The Grad School Option

A young friend decided to enroll in graduate school this month as a way to wait out the lackluster job market.  Since he always had planned to get a master’s degree, I couldn’t debate the decision.  However, I encourage everyone to make sure they’re pursuing advanced degrees for the right reasons. 

I enlisted Syracuse University professor Bill Coplin to weigh in on the grad school quandary.  Bill has written extensively on the subject and I, coincidentally, agree with his approach to graduate school. 

   Bill Coplin 

Graduate school has always been appealing to people in their 20’s. With the economy going south, the appeal has increased. Like all investments, the decision needs to be based on sound reasoning; not because it delays dealing with adulthood, the loss of freedom in working 40 hours a week, student loan payments or the current tough job market.

In advising college seniors and young alums over the past 40 years at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, I have found that too many students go to graduate school for the wrong reasons.  The vast majority of my 1,500 undergraduate majors over the past 40 years have had wonderful careers without going to graduate school. Less than 5% have gone right after graduations and about another 10% have gone at a later date. Many of those went part-time while holding down a full time job.

Deciding to go to graduate school should be a business decision where the risks, costs and rewards of this significant investment in time and money are carefully considered.

In some cases, the advanced degree is absolutely necessary but there are still some things to consider. Some professions like law and medicine require graduate school so you need to go but don’t do it unless you have had some relevant real world experiences like an internship in a law office or working as a volunteer EMT. Some businesses, government (especially teaching) and non-profits want you to have an advanced degree but do it part time and as easily and cheaply as possible.  

In other cases, an advanced degree is a matter of choice.  The decision should be made only after thorough investigation. Going to graduate full time is like deciding on whether or not you want to do surgery on a bad back.  Try all other options first.

You can reduce the risks and costs and increase the rewards in the following ways:

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