by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Whether good economy or bad, no one should ever rush into the decision on attending graduate school — whether for a master’s, professional, or doctoral degree. Graduate programs are designed to enhance, augment, and fine-tune your existing skills and experience, preparing you for more advanced jobs and work. Going into a graduate program on a whim or without a strong vision of your future career will seriously dilute the value of your degree — and perhaps even hurt your chances of landing a job upon graduation.
With these issues and concerns in mind, when is it time to go to grad school? This article discusses the five main reasons for attending graduate school — as well as the four wrong reasons to go.
Reasons for Choosing to Attend Graduate School
1. Enhancing Your Marketability/Personal Brand. Nothing can give your marketability factor a boost like a graduate degree. Your task is conducting the research to find the best program and degree to push your personal brand to the level you desire. Remember, though, that the biggest boost to your marketability will come from a combination of experience and education.
2. Moving Up the Ladder. If you’re itching for a promotion, a graduate degree could be your key to beating out all your co-workers in securing it. With the massive decline in middle management jobs and employer training and development programs, the rungs on the corporate ladder are much farther apart — making it more difficult for workers to get promoted to the next level. Again, conduct proper research with management or a mentor to choose the graduate program and degree that will fast-track that promotion.
3. Seeking Higher Salary/Better Paying Jobs. There’s no question that people with a graduate degree earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. While it certainly depends on your occupation and the type of program and degree, studies show on average, workers with a master’s degree earn about 30 percent more than those with a bachelor’s. For folks in business considering an MBA, salaries can jump 50 percent — or higher — depending on the MBA, industry, and previous work experience.
4. Making a Career Change. One of the most powerful tools for facilitating a career change is additional education — often in the form of a professional or graduate degree. You’ll still need to obtain experience and networking contacts in your new field, but a graduate program should assist you with both of these issues. Again, research is critical in uncovering the best program and degree for the career change you seek.
5. Achieving Self-Actualization/Pursuing Your Passion. If your true motivation is learning for the sake of learning — for the intrinsic value and reward that additional studies and degrees provide — then it makes sense to continue your educational journey (for as long as you can afford it). Education is a powerful and life-enhancing tool — one that can improve your feelings of self-worth while boosting your ego and self-image.
Weak (Wrong) Reasons for Attending Graduate School
1. Killing Time Waiting (and Hoping) for Job Market to Improve. In a weak economy, it’s certainly very tempting to simply continue in school, hoping that the additional couple of years for graduate school will give the job market enough time to improve. The problem with this strategy is that there is no guarantee the job market will be better by the time you complete your graduate studies — and even if the market is better, with little or no work experience, you can price yourself out of jobs because employers feel obligated to pay job-seekers with a master’s degree more than those with just a bachelor’s — but they often value experience over a graduate degree with no experience.
2. Staying in School to Avoid Life/Real World. Finding a job in any job market can be a long, tough, and humbling experience — not to mention all the other stresses related to living on your own. Thus it’s understandable why some folks like to stay in the cocoon of college, shielded from the realities of life, but all this strategy does is postpone the inevitable. The solution is to face your fears and move further into adulthood.
3. Continuing Education Because Have No Clue About Career. One of the biggest wastes of your time, effort, and money is continuing on to a graduate program simply by inertia because you have no clue what you want to do with your life. A graduate program will not provide you with career clarity — perhaps just the opposite. Instead of applying to graduate programs, use that time and energy to obtain career counseling (from professors, campus career center, career coaches) and/or for conducting self-assessment exercises.
4. Seeking Further Self-Validation Through Good Grades/Professor Praise. If you’re a good student, then next to your family, there is nothing better than to get praise from your professors — and for some people, it can almost become an addiction. While receiving praise from family and professors is a wonderful thing, life is about internal self-validation, and continuing your education for the sake of external validation only sets you up for greater failure and disappointment once you leave school.
Final Thoughts on Graduate/Professional Degrees
Choosing to earn a graduate or professional degree for the right reasons can provide you with much success and rewards, but pursuing graduate studies for the wrong reasons will almost inevitably hurt you personally and professionally.
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