grad resources

Determining if or when to go to grad school is a big decision. You may have read our companion piece Good Reasons to go to Grad School. In this piece, we take on the flipside and consider some not so great reasons to go to grad school. We also take a look at some alternative next steps that may improve your readiness to pursue an advanced degree later on or build your career without graduate school.

Let’s dig into some not so great reasons as well as some common misperceptions about what graduate school:

You think that a graduate degree is necessary for your next steps

It might be, but be sure to do your research first. A great first step is talking to people who are doing what you want to do professionally. Ask them if a degree is necessary for their job and if they have advice on when you should go to grad school or particular programs they would recommend. If it’s not necessary, take a look at alternatives such as professional development workshops, individual college classes, or certificate courses. Depending on your goals, a course or two may help you advance in your field or tee you up for a promotion or next career step.

Even if you’re interested in a career switch a graduate degree may not be necessary. It all depends on your specific field but a continuing education course may provide the necessary skills without the expense and time commitment of a degree-granting program. To help asses and make that determination, consider volunteering or interning at an organization in the field you’d like to eventually work in. This experience can help you gain insight on what skills are needed and figure out if a job in the field would be a good fit for you.

You have always been curious about X

You can explore a subject or field of interest in many ways without having to commit the resources required for grad school. Depending on how you like to learn, consider:

  • Volunteering with an organization that focuses on issues related to a particular topic such as the American Red Cross for public health and safety.
  • Taking a continuing education class at your local community college.
  • Joining a membership organization that allows you to learn more about a topic through events like discussions, lectures, and trainings.

If after pursuing your interest area through one or more of these avenues, you find that you are still left wanting for more, than a graduate degree may be an option for you.

You are dissatisfied with your current employment

Grad school is a very expensive solution unless you were already considering graduate education and feel that you’ve reached a point in your career where further education is necessary for advancement.

Keep in mind that even if your degree is entirely funded, you will probably not work full-time during school, meaning you will lose your salary during your years in school. It’s a classic case of what economists call “opportunity cost.” For example, if your salary is $30,000 per year, two years of full-ride, tuition-paid grad school is still costing you at least $60,000 (in lost wages). That’s steep! And possibly worth it, if your degree eventually helps you increase your salary or attain a more fulfilling career. Consider this hidden price tag especially if you have financial goals such as reducing undergraduate loans or other debt, paying for a car, saving for a house, or planning for retirement.

You’re not quite sure what you’d like to do with your life

Plenty of people don’t exactly know how they’d like their careers to map out. Maybe you’re one of them and considering grad school. If this is the case, applying to grad school is among the last things you should do. A graduate education can be an invaluable tool to help you accomplish what you want to do with your life, but it may not resolve any confusion or uncertainty about your career or life’s purpose. To help figure out what you’d like to do, considering instead:

  • Talking and networking with peers or mentors in potential fields of interest.
  • Taking a self-assessment test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Strong Interest Inventory.
  • Researching jobs or organizations on sites like Idealist to get a better sense of what opportunities are out there.
  • Finding a career coach or guide to help point you towards individualized resources.
  • Working or interning to learn more about yourself professionally, and “test drive” different jobs to help inform larger career choices.
  • Volunteering or participating in a service program like Americorps or the Peace Corps.

You are avoiding or having difficulty in the job hunt

If you are avoiding the job hunt—especially if this is your first job out of college—realize that when you complete grad school, you will likely find yourself looking for employment again. While an advanced degree can improve your prospects, employers place a great deal of weight on your experience, not just your education.

Working, even in a less than ideal position, within or outside of your field of interest, can provide its own learning and growth opportunities. It may help you define your career interests or lead you to change your graduate education plans down the road. Your job experiences can also provide professional development opportunities that can help advance your career as an alternative to going back to school.

Additionally, most graduate admissions staff prefer to see some work experience from applicants. As a grad student with some or substantial work experience in your field of study, you bring valuable real-world perspective to the theory you and your classmates learn in grad school.

If you are having difficulty with your job hunt, keep the faith! Be sure to check out the opportunities on Idealist in your search!

You have always wanted to live in X

Moving to another location can be both stressful and exciting. That said, a move should be a consequence of your decision to go to grad school—not the other way around. Unless you are very sure that getting a graduate education is the right choice for you, using grad school as the main reason to move is probably not a wise decision.

Still not sure? A good litmus test for the clarity of your vision may be your graduate school application personal essay. If you are having a difficult time articulating your reasons for applying to a particular graduate program to yourself, it may be harder still to convince the graduate admissions professionals that this is the right next step for you. If you find yourself in this situation, consider if grad school is the best move for you right now, or if an alternative next step like the those offered above might be a better fit.

Whatever your rationale, you should not make the decision to go to grad school lightly. Pursuing your graduate education requires a significant investment of your financial and personal resources. It’s important to be able to dedicate as much of your attention, energy, and time as possible towards earning your degree to make the most of your grad school experience. We hope digging into some of these reasons helps you clarify your vision and pursue what feels best for you.