Work vs. Grad School

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With your undergraduate degree in hand, you’ve reached a fork in the road. Should you jump right into the workforce or pursue a graduate degree?

Of course this is a question you must consider long before you put on the cap and gown and march up to accept your degree. Having a job lined up or gaining admission to a graduate program requires action on your part a year or more in advance of graduation day.

Finding a job is your ultimate goal, but maybe an advanced degree is your best strategy for achieving it. How do you know? And if an advanced degree is in the cards, when should you pursue it?

From a purely financial standpoint, getting a graduate or professional degree seems obvious. Based on median weekly earnings from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income of those with a college undergraduate degree is just over $57,000. A graduate degree bumps that to almost $69,000. A medical or law degree produces a median income exceeding $85,000. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“If you’re not 100 percent sure of what you want to do with your career, it definitely pays to take your time and get some real-world job experience before going to grad school,” says Megan Mankerian, a graduate school recruiter for Valparaiso University.

If you do know exactly what you want to do, consider how important grad school is in your chosen field. “For STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, graduate school is usually required early to advance or get a key position in these fields. For education, social sciences and business, individuals can consider graduate school at all phases of their career,” says Janice Blum, Associate Vice Chancellor
for Graduate Education at IUPUI.

To research the need for an advanced degree and the likely payoff, go to the Council of Graduate Schools website,, for more information and a link to the GRADSENSE calculator, which can show you the payoff of a graduate degree in certain careers.

If you know graduate school is for you, here are deadlines and other advice to consider:

  • Plan ahead. It’s smart to begin planning at least a year in advance of when you’d like to go to graduate school.
  • For GRE or GMAT entrance exams, plan far enough ahead to take the exam twice. You might improve your score the second time.
  • You’ll need two or three letters of recommendation. At least one of those should come from a professor. Get those letters lined up as early as possible.
  • Some schools allow you to start taking classes toward your graduate degree in your senior year of undergrad. This canĀ save time and money.
  • Employers, especially in business fields, will often pay for your graduate degree.
  • Your graduate degree doesn’t always have to be in the same area of study as your undergraduate degree.
  • All schools are different. Don’t assume that the rules from one apply to all.