So you’re finishing your undergrad – or perhaps you finished it 1, 5, even 20 years ago – and lately you’ve found yourself asking, “Should I go to graduate school?” In a vacuum, more education has rarely hurt anyone (in the modern, first world subsection of this big, old world). However, we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in the real world, and there are a number of factors you should think about before making this decision.
The biggest thing that should be on your mind is where you want to end up, and what you can do to get there. Every action you take in your career should in some way serve this purpose; anything that doesn’t should be avoided.
First things first, if you’re not sure what you want to do, don’t waste tens of thousands of dollars and all your spare time figuring it out. If you’re beyond that, the primary factors you should keep in mind in determining whether or not grad school serves your end goals are: money, utility, and training versus experience. Money is an obvious one: can you afford it? Does the cost outweigh the possible benefit? What are the effects that going into debt, or further into debt, will have on your ability to pursue your goals on the other side of schooling? Do some research about your chosen field: do people with a higher level of degree consistently make more money or get more work?
This leads us to utility. Does the program you’re looking at provide you with necessary skills or connections to get the career you want? For an anecdotal example, I knew someone who was deciding between and state school and a more expensive but prestigious private university. In the end, he chose to go further into debt to attend the private university’s program because it provided him more opportunity to make money post-graduation and to work in the specific sectors he wanted to work in. Similarly, you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re essentially repeating coursework from your undergrad. If you have a BFA in Dramatic Writing, the MFA in Dramatic Writing at the same school is unlikely to offer you much additional insight or networking opportunity. Nonetheless, there are people who follow exactly that path.
Third, there’s the question of more training versus real world experience. If you give two years to a master’s degree, those are two years you can’t spend in the field gaining practical experience. Depending on your career path, those two years might be better spent working and taking the occasional continuing education class to make yourself more hirable.
All of this is not to say that going to grad school is a mistake, but rather to think it through. Be smart about how you steer your life and you’ll end up much happier for it.