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Considering Graduate School? Answer These Five Questions Before You Decide
by Randall S. Hansen, PhD
Deciding to seek one or more graduate degrees is a major commitment of time and money; a decision not to take lightly. You will face several years of intense work and research—a much more demanding course load than in your undergraduate program. Before deciding your next step, you should take the time to honestly answer these five questions.
Why are you considering a graduate degree?
Career Goal: You need to have a clear understanding of what you want to do with your career—and how earning a graduate degree will help you reach that goal. If you have any doubt at all about your professional goals, consider putting off graduate school and, instead, spend some time working on some self-assessment and career planning. If you go to graduate school without a clear goal, you will probably end up wasting both time and money.
While certain careers definitely require an advanced degree—doctors and lawyers, for example—many other careers offer plenty of job opportunities for job-seekers with just an undergraduate degree. In fact, in some situations having an advanced degree can actually hurt you in a job search if you also have little or no job experience.
Compensation: Most studies show that people with advanced degrees earn more on average than people with bachelor's degrees. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 the average worker with a bachelor's degree earned $56,665, while a worker with a master's degree earned $73,738. Furthermore, a worker with a professional degree (such as a JD, MD, OD, DVM) earned $127,803, while a worker with a doctorate (PhD) earned $103,054. (Obviously those salaries are slightly higher today; the key is the difference in salary by education level.)
Staying Marketable: While a graduate degree is not required for many "entry-level" jobs, you may need to earn an advanced degree to keep your training and skills current—and make you more marketable for career advancement.
Career Change: A graduate degree can often make sense for a job-seeker who is looking to make a career change. In this case, you would be earning the graduate degree in the field you plan to enter.
When should you consider obtaining a graduate degree?
One of the questions most often debated is when is the best time to consider a graduate degree. Is it better to attend graduate school right