Should Graduate School Be Your Next Step?

Binghamton campus buiding in front of mountain and trees.

Well before you ever make it to your senior year of high school, people start to ask you, what’s next? Are you entering the workforce or continuing your education? Well it turns out college can be a lot like that. As I approach the end of my senior year of school at UAlbany I’m now asking myself this question everyday. What do I want to do? Go to grad school? Start a career? The question can be overwhelming. And while an education at SUNY can set you up with a lot of options, that only makes the big decisions even harder. For some, graduate school is a necessary step for their envisioned career, for others it is one step on their lifelong dream of being known as Dr. Insert-Name-Here. Ultimately, the decision to continue your education can be an intensely personal one.

So we might as well figure it out together. Here are 5 pros and cons, or good and not-so-good reasons, to think through when considering your next step after receiving that undergraduate degree.

Pros: Five good reasons to go to Grad School

1. More earning power.

This is a huge draw for many graduate students. It is a well-documented fact that on average, graduate school degree earners will make more than their under-graduate counter parts. But even if this is a factor in your decision, it probably shouldn’t be your main reason. Graduate School is a huge commitment to make.

2. The chance to work on big projects.

In many ways college is a chance to experiment. And grad school is no exception. You’ll get the chance to research things for which an employer straight out of your undergrad just might not trust you with the resources. Maybe, like Duncan Watts, you’ll end up inventing a whole new field of science.

3. Access to advanced equipment and resources.

Perhaps BigFuture said it best, that colleges offer a “Wide variety of majors and courses,well-stocked libraries, variety of housing opportunities, and wide range of academic choices and student activities.” If you’re going into a STEM field, access to an astronomy lab such as New Paltz’s John R. Kirk Planetarium and  Smolen Observatory can be great benefits to furthering your professional success. Or, maybe you’re a humanities student and you want access to rare books and great minds. Not to mention library databases such as JSTOR and EBSCOHost. Either way, graduate school means access to more resources and tools than you’ve had before.

4. Advance your career.

Maybe you didn’t go to grad school right out of college. You’re out in your field and getting experience, but you realize that a graduate education can open doors for more opportunities. This is especially true if you are in the psychology, social work, or healthcare fields. But whether you go straight from undergrad or from a career, there are career benefits with a graduate school education. According to College View, “After prolonging your career search while obtaining a valuable college education, you will find that your career choices will likely be much more substantial with your degree.”

5. You’re following your dream.

You often hear about the importance of following your dreams. In fact, Life Hack recently published an article explaining the importance of following your dreams. Maybe this is what you’ve always wanted. You want to learn, to think critically, to accept the academic challenge. You can enhance your education, get recognition, and stand out. Education comes with opportunities and if you want to travel, teach, and most of all learn, graduate school is a good fit for you.

Cons: Five reasons maybe not to go to Grad School

1. You’re using it as an excuse to avoid other problems.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a grad student joke, “You never have to pay back your student loans if you’re a student forever!” And I myself have joked that I’m only considering grad school because I’m afraid to start my “real life.” But these are jokes. If these are really the only reasons you want to go to grad school you need to seriously do some research and find out what you really want. Any loans you take out in grad school will also need to be paid back someday. The Idealist summed up this idea on their own site: “As if graduate education weren’t already stressful enough! Rather than providing a solution to other issues going on in your life, going to grad school will most likely aggravate them. Who needs the extra stress?”

2. You just want the title of doctor.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “But Kay, in the introduction you made that sound like a valid reason!” Well, imaginary protester, yes I did. But I have some clarifications to make. Being a doctor of anything is more than a title. It is hard work and dedication. It can be so stressful that there is even a National Grad Crisis Line (877-GRAD-HLP) You really need to care about what you’re doing. And besides, if misters Pepper, Seuss, Dre, and Fate have taught me anything, it’s that you don’t always need grad school to call yourself a doctor.

3. You’ll rack up extra costs.

Grad school costs money, and it takes time, which as you know, is money. If you’re racking up the debt already you may want to take some time to save up for grad school if you decide to go. If you’re trying to decide whether or not the cost is worth it to you you may want to use the Forbes 7 Step Process.

4. You’re using it as an excuse to move.

Okay, so you’ve always wanted to live in California, or Canada, or Japan! But don’t make grad school the way you justify your move. Moving should be a result of grad school, not the other way around. Moving can be stressful and scary. In fact, a writer for Psychology Today described moving as “the rapid dismantling of a carefully ordered space, the tiring physical work, the sudden change to a new environment, and the need to make important decisions on a moment-to-moment basis all combine, like the symbiotic organisms that cohabitate as a Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, creating a slimy toxic blob of mental unpleasantness.” This effect can only be amplified by the stress of school. Make sure you want to go to grad school before you just up and move far away!

5. Grad school can be stressful.

It’s a competitive endeavor from start to finish. And not only that, it has a huge workload. Many former grad students have spoken out about the stress they experienced. According to a 2011 survey by the nonprofit group Grad Resources, 43% of U.S. graduate students who participated reported experiencing more stress than they could handle. It very well might put a strain on you and your relationships. You’ll need a good thesis and a good support system to be successful.

 

In the end it comes down to you. All of these reasons aren’t concrete for everybody. Take time to understand what it is you want to do. Do your research to know what is best for you and to make the best decision for you. If grad school is on that radar, great! If you’re looking for some graduate programs to get you started, you might want to start with SUNY.

Written by Kay Broughton

Kay is a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media. She is a University at Albany undergraduate working towards a double major in English and East Asian studies with a double minor in communications and film.

February 24, 2016

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