August 13, 2007
Now that I’ve uncovered some of the great grad school myths, I have a confession to make. I once bought into many of these myths myself when I applied to grad school myself. Let me tell you a little about my story. I applied to grad school during my job search after college, with the 10-year plan of continuing on to my doctoral degree and teaching as a professor one day. I got in and accepted a post-college internship at a Fortune 500 company in my field.
I wanted to have the option of a flexible career future, so grad school seemed like the perfect thing at the time. I had lots of great experience, but was still in the middle of a pretty intense job hunt in a very competitive market and field. The short version of my job hunt struggle is as follows: I had no professional network, tons of experience, and frustrations more than a mile high. So, I learned the value of a professional network quickly and very definitively in the first year I was out of college.
There I was, in the middle of a graduate program, with my internship coming to a close and no full-time job in sight, ready to get through the next couple of years of grad school so I could guarantee a high paying job, a quick promotion, and a golden ticket to the top. So you see, that naïve, unthinking grad student I was talking about in the last post was basically 100% me.
One day, someone made a phone call that changed my life. In my last few weeks before my internship ended, a mentor at the company I worked at recommended me for an interview for a position at the company I work for today. I am thankful to this day that I’d had the foresight to tell the people in my office that I was looking for full time jobs if they heard of anything. The professional network paid off in a big way. See, what ended up transforming me from the type of grad student I wrote about previously was getting a full time job. It also saved me from even further career frustration and opened more doors than grad school alone ever would have.
I was nervous about doing work full time and school full time and commuting more than two hours a day, but I took on the challenge. It turned out, my new boss had a master’s degree from my university and my new job would reimburse me half the cost of tuition. Not to mention, my boss allowed me to arrange my schedule so I could leave for class early and make up the time on mornings and off days.
For me, professional experience has made a world of difference in my graduate program. Yes, it is time-consuming to work and study at the same time, but it’s doable. I comprehend things on a deeper level than I would otherwise, I can directly use my new knowledge in my job and my writing, and I’m able to challenge myself with theories, ideas and projects that have lots of real-world application. It challenges me to be a more thoughtful, strategic, reasoned professional. More importantly, it’s changed what I want out of my degree and the whole grad school experience.
I know everyone’s story will differ, as will their paths, their motivations and their outcomes – in general and regarding grad school. That’s fine. But from where I am, a little experience makes all the difference in the world.
So, now that you know a little more about my entrance into the world of grad school, stay tuned for my top reasons you should consider applying.
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.
There’s a lot of talk lately on the topic of grad school. There’s outcry against it. There’s advocacy for it. There’s confusion on the part of students and professionals. Universities throw their two cents into the mix. There’s a lot of information and opinion flying around.
It’s great that people are talking frankly about this because it’s something students – and professionals, for that matter – need to consider fully. It’s a difficult challenge to figure out what to do after college. It’s also difficult to see the value of grad school if you’re doing fine in your career.
Too many people leap into a master’s program out of frustration with their job search or fear of leaving the college world. On the other hand, many people pass it off as a waste of time or money without fully considering the benefits of an advanced degree. This series on the great grad school debate will uncover myths and truths about grad school, tips for grad school success, alternatives to grad school, and more.
As a full-time professional and full-time grad student for the past two years, these issues and questions have been something I have wrestled with a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to mentor interns and talk to them about the benefits and drawbacks of taking the grad-school-only path post undergrad. I’ve witnessed the struggles of my fellow grad students trying to break into the professional world with an advanced degree. I’ve listened to advice from my personal mentors on my own grad school journey. I’ve also seen grad school fulfill and inspire my peers and other professionals I admire.
So here it is. Get ready for an all holds-barred look at the great grad school debate – the pros, the cons, the issues, the opportunities, all of it – from the inside out. Welcome to Grad School 101.