Once the dust settles on your commencement ceremony and the ink is dry on your diploma, it's time for you to make your exit from the world of graduate studies and academia into ... what exactly? Graduate school is a valuable endeavor pursued by many students of all ages and backgrounds, but it's important to keep in mind that an advanced degree isn't an end in itself, but rather a resource that may help you open doors in your later professional life.
The post-academic world is different from that of graduate school, and knowing what to expect after graduation might be the key to making the most of your graduate education, maximizing your potential, and forging the future that you went to graduate school to build in the first place.
One of the biggest advantages graduate school offers to students isn't necessarily the information and hard data it imparts - after all, much of that might be learned on the Internet by a curious Googler - but rather the structure, support and systems of checks and balances offered by a rigidly constructed academic program. Especially in instances where the student has been studying for an extended period of time - potentially attending school part-time while balancing a job, for example - the tracks of habit worn into the way your brain works can take hold in significant ways.
This is especially true for Ph.D. candidates, many of whom have spent a substantial amount of time in the academic mindset. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average recipient of a Ph.D. is 34 years old, meaning that upon exiting academia, many of their age contemporaries have spent years adapting to the ebb and flow of the working world without the guided rigidity of an academic program to guide them.
The secret is that the successful graduates are the ones who pick up soft skills as much as field-specific expertise. Graduate school isn't just about learning facts and networking - graduates are often required to multitask, juggle new responsibilities and adapt to suddenly changing circumstances. The guiding structure you enjoyed in school need not disappear when you toss your cap into the air, it just becomes self-implemented.
For many, successfully earning a graduate degree was the most significant and most challenging thing they've accomplished. But as one blogger writing for USA Today reminded, the end of graduate school isn't an end to the grueling work. In fact, graduates will find themselves working just as hard as they did while they were in school, merely in different ways. Decades ago, graduate school, especially Ph.D. programs, were seen as a fast- track to a career teaching at a university. However, this trend has since stopped being the primary track graduates follow.
All this means is that graduates will need to work just as hard to find a job and court employers as they did to receive their degrees. The biggest hurdle standing in the way of successful employment for most graduates is lack of job experience, according to the CHE. Especially in instances where students left or deferred jobs to attend school full-time, the primary focus post-graduation should be acquiring experience which, to employers, is often just as valuable as a degree.
Of course, a graduate degree may still be a substantial asset, especially for many professional fields. Those looking to potentially boost their clout with a graduate degree need to understand how to best use their resources when it comes time to transition into the working world successfully.
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.