Graduate school is a major commitment of time, effort, and money. It’s an exciting prospect too; an opportunity to return to the vibrancy of university life, or to continue in that environment for a little longer after your undergraduate degree. Graduate courses also represent a broader experience that undergraduate study; not only do you deepen your study of your chosen field, or move into totally new areas of study, but your fellow students are likely to be more diverse – coming from different countries, and being at many different stages in their careers. The advantages to this are obvious. But ultimately, what is graduate school actually good for – and is it right for you?
Going to graduate school can be hugely beneficial, but given the time, money, and emotional commitment required, it is a decision not to be taken lightly. Being aware of your own motives, and working out how best to respond to them is an absolute necessity. Below, we explore four good reasons why you should go to Graduate School – if any of these apply to you, then it is well worth investigating graduate school in further detail.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to go to grad school is if your chosen field or career requires a graduate qualification. Some professions – such as teaching or medicine – explicitly require job candidates to hold accredited postgraduate qualifications. Gaining a masters in these fields is therefore a precondition of employment. Equally, if you wish to enter into research – either within academia, or in the private or state sectors – a research masters or Ph.D. is almost always required. If you have dreams of lecturing at a university, or developing innovative new materials in a laboratory, or becoming the world authority on your favourite author, then going to graduate school to get an MRes is a great route to take, even if you’ve only just finished your undergraduate degree. If you have a burning question about a certain topic that gives you a sense of what Duncan Watts calls “intellectual adventure”, than graduate school is an excellent choice for you.
Taught masters – particularly courses that award an MSc or MA – often do not require an undergraduate qualification in that field; meaning that these masters degrees can act like an accelerated introduction to the discipline concerned. This allows them to act as a way of changing your career trajectory, in order to move into a related, but distinct field. If you have a bachelor degree in Physics, for example, but you wish to qualify as an ecologist – doing an MSc in Environmental Science would be a wise move. A masters won’t necessarily allow you to move between the hard sciences and humanities however; as these two great branches of academic study require quite different sets of study skills, that you’ll need to acquire through an undergraduate programme first.
Equally, people often choose to complete a masters that will deepen and strengthen their understanding of the sector in which they already work. If you are an established HR professional who entered the sector with a BA in English Literature, for example, you may wish to complete a masters degree in Human Resources at a later date. MBAs – particularly the Part-time or Executive MBA – are a popular choice amongst those who are already in the midst of their career, and are now looking to increase their chances of being promoted into senior management, or who wish to set up their own company.
A graduate degree can increase your chances of finding employment and increase your expected weekly salary – from $1,156 for a bachelors, to $1,380 for a masters, and $1,780 for a professional degree like an MBA. And according to “The College Payoff” – a report by Georgetown University on the earning potential of people with different educational backgrounds – the earnings gap between these different qualification levels is widening over time. Even if your chosen profession does not require a masters qualification, a relevant specialist masters – such as a Masters of Accounting (MAcc) - can dramatically improve your career prospects, and ensure early promotion. Although it does not increase your earning potential to the same extent as some professional qualifications, a PhD is extremely useful in certain fields – such as consultancy or advisory roles - as it lends credibility to your opinions and stands out on paper. In short, a graduate degree can help ensure that recruiters and HR professionals are more likely to take you seriously, and make it easier to negotiate higher pay.
Naturally, if you have a passion for a given subject, and would like to find out more about it, then that is perhaps the most motivating reason to do a masters! A great many people choose to do a masters or a PhD after they’ve retired, simply because they have a love for the subject, and may not have had the opportunity to explore that passion before. And of course, there are a many others who have retired, but head back to school for the degree itself and not just the fun – looking to kick-start an exciting second career. Enjoying yourself, and continuing professional advancement are not mutually exclusive!
Beyond these considerations, there are a number of other issues to think about – such as what kind of course structure would suit your needs, what subject you might like to study, and how you would cover the cost of your fees and maintenance while studying. But many of these details can be overcome, so long as you are clear in your own mind that a graduate degree is right for you.
A common choice for people to get stuck with is whether you should go to graduate school straight after your undergraduate degree, or if you should spend a bit of time in the workplace first. There are points in favour of each option – if you go sooner, your study skills will still be sharp, you might be able to delay your loan repayments, and you won’t need to reorganise your life to carry on studying. If you go later, you’ll have had a break, you’ll have a better idea about your career goals, have earned some money and gained some experience – you might even be able to persuade your employer to pay for your fees. But ultimately, the only person who can make this all-important choice is you.
If you are unsure what to study check out the MastersAvenue’s Global Degree and Career Survey (GDCS) ©. We have analyzed the career paths of more than 7.5 million graduates from all over the world. Look what others have studied and what they do know. You will be surprised!