Ask Ainsley: Should I go to grad school?

Dear Ainsley,

I’m an Arts student in my third year, and everyone around me seems to be gearing up for grad school. I’m not quite sure I know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but the thought of no longer having the structure of school is worrying me. I’m also worried that I’m lagging behind my friends who are pursuing more education, and that I’ll regret it if I don’t continue my studies now. Should I go, and what should I consider when deciding?

Sincerely, 

Lost About Grad School (LAGS)


Dear LAGS,

Planning for the future after your undergrad can be intimidating, especially since it entails moving on from your university social group. It can be scary to think about going your separate ways, but it’s best that you make your decision independently of the people around you. Grad school is a big commitment, and it might take some soul-searching to determine if it’s right for you. At the same time, extra schooling can be a great opportunity to deepen your expertise in your area of study and can be either necessary or beneficial for finding higher-paying employment in certain fields. Below are a few things to consider, but every situation approaching graduation is different, so tailor this advice to your own. 

Given that you are unsure about going straight to grad school, it is probably because it’s not a necessity for your chosen career. Knowing this, assess what you hope to gain from grad school, such as more opportunities for professional experience or more focused training in a particular field. If you are in search of constructive career opportunities, it might be worthwhile to consider a more applied graduate program. These programs often include projects or internships that will bolster your resume upon completion and give you a head start with experience in your field. 

However, grad school also takes time: Most Master’s programs are around two years, law degrees take three, and a Ph.D. can be a five- to seven-year commitment. There are also opportunities that you might have to give up while in school, including the income you could earn in the workforce and moving up the career ladder. In other words, you will have to consider whether the eventual payout in terms of greater earning power, experience, and knowledge outweigh the disadvantages that come with extending your education. In some fields, work experience will be more beneficial than the research, academic projects, and book-learning involved in grad school. To determine whether this applies to your field, research what is required by jobs of interest in your field—you can do this by talking to a professional or a professor, or by taking a look at the requirements on postings for jobs that interest you. 

The cost aspect is also important to consider. Grad school can be relatively inexpensive or a significant financial burden, depending on the program and the funding you receive. Funding consists of internal awards from your chosen university, which tends to be given alongside your offer through a funding package, and external awards, which include grants and fellowships that you will need to apply for separately. If student debt from your undergrad is already a concern, it can be useful to work and save for a year or two before diving into grad school; some companies may even fund your future studies.

Ultimately, only you can make the decision about whether grad school makes sense for you or not. If you are ready and willing to put in the money, effort, and time to complete a graduate program, it can be a good option, but take time to consider what you hope to gain from the experience rather than thinking of it as a compulsory next step in your education.

Good luck! 

Ainsley

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