06/14/2013 02:31 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

Grad School: Approach With Caution

Recent grads, if I have one suggestion for you, it is: do not immediately jump into grad school.

Yes, your mother would be over the moon if you practiced medicine, law, or whatever it is hedge fund people hedge about. But really, you can take a break from academia. Yes, the economy sucks, and the financial prospects of individuals with a graduate degree are better. But there is some invaluable learning that academia never gave you. It's called life, otherwise known as the "school of hard knocks."

College is the place you learn about your interests, develop tastes, and get a sense of who you are. College is also a social petri dish. Classes, cafeterias and housing are all laid out for you. You only have to show up a few hours a day to class, and then the rest is homework and the need for detailed attention varies from course to course and with the aptitude of each student. If you want help, you can likely find it. Your true responsibility is to your grades, an abstract thing you've been chasing since you were 6. For some, grades are life and death, to others anything above a D would suffice. But as long as you passed your classes, you got to move forward.

The working world, on the other hand, is about earning your keep. You need money to eat, money for housing, money to do anything. While classes existed to educate and expand your horizons, entry-level jobs exist so you can pay your rent. What does serving coffee, making copies, or selling books have to do with your interests or purpose in life? Nothing. Without the warm existential blanket of college life, when your parents were footing the bill (even if you worked on campus and have student loans) -- what will you do? How will you get through 40 hours of dull, repetitive tasks? You'll wind up getting a better sense of who you are and what you want out of life now that you are living like most adults, than you did sleeping through Intro to Cultural Anthropology.

Grad school does not always give you a better idea of what to do. Sure, you'll get to know a field of research better, understand policy, or get the tools to be an entrepreneur. But, unless you have a fire in your belly about what you want to study, real work experience will provide invaluable answers to life's more relevant questions. What sort of work environment do you want? Do you like ordered schedules? How do you tolerate jerk bosses? Do you like being part of a greater whole, or want to be a bigwig? Is getting married and having a family a priority, or can it wait? These are some of the soul-searching questions that can define your desired career path more than issues of investments vs. acquisitions or public sector vs. NGO. Going straight to grad school simply delays this vital process of maturation. Considering how expensive graduate school is, you should have a really good idea of why you're going besides "avoiding the inevitable shock of post-student life."

So get a job, no matter what it is, and get an apartment. One you can afford, with the leaky faucets, the weird wall stains, and the floorboards so warped that a scuttling roach makes them creak. Live a shitty, impoverished, recent-graduate life. Why? Because this is how becoming a person happens. You can always decide later to go to grad school. And when you do, you'll go with greater purpose, vision, and maturity than you would have ever dreamt possible.