students at graduation with their caps on heading to grad school

Should I Head Straight to Grad School After College? Weighing the Pros and Cons

If you’re thinking about what comes next after college, you’ve probably at least considered the idea of continuing on to pursue a master’s degree. Graduate school can be a great investment in your future, but it’s not for everyone. 

The decision to remain a full-time student rather than enter the workforce can have professional and financial implications — both positive and negative. 

In this article, we’ll weigh some of the pros and cons of heading to grad school right after college, and share some research that might help you make this important decision.

3 pros of heading straight to graduate school 

There’s no doubt that earning a graduate degree can open the door to some new opportunities you may not qualify for otherwise. According to a survey by CareerBuilder, 33% of employers have raised their educational requirements over the last five years, and are now hiring candidates with master’s degrees for positions that had previously been held by people with only four-year degrees.

Let’s dig into a few other potential benefits of pursuing a post-graduate degree straight away.

1. Higher potential earnings

Along with those additional job opportunities, a graduate degree can also bring a higher salary. People with a master’s degree see a 25% increase in earnings on average, and those attending top MBA programs can increase their salary potential by as much as 150%. 

More money sounds great, but just remember, you’ll want to weigh that extra earning potential against the cost of graduate school. (More on that in the “cons” section.)

2. You’re already in the swing of things with college

Some students feel it’s easier to head straight into a graduate program after completing their undergraduate degree, as they’re already in “school mode.” Some even worry if they take a break to enter the workforce they won’t be motivated to go back to grad school later. 

Getting grad school out of the way before making any other big life commitments — like starting a family or a full-time career — can be a great option for people who know they want to earn an advanced degree. It can allow you to stay focused on your education without any major distractions.

3. More learning and research opportunities in your field

If you already know what you want to be when you grow up, pursuing your passion in graduate school is not a bad idea. It gives you the opportunity to nurture your interests and dive deeper into the field you love. This can also show future employers that you’ve been highly educated in that area and have made a commitment to the work.

Many master’s and Ph.D. programs even provide funding or fellowships for students to conduct research in their chosen field. This can allow you to take your learning to the next level while gaining relevant experience that will translate well into the workforce later.

3 cons of heading straight to graduate school

Graduate school isn’t for everyone. Many people go on to have very successful, fulfilling careers with little to no post-graduate education. Then there are others who will eventually go back to get their master’s degree, but choose to get a few years of work experience under their belts first.

The choice is ultimately yours, and there is no right or wrong way to do things. You’ve heard the “pros,” so to balance things out, here are three potential “cons” to consider.

1. More student loan debt

As mentioned above, you can increase your earning potential with a post-graduate degree — but those extra earnings don’t always outweigh the costs. It depends on how much you spend getting your degree, plus, how much opportunity cost is lost by not entering the workforce full-time right away.  

In other words, if a master’s degree is going to leave you with $50,000 in loan debt but you’re only going to make an extra $5,000 a year, it will take you 10 years just to recoup that investment. This may be worth it to you in the long run, or it may not. It’s important to consider your financial situation and what kind of debt you’re comfortable incurring, especially if you will already have loans to pay off from your undergraduate degree.

2. You can learn many sought-after skills for free on your own time

While there are definitely some employers looking for candidates with a post-graduate degree, there are many others who put a higher value on candidates with “soft skills” like emotional intelligence, resilience, and the willingness to learn. 

According to research by Harvard Business Review, companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft believe that learnability is more important than having acquired certain expertise in college. 

To develop these soft skills that employers are looking for, there are lots of free or very affordable resources like self-directed courses, webinars, books, podcasts, and more. So, if you’re interested in a master’s degree because you just want to gain more general knowledge, there’s a good chance you can do that without paying the high cost of another degree.

Platforms like Udemy and Coursera offer courses for people looking to upskill or lifelong learners who just want to gain new knowledge in a certain area.

3. Many employers don’t require a post-graduate degree (and some will pay for you to get one)

Only 13.1% of the U.S. population has an advanced degree. Everyone else — the large majority of people — still gain the bulk of their experience on the job. And often, companies that do want their employees to seek higher education will pay for it, at least partially.

Many Fortune 500 firms invest substantially to reskill and upskill their new hires, and many companies offer benefits like tuition reimbursement. So if you’re set on getting a post-graduate degree, you could consider going to work for a company that offers financial support to do so. 

Regardless of the decision you make between graduate school or work (or both), make sure to consider all the factors and decide what will work best for you personally, professionally, and financially. Talk to people who have done it in different ways and learn about their experiences. Look at your end goal and where you want to be, and see if going to grad school right after college (or at all) fits into those plans.

Keep learning with the Institute of Business Leadership

Alpha Kappa Psi collegiate members and alumni can access recordings of all the sessions delivered at the Spring 2021 Institute of Business Leadership, including keynotes and breakout sessions on career, personal development, and skill development. 

Check it out in the MyAKPsi Community