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Grad School – Yay or Nay?

Hi all! It’s been a while since our last post, we know – but we’ve been busy trying to find jobs and figure out whether not going back to school was really the right decision. I’ve heard a lot of “when the economy’s in a recession, people go back to school” – which is of course, true. But I’ve also heard that “unless you have real ‘on-the-job’ experience”, it won’t really help you in the long run.

Both points are obviously valid, but where’s the middle ground? If you’re expected to go back to school to get more qualified, how do you eventually get ‘real’ experience?

As application due dates approach, I still haven’t chosen a graduate program and time was running out. I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation! There were definitely graduate programs out there that would lead to financial stability but the problem was I instinctively felt like none of these were for me. There’s also the problem of feeling unqualified. I decided then that maybe I should put off applying, find a job instead, and work for a couple of years to save up for further schooling.

A few months after graduation, working a string of temporary jobs – I was suddenly questioning my decision not to apply. I already have extensive work experience so I was feeling confident that I could easily find full time work in a highly competitive job market. However, my confidence level slowly went downhill after fruitless interviews and rejections. I was starting to doubt my decision to stay out of school, wishing I could go back to the comforts of university life, where my schedule was set and a clear goal was in mind.

Feeling dejected, I consulted the online community to help me determine if I made the right decision, postponing graduate studies. I came up with the following questions to help put things in perspective

  • Do I know which specific field I want to focus on or do I have a clear idea of the direction I am going to take after grad school?
  • If I knew which area I would like to specialize in, is it unlikely that I could find a job in this field with just a Bachelor’s Degree?
  • Do I have the financial means to go back to school or am I willing to take out student loans to fund my academic pursuits?
  • Do I have an academic record that is competitive enough to increase my chances of getting into my desired post-graduate program?
  • Would a graduate degree weigh heavily in hiring considerations and compensate for the lack of actual experience in my desired field of work?
  • Am I willing to put my life on hold (i.e. live with my parents instead of renting an apartment/buying a house, earn less than my peers (at least for the time being), accumulate more loans instead of paying them off)?

After evaluating my answers to these questions, I realized that since I am still unclear on my career goals, I probably made the decision not to choose a graduate program right away. Plus, there’s also the fact that I actually can’t afford it without having to take out loans. After all, if I were to go to graduate school without having a clear career path, I am most likely going to be unemployed after graduation (no ‘real’ experience + lack of jobs) again with a greater financial burden and less time to really figure out that all elusive dream job.

The only problem now is landing my first full time job after graduating. However, I am trying to be optimistic…

Any of you have similar stories? How did you decide between more studies and work experience?

– Kay

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Grad School – Yay or Nay?

  1. “Any of you have similar stories? How did you decide between more studies and work experience?”

    I look at this this way.

    Plenty of jobs require a college degree – a college degree gives you a leg up, pure and simple. But how many jobs do you see that require a Master’s degree or higher? And of those jobs, how many require a Master’s degree but ask for no ‘real’ work experience at all? You’ve already addressed this in your post, along with the sad reality that even with work experience jobs are very hard to find, so you’re further along in this realization than many people. Good for you.

    The worst thing that can happen to you in grad school is that you take your sensible, practical, real world approach to jobs and your future, and then you throw it out of the window because suddenly you’re 26 (you lose all sense of time in grad school), you’ve never had a real job, and you’ve convinced yourself it’s too late to try to find one, so a PhD and a life of adjunct teaching gigs for $14,000 a year (not a typo) is your best option now. You went to grad school to make yourself more competitive for a job that you no longer even think you can even get…happens all the time.

    The only way to sensibly undertake further study, in addition to asking yourself the excellent questions you posted, is to get funding to do stuff while you’re there that gives you work experience, like teaching a class, working on a project funded by a major grant, or creating a new initiative in your department. Something that can transfer to the work world. My current employer was actually very interested in my work experience from grad school and my graduate degree too, but what got me the job was a temp job I had for a couple of months right after college that was directly related to this position.

    This is why the best thing a new college grad can do is to take a job, any job, and get the most out of it that they can. That has always been the best course of action, in a good economy and a bad one. It sounds like you’ve already had some of these jobs, and maybe they’ve felt like dead ends or a waste of time, or not what you expected a college degree to get you, but they are all giving you more experience on top of what you already have, teaching you more about what you want and don’t want in a job, and helping you get that next job via contacts you’ve made and qualifications you now have, no matter how minor they may seem. In short, what you are doing right now is exactly the right thing, even though I doubt it feels that way.

    Then, ten years from now, you can think about how you might not be where you dreamed of being yet, but you’re already 3 – 4 years ahead of where you’d be if you went back to school, possibly two or three whole jobs ahead, and how you kept your hopes up and managed to find things that worked for you and maybe you even enjoyed, even in a bad economy. That’s something to be proud of.

    (I saw your blog mentioned on the 100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School blog and I felt it was better to reply to your post here.)

    Posted by MTS | October 17, 2012, 1:09 PM
    • Thanks, you helped me put things in perspective! Although the positions I’ve had are not exactly reputable, I have learned, developed skills, and I am gradually discovering what I want and don’t want in a job. After graduating, I have had 4 different jobs in the past 5 months and I can honestly say that I’ve grown, matured, and already I feel more confident about entering the working world.

      Based on how you got your current position after graduate school, it still seems like most employers still value relevant work experience over academics. This also applies to jobs available to those with a Bachelors. Undergraduate degrees are more like a check mark on the list of qualifications for a job but it isn’t even necessary, nor does it help or prepare someone for the job responsibilities. In retrospect, whatever skills I’m using now, I learned through work and volunteer experience, not through the readings, essays, and exams I had to complete for undergrad. Of course this probably doesn’t apply to those with technical degrees in engineering or the sciences or those performing research/lab work – I’m sure they are able to apply knowledge and techniques they have learned in class. Sorry, I’m starting to go off on a tangent!

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, postponing graduate studies and exploring what the working world has to offer is really turning out to be a better choice. Whatever work experience I have gained through temporary jobs, although limited and not even related to my undergrad degree, has somehow helped me better define my professional goals mainly by figuring out what I like/dislike, what I excel in or what I’m horrible at doing. I don’t think this would have happened if I just went on to graduate studies right away.

      -Kay

      Posted by workinpro12 | October 18, 2012, 9:28 PM

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