Completing your undergraduate degree is both an exciting milestone and a daunting occasion. It’s the official mark of leaving student life behind and moving forward in the world, but it’s also the moment you lose the daily structure school provides and must ponder what your next step will be. For many, there are two main options. The first is postgraduate education, more commonly known as grad school. The second is immediately joining the workforce.
Undergraduate students and recent graduates alike are bound to hear a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to making this decision. Between the two, grad school is often pitched as the safer choice, because we tend to stereotype it as guaranteeing your chances of finding a good job. However, is this actually true? Is one or the other the inarguable best choice, or is there more grey area than we may at first realize? In this article, we’ll go through the positives and negatives of each, and hopefully shed some light on the realities of making this decision.
Choosing Grad School
Now more than ever, grad school is thought of as an inevitable part of early adulthood. You finish your undergrad, you finish your postgrad, and then you settle down and find your dream job. But just because it may appear to be the trend, does not necessarily mean we should jump in blindly. There are some key things to consider when deciding if this is the right step for you.
Grad schools award advanced academic degrees, and are open to those who already have an undergraduate degree and possess the required GPA. Grad schools aren’t the same as professional schools. They don’t typically offer degrees in specific professional fields, and therefore don’t necessarily guarantee a streamlined job hunt. Instead, they deepen your understanding of particular academic subjects.
Here’s the pivotal factor; it’s not for everyone. Contrary to popular belief, the effectiveness of grad school isn’t universal and entirely depends on your field of study. Thus, it’s critical that you think and figure out what your career goals are. Some fields, such as business, science, and medicine, require higher education in order to find a job and compete with other applicants. The specific level of higher education is job-dependant, but it’s understood that you can’t go far with only an undergraduate degree. In these cases, grad school is an established necessary part of the process.
However, not all fields play by the same rules. Certain employers, such as those in creative fields, prefer portfolios, practical experience, and evidence of skill when hiring, which a postgraduate degree doesn’t necessarily equate to. That’s why it’s so important to do research and learn the path that most career professionals in your field have taken, or look through job postings to see what educational background employers ask for. The most common road is not always the only one, but it will give you a clearer idea of what’s needed to achieve your goals.
Choosing the Workforce
On the other side of the fence is the decision to join the workforce immediately after graduation. With or without a postgrad, the ultimate goal is still to find a job in your field, but what makes the workforce option nerve-wracking for most people is the stress of finding your dream job right after you graduate. And most of the time, you need to start somewhere small and work your way to that dream role. It can take time to find a position, which means months of applications, interviews, and sometimes, rejections. If your undergrad was relatively broad, it can be difficult to pinpoint the kind of position you should even be applying for, especially if you’re uncertain about what you’re interested in for a career.
Pro-tip: Check out our Career Guide Section to help with this!
This leads into another reason why people tend to settle on grad school; the prospect of finding a job that suits you is stressful. Many of us have the misconception that there’s a correct, pre-planned road that will lead to success, and recent grads hope that going back to school and regaining a sense of belonging and structure can help them find it. In many ways, it can, but don’t shy away from the ‘real world’ because of fear. Experimentation can be just as beneficial.
Practical experience is key. In your career, you will eventually reach a point where employers simply care less about your degrees and your GPA, and are more focused on the tangible skills you can bring to the position. They want people they can count on to effectively complete work, and practical experience often speaks more to this than abstract degrees. Plus, depending on your field, many entry level positions only require an undergrad degree. From there, you’re able to work your way up, already having a foot in the door and developing skills along the way.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong answer, only what works best for you. Life isn’t a series of conclusive decisions, and no amount of degrees or jobs will dictate what you do for the rest of your days. A perfectly reasonable option is to work for a few years, save up money, and then go to grad school, depending on how you and your interests have changed. There are no hard and fast expectations. Do what suits you best.