Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
So, you have completed your undergraduate education. Now you have a decision to make. Will your next step be to begin your career right out of school, or will you enroll in graduate school to extend your education? To answer this question, you must fully assess your interests, skills and values.
Making Your Decision
You may feel pressure to apply for grad school, but the first thing you must determine is whether your undergraduate degree is enough to begin your career. Several careers require an advanced degree, while some graduate programs require work experience before enrollment. You must determine how grad school fits your professional goals. Identify and research career fields and positions you are interested in, that an advanced degree would benefit.
Consider your goals, both short- and long-term, as well as how grad school or work will conflict with your personal and professional goals. Be certain of your career path if you choose to attend graduate school, as it is time-consuming and expensive to complete an advanced degree. Will the outcome be worth the aggravation?
You should also examine your motivation, no matter which way you are leaning in your decision. To go to graduate school, you must be physically, mentally and financially prepared. You must consider how long it will take to earn your graduate degree and what type of program best fits your needs. You also have to consider your financial situation. If you have student loans from your undergraduate degree, you may not be able to enroll in graduate school right away.
One of the best things you can do is get advice from others. You should talk to students, program administrators, family and friends to help you make an informed decision. Explore your reasons for either going to work or starting graduate school, including any pressures you may feel from yourself, your family or your spouse. While graduate school requires the ability and desire to do research, you will actually have to make a similar commitment no matter which avenue you decide to take.
Look at graduate school as a job in itself. It requires time and energy similar to a job, so graduate school will not entail less work or stress. However, graduate school can be invaluable if you want additional expertise in a particular field or to maximize your earning potential. It is no secret that those who earn graduate degrees enter their career fields at a higher level and enjoy better compensation.
One of the reasons for going to graduate school is that it is an opportunity to network with others in your field, whether they are students, professors or deans. Additionally, attending graduate school makes you more marketable, even if it is not a requirement for your chosen career. And many choose to attend graduate school if they want to teach, perform research or switch careers.
One of the benefits of attending graduate school immediately after completing your undergraduate degree is that you can ride on the momentum you have going. You've already been in school, so you'll still be in that groove, that mindset. You won't have started to educationally rust yet. Your test-taking skills, for example, are likely sharper at this stage than they might be if you return to graduate school some years later. You may also have fewer obligations in your life after your undergrad education than you will have later in life.
If you decide to attend graduate school but are concerned about finances, inquire about your financial aid options. Student loans, fellowships and scholarships are available for grad students. Remember that taking out loans helps you make an investment in something you will have for the rest of your life - an education. Some costs now will be overshadowed by more years of higher salaries.
If you cannot afford graduate school right out of your undergrad program, jumping into the working world may be your best option. You should also work if you feel you need to know more about your career goals and path, as grad school is not an easy way out to "find yourself." You can save money as you work and keep your mind set on your goal of becoming a graduate student.
If you do plan to attend graduate school later in your life, save money and do as much research on grad programs as possible. Take some time to identify your strengths, weaknesses, interests and values. Ask yourself if you will still be motivated to go to grad school later. It is a life-changing decision, and time off could either increase or decrease you desire to attend graduate school.
When making the decision to work instead of attending graduate school, ask yourself if you will be missing out on expanding the possibilities and rewards of your career. After all, you don't have to go into academia with a graduate degree, as there are many other job options out there.
Perhaps you can handle both going to graduate school and holding down a job. There is a chance that you could get financial support from your employer in the form of tuition reimbursement. What could be better than attending graduate school and gaining work experience at the same time?
Just ask yourself: are you ready?