–post by Dr. Kristen Willmott
As college graduation season comes to a close, many graduates and rising seniors are considering their next steps, just as working professionals are assessing if a graduate degree may take them to the next level in their careers.
As Inside Higher Ed recently noted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employers will add just under 2.4 million jobs requiring a graduate or advanced degree between 2012 and 2022. In 2016, the demand for a graduate degree in the workplace is here to stay.
As a former Admissions and Financial Aid Officer for an Ivy League graduate school, and one who left a full-time job to obtain a PhD, I have seen firsthand the benefits of a graduate degree.
There are many articles, studies, and blogs devoted to reasons not to pursue graduate school and just as many for graduate school. In December 2015, Business Insider published an article highlighting ‘14 Reasons Not to Go To Grad School.’ All 14 reasons essentially boil down to two central points: it’s hard work and it’s costly.
If you need an article to tell you that a 1-2 year Master’s degree or a 5-7 year PhD is going to be hard work and costly, then you weren’t going to be admitted into a top graduate school program anyway.
The time and money input is real, but it doesn’t have to be scary-real. This is especially true if your graduate school pathway is well planned out, your application is worthy of funding, especially the ever-important merit aid that students DO obtain, and your career goals align with what graduates actually are likely to obtain post-program.
Graduate school DOES require immense commitment to your studies over many years (depending upon the program), a considerable change in your distribution of time (little time for social engagement outside of your department, plus top schools often intentionally design the first part of their programs to be tough), and money, as even fully-funded graduate students have research, books, conferences, and travel expenses.
Job searching, career climbing, and job-switching are also hard work and costly. Depending on your targeted career, graduate school can offer a leg up, and it doesn’t have to be a choice that negatively impacts your life.
Top Reasons to Go to Grad School:
1.) You can make tuition back and then some. As the Georgetown report ‘The College Payoff’ found, and similar studies have confirmed, holding a graduate degree pays off. Those with a Master’s degree earn $400,000 more that those with a Bachelor’s. Those with a Master’s or higher typically make 30% more that those without.
2.) You can get paid to study. Stipends, research assistantships, teaching fellowships, outside fellowships, and merit aid are all possible. I have worked with students who have received merit aid in Master’s, PhD, law school, and MBA programs. Merit aid is not dependent on your financials. It’s designed to sway you to attend a program and the best way to obtain it is with a stellar statement of purpose and recommendation letters (and obviously in-range, meaning above-average, test scores/GPA).
- Many do not know it’s possible to apply for outside fellowships before applying to graduate school. This is a boost for your application and your budget.
- Also, understand that it is never a good idea to borrow your way (completely) through graduate school. When all of your acceptance letters are in, if you have zero funding, you may want to rethink your graduate school plans. You cannot, will not profit from a graduate school stipend; it’s an assist, not a salary. The salary is what you make when the stipends end.
3.) You can expand your job options. A graduate degree is something you will have on your resume or CV forever.
- You might not have the “Mrs.” before your name indefinitely, but if you earn a PhD, the “Dr.” is there to stay. That fact is appealing to students, but for PhD applicants especially, it is important to understand that as Dr. Karen Kelsky has articulated time and time again, the tenure-track academic job market is collapsing. Her February 8, 2016 Facebook post in response to a recent job market summary on History PhDs sums this up well with her comment: “History: Stop. Admitting. Ph.D. Students.” If you’re a history scholar seeking a U.S. tenure-track faculty position post-degree, consider the work you could do outside of the tenure track climb, perhaps curating a museum, becoming a researcher, etc.
- If you are a graduate school applicant willing to explore the immense benefits of your degree and how your transferrable skills (see #4 below) can propel you to a rewarding career, then your pursuit of graduate school may well be a great decision. Graduate degree holders are sought after on the job market and an increasing amount of job postings now have the words “Master’s degree holders especially encouraged to apply.” The value in a graduate degree is now equivalent to the value of what a college degree used to be.
4.) You can obtain more transferrable skills than you would at just one job. Beyond enhancing your resume with your academic, research, and professional experience in your program, graduate school offers unique access to a wide array of transferrable skills that span across many fields.
A few examples of :
- Project management
- Public speaking
- Analytical thinking
- Report writing
- Multicultural sensitivity
- Event planning
- Conflict negotiation, and more.
Your degree goes on your CV or resume –but so do these, and there is immense value in that.
With a stand-out application including above-average undergraduate GPA and test scores plus a statement of purpose that gets shoved to the top of the metaphorical pile in graduate admissions, you can obtain a top Master’s or doctoral degree. The trick is to understand that you’re on the clock in more ways than one: your graduate degree should be obtained at a top program in your targeted field and completed swiftly in terms of time, money, family sacrifice, and years away from your profession. The good news? It can be done.