Many college seniors, including myself, will be graduating in just a few months. With the current state of affairs regarding COVID-19 and the sporadic availability of the vaccine, what’s usually a joyously anticipated milestone is now clouded with uncertainty. Even the physical process of graduation is unknown on many campuses, whether you’ll be at an in-person event with student attendance only or a virtual ceremony from your living room in your cap and gown. No one knows exactly how things will ultimately unfold, but at the end of the day, congrats! You did it! Now the question is: where do you go from here during a pandemic when your options seem limited? Do you look for a job when so many others are doing the same after getting laid off, or should you consider another route like grad school? Let’s discuss.
Your next steps
Graduating and moving onto the next phase of your life is exciting to say the least. For some students, taking a quick break and rebooting is the best option. For others, going straight into a career is their target goal. At least that was common in the past. In any other time period, it made perfect sense; finish college then get a job that’ll allow you to practice what you worked hard to learn during your four-plus years at college. But let’s face it: the job opportunities for new grads in 2021 definitely aren’t what they used to be. Many companies have their employees working from home, have downsized, or closed their doors entirely. Even those hanging in there may not be expanding their staff at the moment. Sure, down the road things will normalize, but we’re dealing with the here and now. And let’s not forget about your student loans. The repayment period usually begins six months after graduation. You can always “defer,” but the interest will continue to compound, sometimes shockingly so.
Related: Resources Students Need During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Considering your alternatives
So what are some other possibilities? If your college major was in Pre-med or Pre-law, then continuing your academic journey is a given. Most students who major in Business end up getting an MBA to improve their marketability and employment opportunities. But what about other majors? Graduating with a degree in Finance, Computer Science, Engineering, or Education, for instance, will generally result in job placement right away. But during the pandemic, these are areas that, at the present time, have come to a screeching halt. Maybe continuing on to graduate school instead of entering the workforce is the right path for you.
Putting grad school on your radar
Graduate school may be the answer for many students whose chosen careers have been impacted by COVID-19, either directly or indirectly—and continuing your education will always be beneficial in the long run. Numerous reports indicate that students with a graduate degree earn more than those with a bachelor’s. Depending on the area of study, salary increases are generally at least 20% higher for those who complete additional academic training beyond four years of college. Of course, there are pros and cons to everything, so you’ll need to weigh your options to see if this is a favorable path for you to follow.
Related: How to Find the Right Graduate Program for You
The pros and cons of attending grad school
As with anything, a pros and cons list can play a huge part in helping you make major decisions—and the decision to apply to graduate school is no different. Here are some potential pros and cons of enrolling in a grad school program.
The pros of attending grad school
- Additional education and training: Any type of additional learning that expands your basic knowledge and skill set is recognized, and often required, to gain access or be promoted to a position above entry level.
- Learning an alternative or specialized facet related to your career: For instance, a Communications major could study Meteorology as a grad student to secure a position as a news weather person. However, some master’s degrees require prerequisite classes, so you’ll need to check your college’s course catalog.
- Future salary gains leading to fiscal success: It’s already been said, but let’s say it again: you’ll make more money with a graduate degree.
- Weathering the storm and remaining productive: During the pandemic, a lot of people felt they became complacent and stagnant in life, and grad school could help combat that.
- Access to well-respected positions: In the world of academia, basic Education degrees allow teachers to work in the K–12 system. With a master’s degree, collegiate appointments become available as well as future administrative possibilities.
- You won’t break momentum: The schedule you’ve set for yourself as an undergrad will be similar regarding classes, homework, and exams (though the workload will increase). It’s often more difficult to return to school than it is to continue pushing forward in a straight trajectory with no breaks.
- Connections with professionals in your chosen industry: Many grad programs utilize instructors from beyond campus to share real-world knowledge. These relationships can often lead to internships and/or future employment opportunities.
- Teaching and reduced tuition opportunities: There are some graduate programs that offer a stipend or reduced tuition to those seeking a master’s or doctorate degree. In exchange, those enrolled in these programs teach classes to undergraduate students and often act as mentors.
The cons of attending grad school
- It’s expensive: This is obviously the most common culprit of students not pursuing a degree beyond a bachelor’s.
- More student loans: Countless students have accrued a sizable amount of debt via student loans, and to assume additional costs is just not an option for many. As previously mentioned, student loan repayment begins six months post-graduation unless it’s deferred. And while pursuing a higher degree will defer them longer, you’ll have a lot more to pay back in the long run.
- Fewer scholarship opportunities: There are generally some school-based and/or privately funded scholarships for grad students, but there tends to be much less available, and awards aren’t nearly as generous as those for undergraduates.
- It’s a long-term commitment: A grad degree is at least a one-year (but often longer) venture. Students eager to join the workforce and put learned knowledge into action may not want to add this extra commitment to their career timeline.
- Family and other commitments: Students with family that depend on them from a financial standpoint often find going straight into the workforce is necessary. However, this option could have a silver lining, as there are some employers who subsidize their employees’ advanced degree tuition if their continued education benefits the company they work for.
- School isn’t for everyone: There are many students who struggled academically during undergrad, so the thought of repeating the process just can’t be tolerated.
Aspire to keep moving forward
Everyone has different circumstances they’re dealing with at any given time. There’s no right or wrong, and even if grad school doesn’t seem like the option for you currently, academia will always be there, and you can return when and if the time is right for you. But if you think the time might be right now, go for it. Beyond the current job outlook during COVID-19 and fall 2021 academic application deadlines coming up, I chose to write about the topic of grad school because I had been struggling with this decision myself before deciding to go for it. And I just found out I’ve been accepted to Oklahoma City University’s Master of Arts program in Nonprofit Leadership, Arts Administration track! I’m super excited to pursue this additional degree as a complement to my Bachelor’s in Music Theatre with Mass Communications minor. I only hope my pursuit and acceptance into a great grad program will inspire you to chase after your goals too.
Start looking for your best-fit grad program using our Graduate School Search tool.