On the eve of ‘back to school’ season, that is the question. This post seeks to address the question because, lately, I’ve heard far too many bad reasons for why folks are going to grad school (especially women, which hurts!). The reality is that most grad schools are laborious to get into, expensive, lead to foregone income, and don’t guarantee jobs. As such, the decision of whether or not to go to grad school should be approached with thoughtfulness.*
In the spirit of good decision making, below are what I consider some bad and good reasons to go to grad school. I hope that they help you make the call.
Bad reasons to go to grad school
1. You’re having a tough time finding a job or are scared of the job hunt. I’ll give it to you. The job hunt, especially in today’s economy, can be daunting. However, especially if you’re straight out of undergrad, you’re better off taking a job that is not ideal than rushing off to grad school. Most jobs help you learn what you like and don’t like to do, which is a better experience than spending $200k to go to grad school only to have to do the same soul searching (but with no prior work experience to lean on in your resume). In fact, grad schools often look for prior work experience because they understand that you get more out of the degree when you bring more to the table. If you currently have a job, don’t like it, and are hitting a wall trying to make a move, keep on grinding (and see my blog on networking). In most cases, the opportunity cost of powering through the networking is lower than that of applying to and attending grad school.
2. You need a slightly different skillset to make a move. I underlined ‘slightly’ because this is an important nuance. Example: If you’re on the accounting side of a business but you want to move to the deal-making side of the business, skill-wise, you are not far away enough to warrant going back to business school. In fact you, you’re likely very close and simply need exposure to the business. Again, this likely requires that you network and use your resources wisely, not run off to school. If you’re in this position, strongly consider spending time with mentor(s) and mapping out a path to your desired job that does not include grad school.
3. You have always wanted to live in a certain place. Getting the opportunity to live in another city can certainly be a rewarding experience but it should come as a consequence of your decision to go to grad school, not be the driving factor thereof. There are many ways of relocating. Finding a job in the new city of your choice is one, transferring through your current company is another, and exploring a ‘work from home’ option if your current position allows for it are but several ways. Using grad school as a reason for the move, however, is expensive and pretty impractical.
Good reasons to go to grad school
1. Major career jump. There are several examples of major career jumps. The one that comes to mind first is making a leap from engineering (as in you’re the person who is going in and handling the quality assurance machine for Bounty) to a corporate consulting position. I say that this is major jump because in your work/industry as an engineer, you likely don’t interact with many corporate business folks who may help you transition into a corporate job. In this case, grad school (likely business school) is an effective way to expand one’s network and to jump careers.
2. Increasing your options and broadening your skillset. It is possible that gaining an additional set of skills may broaden your career opportunities enough to warrant grad school, depending on the case scenario. If, for example, grad school will give you robust skills as a project manager and that is going to amount to a substantial pay raise, then it may make sense. Grad school can also drastically broaden your network because it may expose you to new circle of motivated and passionate peers with some good ideas. If you’re looking to start a business of your own and you absolutely don’t think you have the resources/connections to do so in your current position, grad school may be a good move because it might introduce you to channels of potential funding (many business schools now have entrepreneurial contests for money), colleagues for your business, and provide a stimulating environment to sharpen your ideas.
On a final note, here is a visual representation that you can use to guide your decision-making:
*Please note that the below blog does not include serious consideration of graduate schools for medical professions and for teaching. While I feel that the decision to go to medical school, for example, should be approached with the same high level of seriousness that I mentioned above, I omitted it in the blog because it is a necessity, not a nice-to-have, to practice the profession.