My favorite blogger, Penelope Trunk, is among those that strongly dissent the grad school trend. Frankly, Penelope makes good points. Going to grad school is often an irresponsible decision. It's expensive, it takes too long, and it is too often used as an excuse to avoid the reality of the job market. Plus, with hundreds of graduate program options out there, it is easy to fall into the cash cow traps that do not offer graduates job prospects after completion.
This makes sense. Furthermore, the economy is getting better, and stats for U.S. universities show that less students are applying to undergraduate programs.
Interestingly, the trend reverses when it comes to graduate school. In 2012, Hispanic enrollments increased by 7.4 percent, American Indian and Alaska Native enrollments grew by 5.7 percent, and African-American enrollments rose by 4.6 percent. International enrollments grew exponentially as well.
At least for now, grad school is here to stay and millennials are at the forefront of the spike, including me.
So Penelope and friends, I respectfully disagree. Grad school offers real benefits and, when done right, grad school is an invaluable resource that can further your career.
More than a post on if you should go to grad school, I'd like to tell you how to go.
So, you SHOULD go to grad school:
1) If your parents are paying
Prerequisite: Full or part time, you're going to a TOP program.
Like Penelope, I have assumptions of my own. If your parents are paying for grad school, I'm assuming you have a financially stable economic situation. So for you, grad school is a place where you can take advantage of the network and can afford to do unpaid, volunteer, less lucrative but more-career-advancing-type projects that would be much more difficult if you had to worry about money.
If this is you, you're attending grad school to basically broaden your connections. You're not there just for the degree, because you're not going to be sending out resumes to Monster.com, you don't need that. You're at grad school to make sure you've done the necessary back work to make you legitimate for the opportunities that await you.
So grad school makes all the sense in the world for you. But only if you go to a top program. That's where the power brokers and influential people are.
So if this is you, while in grad school be smart about how and who you spend your time with, make friends with colleagues, professors and staff. The better and broader your network, the better. It's all about who you know, and that's much more important than grades.
2) If it's free
Prerequisite: Full or Part time, top school not necessary.
Here I'm assuming you either have a scholarship or fellowship that's paying for your schooling, or your employer is subsidizing your studies. Which means I'm also assuming you have plans to work, intern, or do research in your field while you're in school.
For this category it is not a prerequisite that you go to a top program. Why? Because you should already be involved in, or be going to this specific school for a purpose linked to your goals i.e: your employer has connections with this school and faculty there, your scholarship sponsor has a relationship with the program, the school awarded you financial aid because you fit the research opportunities available there, etc.
Grad school, for you, is an additional resource to garnish opportunities you have already set in motion. Thus, proving to be a very beneficial investment of your time and energy.
3) You want to teach
Prerequisite: You plan on investing in other education certifications/you plan to teach at the high school level.
Yes, we know, there are no teaching jobs. But really, what this means is that there is a scarcity of jobs at the university level.
Colleges/universities are not the only institutions where teachers teach! Many future American educators would like to teach at private/charter schools. These jobs are very competitive, and an MA/MS under your belt is a great asset to have if pursuing this route. So it would behoove you, if you are in this category, to go to grad school.
In this case, a top program is not necessary, because you are instantly more competitive with an MA or MS, regardless if it's from a prestigious program or not.
If you are looking for a teaching job abroad, an MA or MS is equally as useful.
4) You plan to work abroad
Preqrequisite: GO TO AN INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED TOP SCHOOL.
Politics and power play work differently abroad. Name recognition is of much more importance. So if your goal is not to make lasting ties with a groundbreaking professor in your field, rather you'd like to score a gig abroad, then choose accordingly. Go to a grad school that has international notoriety and that multinational organizations, corporations, agencies, government offices, etc. abroad will be able to recognize, gush over, and of course, hire you.
Most multilateral organizations (UN, IMF, World Bank, IDB, Amnesty International, etc.) won't even look at you without a Master's, for example. And the good thing is that at a top program, your professors are likely to be working in a place you'd like to work for already.
5) You want to do research
Prerequisite: Pick a field and go to the BEST program in that field, and wait until you get in. No second best here.
This, for me, is THE most important reason to go to graduate school. Although teaching jobs are less assured, research is extremely important and we need people to do it! Plus, if you plan to build a career in good ol' US of A, then it's a fact that high skilled workers will be essential to our economic growth.
Academia will never be irrelevant because the important discoveries that move us forward, across all fields, happen here. Universities are one of the best hubs to develop new ideas, and they still have the money to invest in it. And jobs in consulting, think tanks, government, research institutes, etc. are available and growing, and will be continuously renovated along with the new trends in society.
If you want to do research, then I am also assuming that you are in grad school to
work on a research project, work on getting published, work with professors, and put your full time attention on producing meaningful content that others can learn from.
Grad school, then, is a must.
Penelope ascertains that "It's pretty well established that non-science degrees are not necessary for a job. In fact, the degrees cost you too much money, require too long of a commitment, and do not teach you the real-life skills they promise."
I don't think this is true. Universities are excellent resources; the problem is that those that seek non-science degrees often do not use them wisely. There are countless research centers, programs, grants, and opportunities to innovate and take on entrepreneurial and groundbreaking work. You don't have to be in school for two or three years, you can be in school for one and a half and work at the same time. You can work at school.
You just have too think of grad school differently.
Aside from my blueprint for "grad school success", you should also be taking classes that actually teach real skills like practical courses from professors in the field, research methods classes, language courses, professional certificates, etc.
Grad school should not be something you pursue because you don't have a job, or because you don't know what you want to do yet with your life, or because you like being in a classroom. That's the passive way to do it and there are much cheaper and more efficient ways of addressing those.
But with clear goals and thinking about grad school with greater purpose, it can be the best decision of your career.