The Pros and Cons of Going to Graduate School

The most critical question that you must first ask yourself is, “Do I want to go to grad school?” Before you can even begin to weigh the pros and cons of going to graduate school, you must first be sure that you possess the internal drive and desire for the difficult journey ahead.

The Pros and Cons of Going to Graduate School
By Dr. Sara Austin

Should I go to grad school? Is it worth it? The most critical question that you must first ask yourself is, “Do I want to go to grad school?” The answer to this question is more important than the cost or commitment that comes with grad school. Earning an advanced degree is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming. You must truly want it before you invest the time, money, and emotional energy that earning a master’s or doctoral degree will demand. Before you can even begin to weigh the pros and cons of going to graduate school, you must first be sure that you possess the internal drive and desire for the difficult journey ahead.

Why is grad school so hard?

Most graduate students have busy lives. Grad students are often juggling full-time jobs and families along with demanding course loads. You’ll need energy, motivation, and a lot of self-discipline to balance your academic, personal, and professional responsibilities, as well as meet your own high expectations in each of these areas.

Make sure you’re pursuing a graduate degree for the right reasons. What do you hope to get from graduate school? Clearly define your goals and motivations for earning an advanced degree. Having a clear vision will help sustain you when times get tough – and they will.

In fact, according to The Atlantic, half of all doctoral candidates will drop out before completing their degree program. Stress and anxiety are major contributors to this high rate of attrition. Some students even find that the heavy demands of graduate study can extinguish their passion for the discipline. This is why it’s critical to remain focused on your objectives and goals. You may need to remind yourself of these things as you channel the stamina to keep pushing forward.

Graduate school is challenging for a reason. It is meant to test you, to determine whether or not you have what it takes to rise to the top in your field. Only you know if you have the drive, passion and discipline needed to succeed.

If all of that doesn’t scare you away, then you’re ready to weigh the pros and cons of going to graduate school!

Pros of Graduate School

  • Higher Earning Potential—According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2015, individuals with a master’s degree earned $12,000 more annually than individuals with an undergraduate degree. The increased earning potential for those with advanced degrees may differ widely from one field to the next. Some advanced degrees will increase your likely earnings, but others may not. Do your research.
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  • Expert Status—Having a graduate degree will increase your professional stature and give you more credibility in your field. Having those letters after your name can give more weight to your work and establish you as an expert.
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  • Depth of Knowledge—Your graduate studies will provide a focused and in-depth exploration in your field of study. You’ll develop the knowledge needed to make informed decisions and analyze complex, nuanced problems. You’ll also have opportunities to work with experts who can share the wisdom the’ve gained through experience.
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  • Real-World Learning Opportunities—Many graduate programs afford you the opportunity to conduct field research in your area of study. You’ll gain valuable perspective and hands-on, real-world practice. This experience will better prepare you for career advancement in your field.
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  • Original Research—Most graduate school programs will require you to conduct original research on a topic of your choosing. You’ll work closely with a mentor, develop a thesis that expands knowledge in your area of study, and defend your findings before a panel of experts. This will be your greatest opportunity to learn how to conduct research, and your first opportunity to make a real contribution to your field.
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  • Career Advancement—One reason that so many working adults pursue an advanced degree is because a master’s or doctoral degree can qualify you for positions of leadership that might not otherwise be accessible. An advanced degree could propel you into a new role within your organization. And in some cases, your employer may even be willing to help you finance your degree.
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  • Career Change—For those seeking a new career path, grad school may be a wise first step. Earning a master’s degree in a new field can provide you with the credentials, skills, and connections to hit the ground running.
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  • Networking—You’ll forge valuable friendships and collegial working relationships with people who have similar interests and passions. During your studies, this network may be an important source of practical and emotional support. And when you’ve completed your degree program, these carefully cultivated relationships may prove valuable connections as you advance in your career.
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  • Personal Development—You will learn a lot about yourself while attending graduate school. You’ll develop important skills that will serve you well in your future endeavors, including self-discipline, communication and writing skills, independence, and grit. You’ll also learn important “adulting” skills like budgeting your time and money.
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  • Technology Access—Depending on your field of study and your chosen institution, grad school may give you a unique level of access to cutting edge technology. You may be able to apply your computer programming skills in a robotics lab, explore astral phenomena in an observatory, or practice surgical procedures using the latest in endoscopic equipment.
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  • Creativity—Graduate school will demand that you hone your creative problem-solving skills. These skills will serve you well throughout your career and life.

Cons of Graduate School

  • High Cost—Graduate school can be costly, and, relative to undergraduate studies, financial aid options are limited.
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  • Increased Debt—Because financial aid options are limited for graduate students, you may have to take out student loans. If you’ve already borrowed for your undergraduate studies, you will be increasing your student loan debt.
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  • Commitment of Time—Graduate school can extend your educational career by anywhere from 1 to 7 years. During this time, you are hampered in your ability to make money and move forward with the next steps in your life. This is a necessary sacrifice for the completion of grad school.
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  • Difficulty—Graduate school is difficult. You’ll face academic challenges, emotional stress, and the logistical challenges of balancing your studies with everything else in your life.
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  • Loss of Income—The demands of graduate school may require you to work part-time, to take work that offers more flexibility, or to withhold from paying work altogether. This can translate to a significant loss of income.
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  • Delayed Work Experience—By delaying your full-time entry into your field, you can miss out on developing the relevant work experience you may need when you graduate. You will need to find a balance between experience and education.
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  • Risk of Non-completion—Not all students make it through graduate school. In fact, half of all doctoral candidates depart with a mountain of debt and no degree to show for their time.
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  • No Guarantees—Even if you do graduate, you are not guaranteed to get a better job or make more money. It is a gamble.
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  • Strain on Relationships—You will be very busy during graduate school, and your relationships can suffer. The support of your family and friends is important to your success, but there is a cost to be paid. Your family and friends will lose out on your companionship for a while and this can be difficult for all involved.
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  • Mental Health Challenges—Stress, anxiety, and sleep-deprivation are common traits among graduate students. The heavy workload, competitiveness, and high stakes make graduate students uniquely vulnerable to mental health challenges.
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  • Overqualification—This can be especially frustrating for graduates who struggle to find work in their field after graduation. Your advanced degree may raise your salary requirements, which, ironically, can make it more difficult for employers to afford you. During periods of low employment or economic downturn, your less expensive bachelor counterparts may be preferred by some employers.

Choosing Grad School

The drawbacks above are not meant to scare you away, nor to dissuade you from attending graduate school. Instead, they highlight the importance of attending graduate school for the right reasons. Be sure that you want it, and that you are prepared to summon the dedication and stamina it demands.

Now that you know the best and worst of what to expect from your graduate school experience, take a look at some actual grad school programs. Find the most influential schools in your discipline today!