You’ve made it through your undergraduate years, and your sights are set on a master’s degree — and maybe even a doctorate. That, of course, means more education. So, you ask yourself: Should I work before grad school or dive right in? Each path has its benefits and drawbacks, and it’s important to calculate how they might affect you.
Are you energized by the thought of advanced academic study, where you can drill down into your chosen field? Or are you experiencing burnout? You could get a break by going to work before grad school, and an entry-level job in the field you want to study at the graduate level could provide valuable experience.
As it stands, most grad students don’t wait very long before getting back into the classroom. More than 60% of grad students started their advanced studies within a year of earning a bachelor’s degree, according to a poll by Sallie Mae and Ipsos.
Clearly, you have many factors to consider before making your decision. Don’t worry — we’re here to help.
Going to work before starting graduate school can have a positive impact on your emotional and financial health, as well as your job prospects after you’re finished. As such, you may want to consider the following benefits.
Gain relevant work experience
Doing work in your field before grad school should give you a good feel for the potential responsibilities of your chosen career; it can also sharpen your focus on what you want to study in grad school. Perhaps you can identify problems that you’ll use your grad studies to help solve or find parts of the job in which you’ll want to dig deeper in grad school.
On the other hand, you might find that the actual work of your prospective field isn’t something you want to do. It might not align with what you imagined the job would be like, but at least you would avoid spending time and money to attend grad school for advanced training in a field that isn’t your ideal fit.
Set money aside for the future
Perhaps the most conspicuous benefit of working before grad school is that you get a regular paycheck. Not only would you have some cash for an extra cup of coffee, but you could set aside some money to help pay for grad school.
Another financial consideration: Many organizations will cover some or all of the tuition costs through employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs.
Bolster your grad school qualifications
In some fields, work experience before grad school may be a requirement. While not all MBA programs require it, work experience can strengthen an application. For example, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t insist on work experience, but students admitted for the class of 2022 had worked an average of five years.
Working in the field can demonstrate a serious sense of purpose to a grad school admissions committee. And doing a job well (as evidenced by letters of recommendation) can strengthen your resume and increase your chances of admission.
Take a break from the books
You might be ready for a timeout after devoting the last few years to undergraduate work, and going straight into an upper-level program could mean more stress. Working a job before grad school could provide a welcome relief from constant classes and studying.
The straight-to-school approach assumes you’re in an academic frame of mind and possess the study skills needed to succeed in grad school. Read through the four benefits below to decide if this is the route for you.
Maintain your academic momentum
You’ve spent the last couple years developing your study skills, so you know how to take a test and write a paper. Now immersed in your field of study, you’re ready for the more intense and focused environment that accompanies an advanced degree.
Get your dream job faster
If you want to go to grad school, you probably have a destination in mind — a job that offers the satisfaction that you desire. The sooner you go to grad school, the sooner you can get to that job.
Start earning sooner
Many enter grad school with salary goals in mind. In most careers the higher your degree, the higher your earnings. A master’s degree brings $249 more in median weekly earnings than a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS — an annual difference of almost $13,000.
Another factor: Students who head directly to grad school can delay paying off student loans they took as undergrads. That’s less likely if you work before grad school.
Ultimately, you get to decide whether you go straight to grad school or join the workforce first. It’s a matter of personal preference and circumstance that depends on your chosen field. Whether you decide to work before grad school or jump right in, we’re here to help guide you toward a path that works for you.
- EpiCypher, “The Pros and Cons of Taking Time Off Before Grad School”
- Inside Higher Ed, “Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students”
- Investopedia, “Should I Go to Grad School After College?”
- Sallie Mae, Graduate School Information
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Learn More, Earn More: Education Leads to Higher Wages, Lower Unemployment”
- The Wharton School, Wharton MBA Class Profile
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