Years Of School

If you’re one of these people (and admittedly I was pretty close to being an addict myself), I can see the attraction to piking your head out of the proverbial gopher hole that is your university/college, being terrified of the chaos around you, and diving right back into safer surroundings in the form of a graduate degree.  This will definitely extend your period of youthful bliss and allow you to feel intellectually superior to man around you; HOWEVER, it is probably not what is best for you in the long-term, at least not from a personal finance perspective.  There are many masters and graduate programs that do make sense for certain people, but more and more I see people pursuing masters degrees without any work experience and I think would I ever hire that person?  The answer a vast majority of the time is no.  Most fields require you to learn on the job, a master’s degree might help polish your resume for an eventual promotion, but in terms of landing an entry-level job out of school it is much more likely to make your overqualified.  As an added negative, more and more management and HR types out there are realizing that 25 year olds with no work experience and thousands of hours in a classroom are very difficult to place, and are very difficult to please in terms of salary demands (you just completed 5-8 years of school, you deserve a top-notch salary right?).

Don’t Use University Self-Promotion To Justify Your Decision

Universities are making an absolute fortune of off promoting the whole theory that the job market is so tough right now that you need more education in order to really stand out from the crows.  “A graduate degree is the new bachelor degree,” has become the pervasive cliché.  This isn’t true at all.  Sure bachelor degrees have become a pre-requisite for many jobs, but what many organizations are looking for now is experience and real-world skill sets.  A bachelor degree proves that you can learn, a master’s degree might tell people you’re limited to learning in one particular setting.  In my opinion, taking the entry-level position, be it low-paid, volunteer, starting up your own side business, whatever the case may be, will be much more productive in the long-run that the majority of master’s degrees.  Graduate programs aren’t going anywhere.  You’re GPA won’t magically erode over time, there is no rush.  Building some skill sets and experience while pursuing a master’s degree on the side is probably the best option for most people, but obviously everyone’s circumstances are different.

Do It For The Right Reasons – Not the Desperate Ones

If you’re seriously considering beginning your graduate studies, or have recently started down that path, do it because it honestly makes sense in terms of pursuing your goals and not merely because it is the path of least resistance.  It makes sense to immediately start your master’s degree if you want to become a professor in your field.  It may make sense in certain high-needs areas like engineering or architecture, where you can’t really be overqualified and there is such a demand for expertise.  For most other careers a master’s degree at a young age doesn’t make much sense, especially if you have to take out more student debt in order to do it.  The earning power your losing, the connections within the working world (often hard to build from your campus) your sacrificing, the debt your accumulating, and the job options you are limiting, all argue that you may want to think twice (or eight times) about that degree that you envision looking so shiny on your résumé.

I’ve even read many stories lately about MBA students who graduate and are having a hard time finding work.  If people with a graduate degree as versatile as that one are having a hard time in the job market, I’m pretty sure history, philosophy etc. probably aren’t all that attractive either.  If you love learning for the sake of learning, don’t go to grad school, take some courses while you work, or pick up a great book.  It’s ok guys and gals, the real world can be cruel and you likely should be a little bit scared, but it’s also exhilarating to prove to yourself that you really can make it, and you truly are competent.

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12 years ago

I almost went the grad school route, and for the very same reasons you cite: career prospects weren’t too bright. Luckily, an opportunity opened up to go work overseas, and I jumped at it. I sure did miss the student lifestyle at first, but I got over it quick.

12 years ago

As someone who is getting burnt out of grad school, I agree. But, then again, only 10% of adult population in the U.S. have a graduate degree. Not a bad way to stand out.

12 years ago

One thing i’ve noticed, in my work place it is very hard to get through the door w/o a graduate degree (I work for Ontario public service). The competition for these government jobs is so stiff that having a grad degree is often used to filter job candidates.

12 years ago

As someone who has two Masters and two PhDs (yes, I am that insecure :)) I don’t have to tell you that I all for education. As someone who teaches Epistemology to PhD students in a Business School I won’t go into the ‘humanities and social sciences are important because even S. King in the Calling showed how dangerous engeneering and money is without morals, values and culture’. But I would like to tell you a story. During one of my classes I told the PhDs that if they think that they are the cleverest amost people because they are… Read more »

12 years ago

BTW, too tired to spell; sorry.

12 years ago

I think people who jump straight into grad school after undergraduate are

A) lame

B) unable to get a job

C) Grandiose

lol :) Those are just my assumptions.

I can’t help but pass judgment on those who do it. I’m bad!

12 years ago

It’s a poor investment (imo) if done right after your undergrad. It adds extra debt to an already burdened person just starting out and most employers will value an undergrad with the extra year or two of actual work experience over a grad student with none…The biggest benefit of delaying it is many employers will also sudsidise some or all of the costs associated with aquiring a master’s degree once your hired on with them. Of course their will be a few fields where it is necassary to aquire it right away.

I like SPF find grad degrees seem to be necessary for certain jobs. However I also have plenty of peers who are still in school because it easier than real life. This is not right in my opinion. Time to grow up.

12 years ago

I agree with you that it is far better to work for a while after undergraduate degree to – make sure that you don’t pile up student loan. And, most importantly, get some real world skill that you can apply to fund your graduate degree.

12 years ago

I think graduate school may be a good option for some fields, as you pointed out. However, if your reasons are because you can’t get a job or you enjoy the college lifestyle, you are making a big mistake that set you up for financial debt for many years.

12 years ago

I have an easy pass to MBA because I can shave off 12 credits… but I have just not found a compelling reason to go back to school and do it. That path does not really appeal all that much to me, at least right now. Besides, it seems like everyone is going to school to do an MBA, and I don’t just want to be following the herd.

12 years ago
Reply to  Teacher Man

I am about to complete a 30-credit certificate in Mandarin Chinese, which, while I am still not great, I don’t regret it at all! I also did it while working full-time, so no escape for me. ;)

12 years ago

I aften wonder how the quality of the higher education system in the united states can be all that great considering the fact that the united states high school seniors score something like 20’ish in math and science compared to other countries around the world. Take a look at foreign languages in many of the countries in western europe a very large percentage of the college age population speaks a foreign language fluently come on If the students of the united staes were on trial attempting to defend the high quality education of their college students they would be laughed… Read more »

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