Grad School?

As I meet with employers who recruit on campus, many all ask if I have seen more students going to grad school with the job market being so tight.  The thought process is going back to school for a couple of years, gaining more knowledge and making oneself more marketable, and an improved job market (hopefully) is a better option than struggling through the present day job market.  For some, it may be a good idea, but for most 2010 grads, and future new grads, this is a bad idea.  Why?

Grad school and advanced degrees are wonderful things – I even have one myself.  But graduate programs are inherently different from your typical undergraduate experience.  As an undergrad, people will tell you to use the time to “find yourself” and that these four years will be a wonderful/learning “experience”.  Graduate school is not about finding oneself or discovering your interests; before day one of grad school, one should have a plan of where he/she wants to be on the last day of the graduate program.  Grad school is all about the end goal – PhD professor, MBA marketing executive, masters in counseling for school psychology – what is your graduate program going to do for your career?

A few years back I was working with an engineer who stayed a fifth year and earned his MBA (dual degree program).  The summer prior to his final year at school, he interned with a Fortune 10 company and received an offer.  His offer was the same as an engineer with a four-year degree – his signing bonus was an extra $1000 compared to the engineering student with only a bachelors.  The company explained to him they would not pay extra for an MBA degree without work experience behind the degree.

The employer felt this student had high potential, could potentially move up the ranks faster because of his MBA, and he would not have to try to tackle an MBA program later on in his career (as some of his cohort may try).  So there were pros and cons, the pros were not guaranteed (could move up faster, some of his cohort may leave for a couple of years to attend an MBA program).  $60K in tuition resulted in a $1K bonus and possible delayed benefits – one should be very careful when considering going to grad school to ensure he/she is going for the right reasons and the risks and rewards are thought through.

Avoiding a difficult situation by going deeper into debt and adding a degree that may not make you more marketable is a dangerous undertaking.  Before signing on to grad school, consider the following questions:

  • what will this degree do for you that you cannot achieve right now?
  • why do you need this degree to achieve the answer above?
  • what is your goal for the end of the program? your target industry? job function?
  • will this degree make you more attractive to employers? have you asked any employers if this degree will increase your chances of being employed in your target field?
  • what will you do one day one of your program to ensure you reach your end goal?
  • is the cost associated with the degree offset by the salary you will make in the next 5-10 years?

Grad school can be a great career move if for the right reasons at the right time – but it is not an escape from a lousy job market nor a chance to relive your undergrad years.


About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
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