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Will Grad School Actually Get You a Better Career?

Written by Rachel Wong
career after grad school

Tons of students go to college or university to kickstart a career but sometimes that’s not enough. So what happens if you study even further? Are you actually guaranteed a better career after grad school? Will a master’s or PhD make the difference?

There are a lot of reasons why people pursue post-secondary education. They want higher pay, to score better jobs, pursue their dreams, expand their knowledge, or sometimes just because it’s a social expectation. Everyone and their mothers are doing it.

The game plan is simple: graduate from university at 22 and the job prospects will get brighter and brighter. Right?

But here’s the thing, getting your Bachelor’s degree has become the norm, and not the exception. In our grandparents’ and parents’ generations, going to university was a big deal. But today, more and more students are going to university for the reasons listed above. Tens of thousands of students will go through countless all-nighters, papers, and lab reports, and most of them will accumulate tens of thousands of dollars in student debt just to get a piece of parchment with their name on it. What’s even more challenging is the fact that despite the high number of Bachelor’s degree holders, many of them are unable to find work in their field.

The fact that so many students are furthering their education is great not only for themselves but for society. But if you, your friend, your next-door neighbour, and their friends all have a Bachelor’s degree in the same discipline, how do you differentiate yourselves from one another?

Well, one option might be hoping to land a better career after grad school.

But Wait—What Is Grad School?

Dr. Todd Pettigrew, an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University, discussed the basics of grad school in a Maclean’s blog post. Graduate school, Pettigrew explained, is much more than the “professional programs” that usually get thrown around like “law, medicine, or education”. You can further your studies in the discipline that you pursued during your undergrad— anything from American history all the way to zoology (that’s an alphabet joke). It’s an excellent way to not only continue your education but make yourself more competitive in the job market.

What Should I Know Before Deciding?

Just like deciding whether or not university is right for you, going to grad school isn’t a choice to be made in a day. From what you pursue to where you pursue it, there are several things to consider before you make the decision…

What’s the best graduate degree for you?

Will you be content with a master’s, or should you go and get your PhD while you’re at it? The length of time you spend in grad school will vary— it usually takes 1-3 years to complete a master’s, and another 2-3 years to complete a Doctorate (after the Master’s degree, of course). Also keep in mind that while a Bachelor’s degree will suffice for some career paths, others require that you’ve completed graduate studies; if you’re looking to become a counsellor, a therapist or an academic, take note!

What’s the cost?

The fees are different depending on what kind of graduate program you pursue. Getting your PhD will always be a lengthy and expensive journey, so before you get into it, remember why you’re doing it and make a solid academic plan. That being said, there’s plenty of funding and grants available for certain graduate programs. If you can access some of that, it’ll make grad school far easier on your bank account.

Where do I go?

It all depends on the program you want to pursue. Undergraduate studies, for the most part, are fairly broad and can be completed at any post-secondary institution. However, some schools specialize in certain programs, so it is up to you to do your research. Set aside some time to research different institutions and see what program best suits you. Also keep in mind the costs that you already have for tuition and whether or not you can afford to live away from home.

Why am I doing this?

This is the most important question you need to answer, and probably the scariest. Are you doing it for the better job prospects after graduation, or because you are genuinely interested in learning more about your discipline? Is it actually your choice, or is it something that your parents have always wanted you to do?

Unless you think grad school is absolutely necessary, this topic may lend to some good dinner-time discussion with your parents.

Great! But How Does This Actually Benefit Me?

Regarding post-secondary students who found a full-time career after grad school, a 2007 survey done by Statistics Canada found that “in general, earnings increased by level of study”. The study further found that there was “a higher proportion of graduates of master’s programs [who] were working full time.”

But aside from the steady job and steady income, students who pursue graduate studies have the ability to learn even more about their topic of study, work alongside incredibly knowledgeable professors and supervisors, and make connections with other students and faculty members that can strengthen the trajectory of their career path.

Finally, Dr. Pettigrew reminds all of us who are thinking about grad school to look beyond the job prospects, the high salaries, and even the credentials after our names. “Do it because you know you’re smart,” he says in his article. Grad school definitely tacks on a couple extra years in the lecture hall, but “[i]f you’ve got the brains, are willing to work hard, and you really think about it, the question quickly becomes not why go, but why not?”

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