Student Professional Development Center

Should I go to Graduate School?

Going to graduate school is a big decision—one that involves a significant commitment of time, money, energy and hard work. The decision to go is one that should not be made lightly and should be made for the right reasons. In some fields or professions, having a graduate degree is necessary for advancement. In others, an advanced degree may not be necessary, but it may open doors that an undergraduate degree alone may not.  

The lists below are generalizations and may not apply to everyone, but they offer points of consideration that may help in making your decision.

Good Reasons to go to Graduate School

  • Advance your career. A graduate degree can open up a wider and deeper array of career opportunities, especially in fields like psychology, social work and healthcare.
  • Enhance your education. Graduate schools can provide opportunities to explore ideas and theories of interest to you through research and collaboration, and may allow you to contribute to your field of study as well.
  • Greater earning power. While this is a common reason many people go to graduate school, it should not be the only one, since going to graduate school is a very serious commitment and the pay differential between those with an undergraduate and a graduate degree varies greatly within different fields.
  • Higher potential for future promotion. While obtaining a graduate degree does not necessarily lead to a high-paying job right away, it can open up opportunities for future promotions.
  • Career/career path change. Many people find their current careers unrewarding, and sometimes students graduate wishing they’d chosen a different major, but having stuck with “the plan” because they thought it was too late in the game to change. An advanced degree can help transition to another career path -- whether out of desire or necessity.
  • Find teaching opportunities. Not everyone is suited to teaching, but for those who are, getting a master’s or a doctorate can open doors to teaching opportunities at a university or college that an undergraduate degree alone will not allow.
  • A great opportunity to be with like-minded people. Graduate students learn from each other as well as their professors.
  • Because you just know with confidence and certainty that this is what you want to. You want to learn, to think critically, and to accept the academic challenge. You don’t even need to read this stuff.

Bad Reasons to go to Graduate School

  • Fear of entering the workforce.  Some students just don't want to leave school. They’re afraid of what’s out there.
  • You don’t know what you want to do after you graduate. You should go to graduate school because you know what you want to do, not because you don’t.
  • Because someone else wants you to (your parents, your advisor, your grandma). It has to be your decision. You’re the one who’ll be committing the next chunk of your life to this undertaking, not them.
  • Because “everyone else” is going. No. Everyone else is not going. And those who are going, we hope are going for reasons that fall under Good Reason to Go. This one falls under Bad Reasons to Go.
  • You’re bored with your job/life.  There are many less expensive and less stressful ways to offset boredom. Explore.
  • You love college life and want to remain in that environment. The life of an undergraduate student is quite different from that of a graduate student. The physical landscape may stay the same, but everything else will be different.

Things to Consider as you make your decision

  • Can I do what I want to do with the degree I already have? In some fields, a bachelor’s degree is enough to lay the groundwork for a satisfying career. Graduate school won’t necessarily lead to a better job. Talk with your advisor if you’re not sure about this one. 
  • Will I have a better chance of getting into graduate school if I gain some work/field experience first? Some graduate programs (MBA and many PhD, for example) prefer that applicants have some amount of professional experience before seeking admission. 
  • Can I afford it? Graduate school can be very expensive. Most graduate programs offer assistantships or other forms of financial aid, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it. You may graduate with considerable debt.
  • Am I willing (and able) to commit two to seven years to this undertaking? A master’s degree can generally be completed in two years or less, but a PhD can take 6-8 years (or longer!). This is a serious time commitment. Think about it.
  • The hidden costs of graduate school.  Beyond tuition and fees, you will likely experience a loss of income. It is difficult to work and go to graduate school at the same time, and some programs actually require that you agree to NOT work outside the institution while you are a student. Most likely, if you work at all, it will be part-time. Part-time pay rarely covers full-time expenses such as rent, utilities, food, insurance, etc. 
  • Graduate school is stressful! Completing a graduate degree, especially a PhD, requires emotional maturity and discipline that you may not be anticipating.

But on the other hand…

  • Now might be the best time.  Before you’ve started a career that you might later find difficult to leave…before you buy that new car that comes with 5 years of payments you won't be able to make if you quit your job to go to graduate school...before you make a relationship commitment that may lead to additional financial obligations that make it difficult to give up any portion of your income…while your time is (at least sort of) your own. Now might be the time.
  • If you know what you want to do and you have a true passion for it…if you’re willing to dedicate the time and energy to what could be the most intellectually and academically rewarding time of your life…if you have the means or are willing and able to assume some amount of debt to achieve this goal…if thinking about not going feels worse than thinking about going…if you believe you’ll always wish you’d done it if you don’t….then graduate school might be the perfect and logical next step in your life.

Decided to go?

See the "Additional Resources" link for some websites to get you started on your information search.                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                                -RHJ

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