If you’re not quite ready to head out into the job market, a full-time graduate study program can seem appealing.
It can be confusing to choose – you may see civil service and job announcements specifying that a master’s degree is required or “preferred.” You may also know plenty of people who don’t have master’s degrees, and they’re doing just fine.
So how do you decide whose ranks to join? Here are some guidelines for determining if you should add an MA to your resume.
What is Grad School?
Graduate study is more specialized than undergraduate study. For the duration of your graduate program, you will eat, sleep, and breathe one subject. Everything you learn will be geared toward you becoming an expert in your chosen field of study.
If you’re thinking about pursuing grad school, and you can easily picture yourself spending the rest of your life delving into your chosen topic, then graduate school may be the thing to do. Unlike most undergraduate courses, graduate studies are designed to teach you a specific set of skills. Graduate study is also great for developing a skill (or skills) that are easily transferable to other fields of work.\
Many employers will consider a graduate degree in lieu of work experience – the amount of knowledge acquired through graduate study is typically viewed as being equivalent to working full-time. Graduate students are considered to have a greater level of understanding in their field – usually, a master’s degree that takes two years to complete is considered equivalent to one of two years of work experience.
Having a graduate degree implies that you are intelligent and hardworking – Even one-year graduate programs give you the right to call yourself a “master” of something. Employers generally look at graduate students as being mature, over-achievers, since you have gone further than the normal course of study – If you’re willing to do additional schoolwork, you probably can be counted on to go the extra mile as an employee, too. Since most graduate programs require a thesis, it’s implied that graduate students are able to read and write well, in addition to being excellent researchers
Graduate programs help build your network – Most graduate programs require students to complete internships that last for at least a semester. Therefore, graduate school is a great place to meet potential employers. Graduate school also offers the opportunity to get involved in local community life, which usually offers more opportunities for work and experience. Many graduate school professors are also typically well regarded in their respective fields, and can themselves be a conduit to employment and other opportunities.
You will incur debt – unless you get a full scholarship, you will likely have to take out a loan(s) in order to finance your graduate school education. It is worth it if you are passionate about your field of study, and can see yourself working in your chosen field of study. But if you’re considering full-time graduate student life only as an alternative to the job market, graduate study may not be worth it.
See if you can find fellowship programs that will pay for all or a portion of your tuition. Fellowship programs are usually offered in fields that are short-staffed. There are even medical programs that will facilitate low or no cost tuition as long as the program participant promises to work with a designated population for a specified period of time after their graduate studies end.
Some employers prefer practice to theory – although a graduate program can sometimes be substituted for years of service, there are some employers that will prefer that prospective new hires with work experience.
Fields that require licensing may be hard to break into, even with a graduate degree. These are usually fields that require the licensee to make decisions that can have serious and long-lasting effects, such as counselling and health care.
If you do decide to embark upon graduate education, make sure you choose a subject that is versatile enough for the skills you learn during the program to be transferable to any setting. For instance, the Master’s of Library Science degree typically takes one year to complete full-time. The skills you learn – mainly centred around researching and cataloguing – are easily transferable to any market. A Master’s in Library Science might help the holder of the degree to land a job in a museum, a school, the library of a law firm, a publishing house – just about any place in which records need to be maintained, and preserved.
When thinking about which graduate degree to pursue, especially if you are trying to be strategic, think about pursuing a degree that will provide you with skills that will make you useful—and subsequently marketable.