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How to Decide If You Should Go to Grad School

Dec 11, 2017 3 min read Kevin Johnston

Key Takeaways

  • Grad school can help you gain expertise in your chosen field.
  • Professors and guest lecturers can provide useful lifelong contacts throughout your career.
  • Can you return to the days of homework, papers and studying? It's another factor to consider.


Going to graduate school is a major commitment that will change your lifestyle in the short term, and can alter your life direction in the long term. Consider the pros and cons before embarking on an advanced degree. There are many valuable reasons to go to graduate school, but you should also realize the downside to making this commitment.





You may increase your earning power

An advanced degree may help you earn more money, especially if the degree is in a field where you already work. You can demonstrate that you have high interest in your profession and at the same time want to deepen your knowledge.


You can find your niche

Graduate school can help your focus on an area of special interest in your chosen field. By choosing courses wisely, attending guest lectures and taking study trips, you can become an expert in a specialized area. If the job market shows high demand for that area, you could position yourself to be in demand.


You can change careers

A graduate degree can also help you transition into an entirely new field. This can "reset" your resume, because you won't be expected to have extensive job experience in that field. While this may possibly result in a temporary cut in pay, your grades and mastery of the subject could ease  your job transition, and allow you to match or beat your current earnings. At a minimum, you will improve your odds of getting promotions in the future.


You can make valuable connections

Socialize with fellow students, and get to know professors and guest lecturers. Go to seminars where leaders in your field are presenting, and introduce yourself. All of these efforts can produce lifelong contacts that can help you in your career.


You just earned an undergraduate degree

You may find it easier to continue going to school while your study skills are honed and you are accustomed to student life. Your momentum can help you handle the daily routine of studying and constant test preparation.




You will probably be working under stress

The rigors of meeting deadlines for a graduate program can take their toll, whether it’s taking tests, writing essays or completing your thesis. You don't get to set the pace, so be sure you are extremely disciplined, and ready to handle the pressure.

When deciding if grad school is right for you, assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you think you can handle the pressure, it could be for you.

You need to finance your studies

Paying for grad school is a challenge. Some people offset the costs by accepting a position as a teaching assistant. This can waive some tuition fees; otherwise, you may have to take out a loan to pursue your studies, and you will graduate with debt.  Check with your employer to see if there is a tuition reimbursement program that will offset some of your costs. Look realistically at your financing options to see if grad school is realistic for you.

Note that if you can't get your thesis written on time and require an extension, this may also result in additional fees.


You might price yourself out of the market

If the economy doesn't hold up, you may find a lot of competition for few opportunities. In such times, employers often don't pay extra for people with graduate degrees, since they’re trying to save money on payroll and have many applicants to choose from. You could find yourself in the dreaded "overqualified" category.


The time commitment

While you may enter a graduate program that is two years in duration, it may take longer (possibly seven years or more), especially if you are working while you study.  You must decide what kind of effort you can maintain and what that kind of commitment may do to your home life, relationships and peace of mind.


What you can do next

When considering grad school, assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you think you can handle the pressure and are able to finance your schooling, it could be right for you. On the other hand, if the stress and deadlines seem daunting, and the job market is currently unpredictable, you may want to reconsider.

Another option is to take a job in a field you are interested in, which will both improve your resume and provide you with knowledge and experience. Then, when you feel you better understand the demands and requirements of your field, graduate school may be a wise choice.



Kevin Johnston writes about personal finance and investments, as well as financial management and planning. He has written for The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Houston Chronicle.


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