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Should You Go To Grad School?

Should You Go To Grad School?

A time comes in every 20-something's life when everyone you know is going to grad school. The silent peer pressure mounts as everyone from college friends to work acquaintances gripe about extensive GMAT studying, having no life because they are holed up working on their applications over the weekend, stressing about how if they don't get into a "top 20" program they just can't even. 

[Related: How to Bridge the Gap from College to Career]

FOMO sets in. "Wait, should I also not have a life?" "Will everyone pass me by?" "Am I one life misstep from moving into my parents' basement?" 

Your imagination takes hold and then suddenly... you see it. Trendy leather boots. A chunky cable-knit sweater. Macchiato in one hand, MacBook Air tucked under the other. Your hair: perfect. You walk down the tree-lined cobblestone path nodding and smiling at everyone you pass because you obviously have 10,000 friends here. Maybe you need that! Maybe grad school is your destiny! 

Hold up. Maybe you do, but you might not, and it would really be an awful waste of money and time if you don't. Press pause for a second and take this quiz to figure it out.

Ok, that was fun. Now obviously that awesome quiz shouldn't be your sole means of making this decision, but it brings up a number of good points that you need to think through at this critical juncture. Over the years I have seen smart, ambitious individuals throw away years of career advancement and hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to graduate school only to be offered a job they could have worked their way into in the same amount of time without spending all that time and money. Additionally, they have used up their opportunity to leverage grad school as a well-timed, right-sized career pivot or accelerator down the line when they have more direction.

[Related: You've Graduated! Now What?]

Let's challenge some not-so-great reasons many consider going to grad school:

I am unhappy in my current job -OR- I don't know what I want to do and maybe it will give me clarity. 

These two, which are essentially the same to me, are the most popular reasons I hear and, in my opinion, are the WORST reasons to go to grad school. You should go to grad school because it is an essential part of your career roadmap, not to help you figure out what your career roadmap is. If you answered "No" to that first question, you can stop reading right now and move on to figuring that piece out first.

I need to get a graduate degree to move up the corporate ladder. 

Do you though? Is anyone who is qualified to judge telling you that you cannot get promoted without getting a graduate degree or are you just assuming? Even if others in your industry have graduate degrees, consider whether they got those a) to move up or b) to get in the door. If it's the latter, and you are already in the door. Congratulations, you just saved $200k.

I need to go back to school to make a career change. 

Career changes are hard. And going to grad school is a guaranteed way to make the change pretty seamlessly. Great! So you should go? Not so fast... If #1 is the worst reason for going, this is the laziest. Before enrolling in a costly graduate program, try to do it on your own. You may not be able to, in which case you will need to revisit this decision, but unless you have the dough to spare (or someone is bankrolling you) why not try your hardest to switch sans degree? You have nothing to lose and if you do end up needing to go in the end, you will know it’s for the right reason.

I need to build a network. 

There is no doubt that grad school is great networking fodder. You are put in situations where you bond with a group of highly ambitious, smart people. That's awesome. But with enough effort (and yes, it is certainly more effort), you can achieve the same goal without taking a break from working or dishing out all that cash.

[Related: How to Find a Job You Love]

That said, there are some very good, very valid reasons to go to grad school. If you've just realized that you are destined to be a doctor, you are going to have to go to medical school. If you've spent the last 2 years trying to transition from marketing into investment banking without getting any traction, it may be time to crunch the numbers. I have a super basic formula in the quiz, but there are also some pretty sophisticated online calculators you can play around with that will even give you anticipated monthly loan payments (like this one from LearnVest). And, of course, number-crunching doesn't matter if your company or a generous relative is offering to foot the bill, and then in that case maybe you want to take a two-year break from work where you meet a lot of smart, interesting people who are intellectually stimulating. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that! 


Jessica S. Desjardins is an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management where she is changing the way financial advisors interact with the firm and their clients through technology. Jessica is part of the leadership team for Ellevate New York where she runs programming for Young Professionals, creating opportunities for young women to connect in authentic ways over relevant career topics and become a little braver in the process.

Photo from #WOCinTech Chat - beautiful, free stock photos showing diversity in tech - check them out!

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