Should I go to Grad School?

Hey 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. You should probably not go to grad school. 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).  However, grad school is almost always wicked expensive and very focused and there are only a few cases in which it is the right choice. That said, if you are in one of these four categories, it may be the best next step for you. So ladies and gentlemen, the only reasons you should go to grad school are: 

1. Because you know you want a career in a profession that requires a graduate degree for licensure. If you know that you want to be a lawyer or teacher or scientist or physiotherapist, and the graduate degree is the way you will get the qualification to do that job, then start your applications now and just go. Similarly, if everyone, and I mean everyone, is telling you a graduate degree is required to get into the job that you know you want, then the masses have spoken and you should go. But if you're not sure, or some people say do it and some people say you don't need it, then don't go to grad school, focus on getting work experience. 

2. To prepare for and access a leadership role within an established organization. Sometimes 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 and people rather than doing the work yourself, then a future in management is 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 an MBA or the advanced degree specific to your field. 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, then I tend not to recommend grad school. So think twice.) 

3. To initiate a career change or career pivot. Sometimes you work in one field for a little while, and you get sick of it or it's not a good fit, and want to do something different. Grad school can be a good way to pivot away from what you were doing to what you know you'd rather be doing. You'll get new contacts, new learning, a new credential, you can leverage the easier pathway to employment that comes with being a student. Grad school can help brand yourself for a new direction and provide the connections to get there. That said, don't use grad school to explore, make your decision about your new path first before you invest the time and money. Be pretty sure. 

4. Because you really love school and you have a lot of money and time. If this is you, great! Just make sure that you are also getting lots of experience in there too. Ideally before you go back to school, or while you're in school, so that you can get some real world applicability to what you're studying, and you can demonstrate value. Your degrees alone without real-world work experience will not get you very far, work experience is a must. 

Still confused? Write to me and I can help!