Bad Reasons for Going to Grad School

You may want to reevaluate your readiness for graduate education if any of the following are a significant or the most significant factor in your interest in applying to grad school. These can all be bad reasons for going to grad school:

  • You are avoiding personal/family/financial obligations
  • You are avoiding or having difficulty in the job hunt
  • You are dissatisfied with your current employment
  • You don’t know what to do with your life
  • You think a graduate degree is necessary for your next steps
  • You have always been curious about X
  • You have always wanted to live in X

Whatever your rationale, you should not make the decision lightly. Graduate education requires a significant investment of your financial and personal resources; you want to be able to dedicate as much of your attention, energy, and time as possible towards earning your degree and enjoying and making the most of your grad school experience.

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. But you should consider this hidden price tag 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 are avoiding personal/family/financial obligations

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? And a costly one at that. There are healthier and more affordable ways to resolve difficult personal challenges.

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 find yourself in the same position again. Employers place a great deal of weight on your experience, not just your education.

Also, most graduate admissions staff prefer to see some work experience. Your experiences will enrich your own education and that of your peers. 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. Additionally, if you continue to work while you earn your graduate degree, you can bring invaluable networking opportunities to your classmates as the connection between your current employer and program. By mutually sharing your knowledge, first-hand experiences, and connections in your field with your peers, the value of your graduate education increases.

Working, even in a less than ideal position, within or outside of your field of interest, will provide its own learning and growth opportunities and help define your career interests, potentially changing your graduate education considerations down the road.

Finally, working first will help you decide if this field is really a good fit, and if grad school is necessary after all. You may find that your job or career provides enough personal and professional development that you will not feel the need to obtain a graduate degree to advance in the field.

If you are having difficulty with your job hunt, keep the faith! Hopefully you’ve already checked out the job opportunities on in your search. If not, we suggest you start there if you are interested in nonprofit work. Also be sure to consider volunteer and intern positions.

You are dissatisfied with your current employment

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

If you don’t like your current job, consider finding a new job. If that’s not possible, try to make your job more satisfying by addressing the problems directly.

An alternative to enrolling in a graduate program for a degree is to take professional development workshops, individual college classes, or certificate courses. Depending on your goals, a course or two may be all that you need.

Resources to help you explore new opportunities

For more information about nonprofit careers, internships and volunteering, and how to get started, check out the following resources Idealist provides:

  • Volunteer Resource Center
  • Nonprofit Career Center
  • Idealist Careers: Our blog and resources devoted exclusively to helping you locate, land, and love your social impact career.

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

Definitely do your research first. Talk to people. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. Ask them if a degree is necessary or matters for that job or field. If so, ask which degree they recommend and seek their advice on when you should go to grad school. If not, ask them what the steps are to get to where they are and do what they are doing.

You may not need a graduate degree to transition from a career as a marketing assistant to a development officer, an account executive to a program coordinator, or an engineer to a teacher. A continuing education course may provide the necessary skills without the expense and time commitment of a degree-granting program. Some preliminary “field experience” through volunteering, interning, or getting an entry-level job in the area of interest can also help you gain more insight into what skills and background you would need. It can also help you get a foot in the door and through a combination of networking and experience, potentially assist you in getting the job you want.

  • Read more about individual classes, community courses and workshops, and certification as alternatives to grad school.

You have always been curious about X

If you are curious about a particular subject or field, exploring that interest can take many forms, without having to commit the resources (time, money) required for grad school. Depending on how you like to learn, here are a few ideas:

  • Buy or borrow books to read about your interest
  • Join a membership organization that allows you to expand your network, learn more about a topic through organized events such as discussions, lectures, and trainings.
    • For example, if you are curious about international affairs and you live in the United States, you can join the World Affairs Council.
  • Take a continuing education class at your local community college.
  • Volunteer with an organization that focuses on issues related to a particular topic such as the American Red Cross for public health and safety.

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

You have always wanted to live in X

Moving to another location can be one of the most stressful and exciting experiences you can undergo, and 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. You can also take some time off and explore an area while on vacation to see if you’d really like to move and live there.

Conclusion and further resources

Whatever your motivations for applying for grad school may be, having a clear vision of how your graduate degree will help you achieve your goals is essential because it will make the going worthwhile and temper the more challenging moments.

Still not sure? A good litmus test for the clarity of your vision is the personal statement on the grad school’s application form. If you are having a difficult time articulating the reasons for applying to a particular graduate program to yourself, then it will be that much harder to convince the graduate admissions professionals who will eventually read your application and interview you. If you find yourself in this situation, look into alternatives that can help you figure out your next steps.

Here is an article with attitude about bad reasons for going to grad school, by blogger Penelope Trunk. It’s a good thought provoker and argues against graduate education.