July 17, 2009
Graduate school: Is it worth it?
Is the long-standing American tradition of rushing off to graduate school when career opportunities are scant eroding? Perhaps.
"Because the GRE is required for the vast majority of graduate school programs, its numbers closely correlate with trends in applications," Inside Higher Ed reported. In fact, the number of people taking the GRE increased steadily between 2004 and 2007, the site reported.
Yes, loans have been tough to come by, college and university budgets have been slashed, and people with jobs have been holding onto them for dear life. But maybe there's another reason for last year's GRE drop. Maybe many of those uncertain about their next career move have wised up to the fact that graduate school is a pretty pricy stopgap.
As Gen Y career expert Alexandra Levit blogged this week, "...if you're borrowing to pay for your schooling -- as 60 percent of graduate students do, accumulating an average $37,000 in student loan debt, according to the 2003-2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study -- you want to make sure you can pay those student loan bills when they come due."
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for going to grad school if you want to study bees or religion or medieval literature for sheer intellectual interest and can afford to do so. Same goes for those who know without equivocation that they want to enter law, medicine, or any other profession that requires additional schooling, tuition be damned.
But for those turning to an advanced degree as little more than an alternative to unemployment -- or because they "heard" it would help their job prospects -- I have some suggestions. First read this fantastic debate on the topic in the New York Times -- and the accompanying reader comments. Then:
Crunch the numbers. Don't just look at how much debt you'll be carrying after graduate school. Look at the starting salaries in your chosen field and determine how many years it will take to pay your debt down. Consider what, if anything, you may have to sacrifice in the interim: Taking a vacation? Replacing your clunker of a car? Buying a home?
Study up on the schools you're considering. Talk to students currently enrolled. Take a look at the curriculum. Audit a class or three. Thumb through the reading material. Make sure this is a subject you actually enjoy before you pony up your future hard-earned dollars.
Talk to professionals in the field. Seek out those with graduate degrees and without, preferably people who've been in the field just five to ten years. Ask if they think a degree can actually help you succeed or earn more money in the profession. And please, don't listen to anyone who says that graduate school is the best way to make connections. Obviously, these people have never been on the Internet.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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