It’s common to be unsure about your next step after earning your undergraduate degree. Should you get a job or continue with your education to reach for an even better job? Should you work a while, pay off some loans and consider an additional degree later? It’s up to you!
In many industries, a master’s degree can make an already-promising career even more rewarding. But you have to do what’s best for you and when the time is right. Here we address a few topics that will help you navigate the decision.
Why Should I Get a Master’s Degree?
First things first, take some time to reflect and assess your career goals. Does your dream job require an advanced degree? Is a graduate degree more of a personal goal that you have always wanted to achieve? Do you simply love learning? These are all good reasons to attend graduate school, with the added benefits of:
- developing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills
- becoming an expert in your field
- gaining more confidence on the job
- increasing your earning power
- opportunity to launch or redirect a career
- chance at greater employment opportunities
- personal growth and recognition
A master’s degree is required for certain careers, so you should assess your industry and potential career path. Overall, a graduate degree is a highly valued credential that can put you in greater demand among employers. Take a look at these findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Should I Work First?
A valid question. Professional experience can help you hone in on what skills will be most beneficial to advancement. It’s also preferred for degree programs such as an MBA. But, you also might have a stronger start with advanced credentials on your resume.
Networking with individuals in your field of interest can help you with this decision. Speak with a mentor or seek one out. A relationship with a mentor can actually be a source of valuable support and guidance throughout your career. If you are still seeking one, reach out to people whose success you admire, or whose background is similar to yours, even if they are not in your exact field. Many people develop rewarding mentor/mentee relationships in graduate school — yet another benefit.
Another step you should consider is setting up informational interviews with professionals in the industry. Some things to ask:
- What was your career path? How did you get started?
- What degree(s) do you/your boss/colleagues have? Which would you recommend?
- What skills are most valuable in the industry?
- What do you do every day? What do you love? Hate?
- If you could change anything about your career path so far, what would it be?
- Is a master’s degree a requirement for certain positions? For advancement overall?
- Is employer reimbursement common? Do you feel your degree was worth the cost?
You will gather valuable insights and advice that will help you figure out what you want to do and what it will require to get there.
OK, I’m Ready. How Do I Prepare?
Once you decide to pursue a graduate degree, it’s time to choose your school and program. There’s a lot to consider while making this decision, including:
- Faculty/Curriculum: Visit the campus. Speak with faculty, students and advisors. Learn if the program will give you the skills and experience you are seeking.
- Reputation: How successful are the alumni? Will you graduate with an impressive professional network?
- Location: Will you attend full time in a location where you’d like to work after graduation? Part time near your current location? Online?
- Rankings: How strong does your school or program rate in areas such as job placement, student-faculty ratio, test scores and starting salaries?
Start your research early so you have plenty of time to choose your target school(s), put together your application package and make all deadlines.
It also may be a good idea to take your admissions test early in the process. Even better if you are still in undergraduate, as you are already in testing mode and a lot of the content is fresh in your mind. Either way, giving yourself time to prepare and retest, if necessary, to achieve your target scores will help ease some anxiety.
Yes, it is common to be anxious about the test. But remember, it’s just one part of your comprehensive application package! You might find it helpful to learn about the features of the GRE® General Test that help you show schools your best.
Did you know GRE® scores can be used to apply to graduate, business and law schools? A great way to keep your options open!
And How Will I Pay for This?
The cost of a graduate degree can certainly be a concern. However, about two-thirds (70.4%) of all master’s-level students in academic year 2015–16 received some type of financial support.1 Explore all of your options:
- Student Aid Programs
- Contests and Competitions
- Work Study/Assistantships
- Employer Reimbursement
Learn more about affording your degree, including resources to help start the process. The key is being proactive — you may qualify for assistance from some, many or all sources to help defer or cover your costs.
Deciding to build upon your bachelor’s degree to take your career goals to the next level is exciting, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you acknowledge and boldly address your obstacles and concerns, your path will only be that much brighter. For additional advice along the way, be sure to explore all the content in the Admissions Advice page.
For more inspiration, hear how Tiffany, Stephen and other students overcame obstacles to pursue their goals.
1 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:16).