If you're thinking about graduate school, you may well be wondering: Is it best to go straight from college, or would you be better off waiting a bit and gaining some work experience first?
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, each step up in education means a higher salary and greater job security. High school graduates in 2017, for example, had median weekly earnings of $712 and an unemployment rate of 4.6%. Workers with a bachelor's degree earned a median of $1,173 and had an unemployment rate of 2.5%. Those with a master’s degree had median earnings of $1,401, with an unemployment rate of 2.2%.
That can be a powerful argument for attending graduate school. But it does not necessarily mean that doing so immediately after receiving a bachelor’s degree is the right course. While a handful of fields require a graduate or professional degree as the price of admission, in many others, a bachelor's degree is sufficient for an entry-level job.
If you believe that a graduate degree is in your future but are not sure whether now is the time, here are some factors to consider.
The Advantages of Attending Grad School Sooner
You are already in school mode. It could be easier to make the transition to grad school without taking a break. You are accustomed to studying and test-taking and to living the far from lavish life of a typical college student. A couple of years in a comfortable job, on the other hand, might dull your study habits and accustom you to the finer things in life.
It could be now or never. If you take a break from education, your life may change in unforeseen ways. You might get married, have children, buy a home or take on other new responsibilities that will make attending and paying for graduate school more challenging.
You might be able to delay loan repayments. If you racked up a lot of federal student loan debt as an undergrad, one way to postpone repaying in some cases is to continue your education and obtain a loan deferment. The Federal Department of Education explains the rules on its website. The downside, of course, is that you’ll probably take on more debt for grad school and, sooner or later, you will have to start paying it all back.
The Advantages of Waiting
You might enjoy a break. After a rigorous undergraduate program, you probably deserve some time off from mid-terms, all-nighters and cold pizza.
You’ll earn some money. Graduate school is not cheap. Tuition and fees alone average approximately $35,000. A couple of years of work can help you pay for your next degree without taking on unnecessary debt.
You could change your mind. Once you have spent some time in the workplace, your interests and ambitions may evolve. It might be better to discover your true vocation before you’ invest in a graduate degree in the wrong field. You might still end up in grad school, but studying something completely different.
You’ll be more seasoned. With a little added maturity, you will bring more to graduate school and most likely get more out of it. Some work experience on your resume could also be a plus, both when you apply to grad school (see Applying To Grad School: GPA Vs. Work Experience) and when you finish your degree and are job hunting once again.
Your company might pick up the tab. Many companies will subsidize or completely pay for graduate work, particularly if your training is in their interest. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 54% of employers offer tuition assistance. Also, under IRS rules, you can exclude up to $5,200 in employer-provided education assistance from your income if your employer’s program qualifies. Above that amount, you’ll owe some income tax, though it’s still a better deal than paying for grad school all by yourself.
The Bottom Line
Whether you go immediately after school or wait a while before going to graduate school will depend on your finances, your field and your instincts. Don't rush to go if you don't feel ready.
On the other hand, if you are offered a tempting fellowship, it might be worth going straight to grad school, particularly if you are targeting a field that requires a Ph.D. For more, see When Is Grad School Worth it? and Attend Grad School For Free.