Should I Go to Grad School?

Dear Janet: 

I'm graduating this year, and I'm not sure if I should go on the job search, or if I should go to grad school. Should I go to grad school? 

- Student 


No. No you should not go to grad school. Are you listening? You should go to work. 

Too many young people I talk to go to grad school because they don't feel really ready to face the working world. Maybe it's because you worry that you won't be able to compete for a job (maybe you've already been rejected for a few jobs that looked really good), or maybe it's that you don't really know exactly what you want to do yet. 

While those are issues I am very compassionate towards (and my job is to help you work through them), those are not reasons to go to graduate school. I'm not down on grad school in general, I have a graduate degree, and it was undeniably necessary for the work I wanted to do (and am now very happy to be doing). In the tech sector, however, there are only a few cases in which a graduate degree will be advisable. The reasons that you might go to grad school are: 

1. To prepare for and access a management role within an established company. Sometimes, in tech, a graduate degree can help you move up the ladder, if up the ladder is a direction that appeals to you. If you tend to be a big picture thinker and like the idea of overseeing projects rather than doing the work yourself, then a future in management is perhaps something you'll want to prepare for. In that case, you'll still need lots of work experience to prove your value outside of your degree, so work for a few years first, and then go for a tech management MBA or something similar along those lines. If you can get your employer to pay for it then you've really made the right choice. (Note: if you want to run your own company or manage within a small organization, you may not actually need grad school. So think twice.) 

2. To initiate a career change or career pivot. Sometimes you work in one field for a little while, say, you're a Software Engineer, and you get sick of it, and want to do something different. Grad school can be a good way to pivot away from what you were doing to what you think you'd rather be doing. You'll get new contacts, new learning, a new credential, and that can help brand yourself for a new direction and provide the connections to get there. 

3. You need a credential to do the work you know you want to do. You want to be a teacher, or a counselor, or a lawyer, or a doctor....all of those require graduate school. So when you know that is what you want to do, go for it! But if you're not sure, grad school is a very expensive and exhausting place to try to work that out. When you're uncertain about what you want to do, work first. Get experience that will help you make up your mind. Even when you are sure, I always advocate a little bit of related work experience before going back to school. It will only help you be competitive later when you finish. 

When in doubt, work. But when you're sure of the direction you want to go, and it appears to need more education, then you can go to grad school. You'll get so much more out of it once you know exactly why you're there and what you want to get out of it. 

Good luck!