Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
After four years of hard work (and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of fun), you find yourself in possession of a brand new bachelor's degree. The big question, then, is this: Should you find a job and earn back some of the money you've spent over the course of your college years, and maybe even make your first forays into the career your college education has theoretically prepared you for? Or should you apply to graduate school and fill up your brain with as much information and knowledge as you can before heading out into the workforce?
Depending on your career objectives and your undergraduate studies, you essentially have three options:
1. Enter a grad program immediately after college.
2. Work in your field of interest for a few years before going back to school.
3. Avoid graduate school altogether.
The good news is: it is very difficult to make the wrong decision here. You just need to consider your academic and career objectives.
Go straight to grad school
Certain courses of graduate study are best undertaken immediately following your graduation from college. These include the more intellectual, esoteric, and academic areas of study.
If, for example, you have just earned you bachelor's degree in philosophy, then no amount of pre-grad school real-world experience as a philosopher will make you any more prepared for graduate study. In fact, taking a break following college could very well prove detrimental. The kind of deeply academic and intellectual work required of Ph.D. students in philosophy will necessitate the kind of thought and research you utilized over the course of your undergraduate studies. So in this sense, enrolling in a grad program immediately after college graduation is probably a good idea, for all of the skills you will need to use in grad school will not have had the chance to decay.
There are other areas of study that will benefit from immediate graduate work, too. Pre-med majors, for example, usually enroll in medical school immediately following college graduation. If the ultimate goal is to work one day as a doctor, then real-world experience will not further that dream more expediently than the attainment of the M.D. degree. In this case, a break between undergraduate matriculation and med-school enrollment is rather nonsensical.
Get some work experience first
In some cases, working in the so-called real world for a few years is a good idea. In fact, there are some graduate degrees whose ultimate efficacy is enhanced by the student's having some sort of non-academic experience in the field before enrolling.
Many investment bankers, for example, choose to go back for their MBA at some point in their career. And when they do, they have a whole range of financial and institutional experiences to pull from as they seek elucidation on the topic at hand. Therefore, those who wish to pursue an MBA may be wise to work in their area of interest for two to four years before going back to school as certain classes in an MBA program will seem much more relevant and informative to those who have the kind of real-world experience that helps clarify the lessons and theories being taught. In certain fields there is just no substitute for the foundation of real-world experience.
Another advantage to working for a while before returning to school is that many employers will help with employee's graduate school fees, assuming the employee promises (in writing) to work for that company for a set number of years after the attainment of the degree in order to ensure that their investment is worthwhile. So from a financial point of view, having an established relationship with a employer that is willing to help defray the costs of a graduate education is, literally, priceless.
Get out in the real world
There are those for whom graduate education is just not the right option. Some fields simply do not necessitate their practitioners to earn any sort of advanced degree. This, of course, is not a reflection on the prestige or utility of those fields; it is, rather, merely a reflection of the real-world responsibilities inherent in those areas.
Some may want pursue a graduate degree but believe they simply cannot afford to take time away from their real world commitments such as single parents or full time caretakers. Fortunately for them, "correspondence courses" have gone the way of antiquity and many reputable universities now offer full-fledged online graduate degree programs.
Whatever your real world situation, it is important to remember that graduate school will always be there, and you always have the option of exploring degree opportunities. The key is to do what is best suited to you, your career, and your goals. You can become a success whatever you decide. Just make an informed, mature decision, and the rest will follow.
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