Grad School 101: The Truth About the Top Six Grad School Myths
July 31, 2007
If you’ve ever considered grad school, whether just out of college or in the middle of your career, chances are, you’ve had advice coming at you from all directions. It’s a difficult decision to face, and you probably have your own fears, doubts, frustrations and questions to deal with, too. Here are some common myths about grad school and their counterpoint truths that I’ve discovered along my personal journey into higher education.
Myth 1: Grad school is good for anyone. It seems that grad school is becoming a popular stopping point for those with newly minted undergrad degrees, many of whom are having a difficult time finding their first job out of school. They loved college, so why not just get more of it and postpone the inevitable. Plus, grad school is a good choice for anyone who can get in, right? Sorry, but no. The truth is, grad school isn’t good for everyone. People who are in it for any reason other than expanding their knowledge and expertise on a subject will be sorely surprised to find that they aren’t as successful as they’d hoped. On that note, let’s look at some of the reasons many people go to grad school – other than to learn.
Myth 2: Grad school will get me more money. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sadly, this way of thinking sets many people back in their careers. Grad school doesn’t guarantee anything – besides debt. I have had more than one recently graduated MBA student come to me and ask me why they can’t get a job netting at least 50-80K right out of school. They point to the research, grumble, and waste away for months, looking for a job that will pay what they’ve been promised will be delivered. Now, research does show that professionals with graduate degrees average higher salaries than their non-masters counterparts. But that research looks at professionals – with jobs. Let’s look at the next point for more on this.
Myth 3: Grad school will fix my resume. The job market’s not exactly what emerging workers were promised throughout college – yet. But if you think that getting a graduate degree right after college will help you get a job when you have no work experience, you are dead wrong. In fact, without experience, it will probably hurt your job search. (You have a decent shot with an MBA in certain markets or a master’s in top hiring fields like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science or computer engineering.) The truth is, many employers require higher salary ranges for candidates with grad degrees. So, if a hiring manager can recruit someone with experience in the field and pay them less than a master’s candidate – they get someone who can hit the ground running and costs less. There’s positive ROI written all over this. Who would you hire? Ask any professional recruiter whether a graduate degree or two years of experience will make someone stand apart from the pack, and experience wins out pretty much every time. (Now, a graduate degree plus experience can be another story altogether.)
Myth 4: A master’s degree is a ticket to the top. Again, wrong. Many grad students think that once they land their first job, having a graduate degree in and of itself will put them first in line for a promotion or management position, no matter what. In most cases, this simply isn’t true. Now, an advanced degree doesn’t put you back where promotions are considered, but your relationship with your boss, your work ethic, and the product you produce is what will determine whether you get to the top. A master’s degree can help put you over the edge when everything else is in your favor, but it’s not enough to stand alone.
Myth 5: It’s all about the degree. Many people think that all they need from their master’s degree is the diploma and a passing grade. If you think this is true, run, quickly, in the opposite direction of your local higher education institution. You’ve bought (literally: think more student loans) into the lie that grad school is about anything but learning and building useful relationships. If you think coasting through a degree program, skimming through classes and sleeping your way though projects and assignments is the best way to approach grad school, then you deserve what you’re getting out of the deal – and that’s a ton of debt and most likely a long career struggle in sight. The university you attend is raking in the cash for your cool, inattentive self sitting in a chair, coasting through the program. Lucky them. The truth is, you can’t fool anyone if you’re not in it to learn – not your professors, not your peers, no one. Without passion and dedication, you won’t reap the true benefits of a graduate degree, and you’re going to have a heck of a time getting a job once you’ve cut and run, degree in hand, with no one to vouch for your work ethic or ideas.
Myth 6: It’s best to take the easy way out. Here’s what you hear about grad school a lot – get in, get out, get on with your life. Many opt for comps and high tail it out of there. Others take the coursework and spend the next few years putting off a thesis or project and finish one hastily to exit the program to meet an arbitrary deadline. That’s not good for anyone. In truth, ultimately, grad school should be all about getting the knowledge and experience you want out of it for the purpose of your own career. So many graduate students I know have taken the easy road out. But with your master’s degree, it’s true that you get out of it what you put in. End your graduate degree with a bang; harness the power of the relationships a university can offer and do research or a project that is well-thought-out and applies practically, and you’ll leave with something to be proud of – and something that can actually benefit your career.
Stay tuned for more on Grad School 101, and feel free to share your favorite grad school myths in the comments below.