The pandemic has disrupted traditional higher education, and new data shows that colleges and universities are experiencing an impact in enrollment rates due to its ongoing effects. Postsecondary institutions experienced a 4.9% enrollment drop among undergraduate students compared to spring 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. However, during this same period, graduate school enrollment climbed by 4.6%. Although earning a graduate degree has potential benefits—like higher earning potential—there are considerations to mull over before taking the leap.
Is grad school right for you?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with an advanced degree have a lower unemployment rate compared to those with a bachelor’s degree. But that’s just one of the more obvious benefits of going to grad school. Your dream profession might require a master’s degree to qualify for an entry-level position in that field. For example, high school teachers in some states are required to earn a master’s degree and be licensed to teach. A counseling- or psychology-related profession, like a marriage and family therapist, also requires a master’s degree.
Conversely, completing a graduate program might open up a promotion opportunity at a current job. You may want to gain business management knowledge if you’re an engineer looking to advance to an architectural manager position. In this situation, a master’s in Engineering Management, Technology Management, or Business Administration makes sense for your career goals. Your desire might also be driven by personal development and acquiring deeper knowledge about your field of study. Regardless of your motivations for pursuing grad school, you need to assess if the long-term benefits outweigh the realities of going back to school.
Should you go to grad school right after undergrad?
Like the decision to get an advanced degree at all, when you should go to grad school is also a personal choice to seriously consider. Some students choose to transition immediately into a graduate program after earning their undergraduate degree. Here are a few pros and cons of going straight into a graduate program.
Pros to starting grad school right after college
- Smooth academic transition: Going straight to grad school after completing undergrad can feel like a natural next step in your educational journey. Your academic momentum is still churning without other life events—like an established career or starting a family—affecting your ability to complete your program.
- Done with school faster: The sooner you start grad school, the less drawn-out your program will feel. Plus, the sooner you finish school, the faster you’ll jump into the job market with a competitive degree on your résumé.
- Your academic network is still current: Your undergrad faculty relationships with mentors, counselors, and academic advisors will still be easily accessible. Tapping these connections shortly after your undergraduate career ends can be helpful for academic support, letters of recommendation, and more.
Cons to starting right after college
- No time to save money for tuition: The average cost of a master’s degree at a public college is $30,000 per year, while average annual tuition at a private institution is about $40,000. Without taking a few gap years between your undergrad and grad programs, you won’t have an opportunity to save money toward high-cost classes.
- Additional student debt: With increased tuition rates and additional years of school and without time to save up for it, many grad students take on additional student loan debt. Having to manage multiple student loans during grad school and afterward can affect your financial stability after you’ve graduated.
- Loss of real-world experience: Going directly to grad school means losing out on professional experience in the job market. For some programs, this knowledge is a plus on your grad school application. You’ll also lose the chance to try out a full-time job in your prospective field before committing your time and money to it. You might find the industry you thought you’d love isn’t a good fit for you.
- Might delay other life goals: Going to grad school typically takes a minimum of two additional years with a full-time course load; if you plan to pursue a doctorate, it can take between five to seven years. That’s a lot of time to put other personal life milestones—like buying a home, starting a family, or building your career—on hold.
Some students may see grad school as a way to get temporary relief from student loans while figuring out what to do next in their professional life. If this is the only reason you’re going to grad school, it’s worth doing your homework to see the principle and interest levels you’ll eventually owe overall. Grad school can offer a return on investment that makes the time, rigorous academic work, and cost worth it. However, it’s not for everyone and might not be necessary depending on your long-term professional goals.
If you’ve decided now is the right time to apply to a grad program, find the right one with our Graduate School Search tool.