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5 Myths and Realities about Graduate Education

Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated November 2012


As we slowly emerge from what may be the ugliest recession of our generation many of us out looking for jobs are afraid we can’t find one, those of us already working at jobs are afraid we can’t keep them. Desperate times might mean we’re liable to consider any number of rash and extreme measures - joining the circus, buying a hog farm, robbing a bank. But let’s hold onto our ski masks for just a minute. Not every Plan B requires a getaway car.

In fact, during these tough times, experts are reassuring undergrads and professionals alike that graduate school is a smart career move - despite the cautionary tales you may have heard. Previous economic downturns, coupled with some sidebar in the world of higher ed., have helped to create several myths about graduate education, clouding its undeniable upsides.

Of course graduate education is a major decision - and a very personal one. Everyone should do his or her research before signing on for a specific M.A., MBA, or other professional graduate degree. To that end, we’ve outlined 5 key realities that underscore the grad school question: should I stay or should I go now?  

 
Myth #1:
 
Graduate school is a place to “hide out” for a few years, until job prospects look brighter.
 
Reality:
 
“Hiding out” is a passive response to a bad situation. Enrolling in graduate school is actually an aggressive, proactive move towards surer footing. Why? Because now that there are more candidates in the job hunt, you’re competing against more, highly qualified professionals. Many applicants in your field may already have graduate degrees. If not, getting yours will definitely give you an edge. Plus, grad school teaches you the current theories and models that are impacting your line of work. This up-to-date knowledge will help to sell your resume alongside young, recent grads. Finally, starting now means that the timing will work in your favor; just as the employment picture starts looking up, you’ll be newly poised to claim a better job.
 
Myth #2:
 
Graduate education is expensive and, the opportunity cost won’t be recouped.
 
Reality:
 
In terms of lifetime earnings, statistics show that graduate degree holders categorically earn more money than those with only a B.A. or a B.S degree. Students who opt for professional degrees, such as law degrees, are even more likely to outpace four year college grads. And while it’s true that some graduate-educated professionals (e.g. teachers) traditionally garner less than those in other fields, their quality of life – when it comes to job security, benefits, comfortable work/life balance - tends to outweigh the promise of immediate cost recoupment. 
 
Myth #3:
 
Unless you’re 100% certain you know what you want to do, graduate school is a gamble.
 
Reality:
 
No one is 100% certain they know what they want to do. Besides, the best career advisors urge job seekers to accept good opportunities wherever they arise. And if you’re not working, or you’re working at a dead end job, you’re not likely to encounter many opportunities. A graduate degree reinvigorates your employment outlook. You’ll establish contacts and encounter new facets of your profession. You may even uncover a specialization that you truly enjoy. Many graduate degrees can be applied and reapplied to interrelated fields. Experts point out that the analytical and research skills students hone in graduate school are broadly applicable - indeed, sought after qualifications - within a variety of professional sectors. 
 
Myth #4:
 
Graduate school means you have to put your life on hold for 5 years. 
 
Reality:
 
Graduate education includes a wealth of flexible programs. These days there are options suited to every student and every schedule - including campus programs and online programs. Many fulltime master’s degrees can be completed in 2 years. Schools also offer part time programs - particularly MBA programs –that keep students’ work and family commitments manageable. What’s more, financial aid packages can be structured to account for living expenses (e.g. housing and food) while students are studying full time. 
 
Myth #5:
 
Graduate school is for college professors in tweed jackets. 
 
Reality:
 
Graduate school is not strictly for academics. Increasingly, mainstream jobs require graduate degrees as a way of attracting polished, focused candidates. If you’re currently working in a place where graduate degrees are a rarity, you might worry that more schooling only serves to make you look bookish, and perhaps even overqualified. But don’t cramp your potential based on this limited perspective. Future employers won’t fault you for making use of professional downtime. In fact, employers recognize and admire people who can take initiative when other routes of advancement are closed off. And again, you may discover an interest above and beyond your current path. 
 
 
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