Your bachelor’s degree is hanging on your wall, and your cap and gown are tucked away with your other keepsakes from your undergraduate years. Now, is it time to dive into your first post-grad job, or should you enter a master’s other advanced degree program?
Well, it starts with your career goals. You are likely well aware that some fields require a master’s or professional degree as a minimum bar to entry: medicine, law, careers in higher ed, etc. If your goals include such a career—and you don’t want to take a meandering path from one interstitial job to another—going directly into a graduate program after finishing your bachelor’s is a must.
Grad school and your career goals
If you have a general career path in mind but are unsure about the typical level of education attained, just ask! Search online for professional organizations, contact your school’s alumni office, and even look to your own personal network for opportunities to connect with professionals who have the kind of jobs you want and simply ask them what they studied and to what degree. (Informational interviews—they’re not just for networking.) It also helps to speak to your undergraduate academic and career advisors for their recommendations.
Of course, many students don’t end up going directly into their graduate program, taking time off to work or to gain other experiences. For example, that’s often the path for educational administrators, like principals and superintendents. Typically they start out as teachers or staff members, complete graduate degrees as part-time students, and then move into administration. Other adult students often pursue advanced study after switching careers, educational plans, or both. But for those fields with a graduate degree as the minimum standard, there is generally no shortcut to that ultimate career goal.
Other fields requiring graduate or professional study vary. It’s a common denominator for health-related careers such as optometry, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and the role of physician assistant or nurse practitioner. Other career areas with similar expectations include marriage and family therapy, chemistry, urban planning, and industrial psychology. Still other roles with such expectations include those of museum curator, genetic counselor, economist, audiologist, and mental health counselor, among others.
A master's degree may be a wise investment
The good news is that going on to a master’s or other advanced degree can prove to be a smart career move. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth in courses requiring a master’s degree is expected to top 18% in the next decade, compared to about 10% for all education levels. And for any serious student, the odds for success are good.
If a straight path from a bachelor’s to graduate school is not possible, it’s generally advisable to seek employment (ideally in a related area) while you gain experience or build up financial resources. You can then go on to graduate study when the opportunity arises. But no matter the approach, there’s little doubt that an advanced degree is a valuable commodity.