More than 41 million Americans over the age of 18 have earned their college degrees, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. But once that hard-earned diploma has been handed over, many grads are faced with the decision of continuing their education with graduate school. Attaining a masters or PhD is an incredible achievement – one that comes with a high cost to a personal life, work experience and the pocketbook.
Before you pack up for another degree, consider these scenarios, in which grad school may not be the best choice.
TUTORIAL: Education Savings Account: Introduction
You Didn't Get the Job
Once you graduated, you started applying for jobs – and you applied to grad school just in case. If you haven't landed your dream job before the acceptance deadlines to your program, don't just blindly accept. Consider carefully if the job you are pursuing is what you truly want; if it is, chances are it's worth continuing the job search, rather than burrowing back into academics. This is especially true if the chances of landing your dream job don't increase by earning a graduate degree. Remember that many students are still looking for work in their field for up to two years after donning the cap and gown. (For more, see The Benefits Of An Accelerated Bachelor's/Master's Degree.)
You Aren't Sure What You Want to Do
If you aren't sure what your next move will be, more school can seem like the right option. "At least I'll be doing something productive" is the thinking. But is subjecting yourself to the rigors of academia without a true passion for your studies really the best choice? Consider that an advanced degree could cost you anywhere from $10,000-30,000 per year. If the advantage that degree gives you in the job market doesn't help you to recoup those costs, it might be time to reconsider. (For more, see 5 Ways To Fund A College Education.)
You Were Accepted
The big envelope showed up in your mailbox, and your family couldn't be prouder. Heck, you're proud of yourself – this acceptance represents four years of hard work, not to mention the effort you put into your application. Is being accepted enough of a reason to go to grad school? If it's the only reason, the answer is probably no. But it likely won't make turning it down much easier.
The Job You Want Isn't Academic
Getting your PhD is a necessity for certain careers, especially those in the academic field. If being a researcher or professor is your dream, going to grad school is likely the only way to achieve that goal, so go for it! But many other careers may value job experience over the additional letters to your name. The truth is that once you graduate with your PhD, you may find yourself around 30 years old with little "real world" work experience - and that can be a tough sell to non-academic employers.
If you do decide to pursue a graduate degree, don't think you're out of luck when it comes to non-academic jobs. Selloutyoursoul.com, a "career guide to help lost humanities grad students," offers advice on how to market your degree to such employers – primarily by selling the characteristics that let you earn that degree, such as a tremendous work ethic, rather than the degree itself. (For more, see Keeping Up With Your Continuing Education.)
You Think It Might Be Interesting
There are great opportunities to pursue an area of study you think you might find interesting; grad school isn't one of them. Consider auditing undergrad classes or even continuing education degrees, if there's a subject you didn't get to cover in your degree. If, on the other hand, you know you are passionate about studying a particular area, then graduate school might be perfect for learning all there is to know in that area of academics.
Your Friends Are Going
This can be an instance of "keeping up with the Joneses". Since high school, you have been used to keeping up with your peers; they got into university, you got in; they earned scholarships, and so did you. But don't blindly follow your competition into the graduate school realm if it isn't really for you.
The Bottom Line
With more and more people earning college degrees, more people are considering graduate school in order to get a leg up on the job market. Achieving these degrees is a wonderful accomplishment, and if it is your desire to do so, more education isn't likely to hurt your job prospects down the road. Before readying yourself for more school, be sure that a graduate degree is the best course for getting you to your end professional goals. (For more, see The Best Designation For Your Financial Education: CFA, MBA, or Both?)