By Laura Morrison, March 2014
So you have made it through four years of college and have earned your degree. Now what? Good question. Ready for the answer? Graduate school.
While it may be difficult to consider more schooling, consider making graduate school your next step, particularly if you want to land a job that requires more than a four-year degree or you want a higher starting salary. Just be prepared that your graduate education will differ greatly from your undergraduate experience. Unlike your undergrad degree, there are no general studies requirements in graduate school. There are no electives. Your field of study is narrower and delves deeper, forcing a mastery of your chosen field, and you will spend the length of your schooling on your specific subject. This is because your goal in grad school will be to gain the specialized training necessary for the career toward which you are working.
The benefits of an advanced degree are numerous, and so are the reasons for earning one. Many people return to school after working for a few years in order to advance in their current career, and many others are returning to change their career, as their interests and skills have evolved. The following illustrate some advantages graduate studies have over undergraduate studies.
Relationships with faculty
You will find that your relationship with your professors will be different in graduate school; graduate professors often show a peer-like respect for their students. They know their students have made a big life decision and commitment by attending grad school, and they rarely view them as pupils, instead seeing them as equals who share a similar interest. They know that their students are serious and focused, and they expect a higher level of work because of it. In graduate school, professors give fewer tests than in undergraduate studies; instead, they require more writing and research, and expect you to have the ability to work independently. Graduate professors do not hold your hand, but rather present you with concepts and ideas to encourage individual direction. Courses will typically involve more discussion than lectures, and you will discover that the friendships and connections you make in graduate school are deeper than your previous education experiences.
Immersion and the pursuit of passion
It is likely that, when you were an undergraduate, you did not know specifically what you wanted to do for a career. As a graduate student, you will develop clearer goals and possess greater motivation as well as a commitment to doing more intensive work in a field that you love. Hopefully, during your undergraduate studies, you found a subject that truly piqued your interest; graduate work gives you the opportunity to further develop your skills in that area. Graduate work also affords the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience to help you apply your knowledge to the real world. You will be surrounded by professors and other students who are as passionate about your field of study as you are. This makes studying a more enriching and collaborative effort, and promotes a sense of belonging for all involved.
Intangible career advantages
It's no secret that a graduate degree is more prestigious than an undergraduate degree, and this fact is not lost on companies and institutions when they seek new employees. Graduate studies can ensure enhanced qualifications for a career, which typically result in better, higher-level jobs. A graduate degree is a great achievement that increases job satisfaction and self-confidence. Graduate students have more networking opportunities, and receive knowledge and training that would take years or cannot be learned on the job; they also have a superior work/life balance, as many grad students must work and study at the same time. Further, people with graduate degrees are likely to start their careers at a higher level and continue to advance your career at a faster rate than those who earned only a bachelor's degree. Basically, whether you want to manage others or start your own business, a graduate degree can earn you the extra credibility you need for success.
Tangible career advantages
Those with master's or doctoral degrees are poised to earn significantly higher salaries than those with a bachelor's degree. Holders of a graduate degree end up being better compensated for their education than if they had stopped at the undergrad level. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), recently found that recruiters are looking for employees with "soft skills", such as leadership and communication. Recruiters are finding these skills in the prospective employees who have earned graduate degrees.
The GMAC Global MBA Survey 2006 Comprehensive Report underscores the fact that people with advanced degrees earn a higher salary than people with just an undergrad degree; for example, it showed that starting salaries for MBAs in business-related fields can be upwards of $92,000 per year, nearly double the earnings of people with undergraduate degrees. The report also states that two-thirds of MBA students receive job offers that include a significant signing bonus, and that 52 percent of students working toward their MBAs receive and/or accept job offers before they even graduate.
Last, if your dream is to become a master of social work, college professor, lawyer, doctor, psychologist, therapist, etc., you will find that state licensing requirements make a graduate education mandatory.
So, whether you enjoy academia and are not ready for the often difficult job market, want to contribute more to society or simply need more schooling for your chosen profession, graduate school is the next logical step towards a career. What are you waiting for?
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.
Photo by tpholland