Should You Go to Graduate School If You Can’t Get a Job?

Recent university graduates who find it difficult to get a job quickly sometimes decide on graduate school. If you are having trouble finding a job upon graduation, should you consider going on to graduate school?

Why go to graduate school?

There are at least three reasons why you might consider going to graduate school if you can’t get a job:

Sharpening your competitiveness. A recent graduate may feel that the reason he can’t get a job is because of a lack of competitiveness. The addition of a graduate degree could add an important credential or even make up for a grade point average that may be keeping him from getting hired. It’s often thought that a graduate degree could be the missing credential.

Waiting out a tight job market. In a recession or a declining job market, where jobs are tough to get in general, a recent graduate may decide to go to grad school as a way of waiting out the market. It’s a way of doing something productive for couple of years, rather than creating a job gap on their resume.

They planned to go eventually anyway. Still other graduates may have had plans to go to graduate school anyway, and the inability to get a job quickly moves up the timeframe.

Does the strategy work?

choosing a degree program
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Getting a graduate degree during a tough job market can provide impressive long-term results. A graduate degree can increase your income by as much as $400,000 over the course of a 40 year career. That’s an average of at least $10,000 per year, but the figure is much higher in certain fields.

Graduate school then can be a real opportunity to increase future earning potential while you’re filling out a gap in a tough job market. Equally important, you can enter many fields with an undergraduate degree, but at some point earning a graduate degree will be absolutely necessary. Getting the degree during a bad job market is a way of doing something productive and even necessary at a time when other options are limited.

Why graduate school isn‘t always the best course

As much as getting a graduate degree during a tough job market can represent a step forward, it may not be a successful strategy in all cases.

Experience may be a better credential than another degree. During tough economic times, getting a job with any sort of degree – graduate or undergraduate – will be tough. Employers may not be as impressed with credentials as much as with hands-on experience. The better course of action may be to get into your career field any way you can, even if it’s below the going rate of pay.

Graduate degrees aren‘t a factor in some fields. Adding another degree to your resume might not improve your job prospects in certain career fields. Research your intended career and make sure that obtaining an advanced degree will be a real asset. If not, you may just be spending money and marking time in a venture that will not improve your situation. At the extreme, you could even risk being considered as overqualified with an advanced degree.

You‘ll be adding to your student loan debt. If you already have a substantial amount of student loan debt, you’ll only make that pile bigger if you plan on paying for grad school primarily with more loans. You may be getting a credential that will ultimately work in your favor but you’re digging yourself into a deeper hole while you do it. If the job market doesn’t improve by the time you finish grad school, you may still be unemployed, but you’ll have a bigger debt to contend with than you do right now.

The average cost of graduate school

According to Statistics Canada, the average cost just for tuition and fees nationally is $5,695 per year for graduate school, but $23,757 for a regular master of business administration (MBA) degree, and $38,508 for an executive MBA. None of these figures include compulsory fees or room and board.

For some graduate students, some of these costs may be paid by holding positions as teaching assistants or research assistants. The portion not covered will need to be paid out of pocket, or through student loans. On the MBA programs, that could mean a substantial increase to an already large student loan balance carried forward from the undergraduate years.

Should you go to graduate school if you can‘t get a job?

The answer to this question will be different for everyone. You have to consider the alternative employment prospects immediately available to you, what your student loan debt situation is, and whether or not an advanced degree will help you in the long run.

If the degree will be an asset in your career field and you don’t have to use too much student loan debt in order to get it, it’s certainly worth doing. But if attending graduate school will be a financial burden that will have little impact on your employment prospects it might be better for you to tough it out in the job market and to try and gain some relevant experience instead.

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7 years ago

I know of lots of people who have gone the grad school route, or decided to go to teaching school, because they couldn’t find jobs. I mean, I guess it’s better than being unemployed but as you mention, grad school means more debt.

7 years ago

Good discussion. But grad school can be more financially appealing than suggested here, in a couple of ways: 1. Most half-decent grad students will get entrance or excellence scholarships (tax-free) in addition to TA positions. At my school, that would be an extra $9K or more a year. 2. As far as I know, there are no compulsory room and board fees for grad students at Canadian universities… most grad students have learned how to live (cheaply?) in real accommodation. 3. Staying in school postpones having to repay student loans (without adding to interest, if they’re government loans). 4. Staying… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Gerard

These are some interesting points Gerard, but I don’t think they should be used to justify going to grad school. Postponing your student loans in this low-rate environment could easily end up costing you in the long run, and paying money in order to get tax credits is a little counter-intuitive (although you’re definitely right that grad students should take advantage of this).

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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