Skip It: Here's When You Should Go to Work Instead of Enrolling in Grad School

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Whether you recently finished undergrad or have been in the workforce a few years, grad school often feels like the right option if you’re unsure of what to do next or feel stuck in a career rut. However, the price tag of a master’s degree is high, and payoff isn’t always immediate. Here’s when the career experts say you should avoid grad school, or at least delay it.

You’re not sure what you want to do

Career experts warn this is one of the worst reasons to attend grad school. The cost of a master’s degree varies between $40,000 and $120,000 depending on the degree and the school. Keep in mind the average student will walk away with about $60,000 debt after obtaining their degree. That’s a lot of money to spend to weigh career options. Instead of signing up for an MBA when you’re not sure if you want to work in marketing or financial services, get a job in one of those fields instead. That will give you a much quicker understanding of the industry, and you’ll be making money instead of spending it.

Your career choice doesn’t require it

Do you want to be a journalist? Most editors don’t care if you have a BS or an MS, they need people who can write quickly, accurately and meet deadlines. Unless you are currently an accountant and want to make a career switch, it’s a better move to apply to entry-level jobs in your desired field and gain experience that way. After a few years working in your field you may find that an advanced degree will help you fine-tune your career path. For example, many who work in marketing find their liberal arts or business background needs a boost now that analytics and data science are such an important part of the job. In that case, it makes sense to take classes or pursue a degree in a field that will bolster your knowledge base and help you do your job better. Many companies will reimburse you for education or training that aligns to your current role (always check with HR), meaning you don’t have to shoulder all the financial burden.

It won’t boost your earnings

Look at career data and network with professionals and hiring managers, if possible. There are fields, such as financial services or IT business management where having a degree significantly increases your average earnings. Aside from the fields that require an advanced degree (law, medicine or higher ed) the jobs that get a boost from a formal degree lean towards professions where you need to bring a good mix of advanced skills. Being an economist requires financial, geo-political and math skills, while IT managers need to blend a highly technical background with plenty of business savvy, like being able to understand a balance sheet. But for professions in communications, HR, and computer programing, among others, having an advanced degree won’t typically boost your earnings any further than on-the-job experience.

It’s too expensive

If you are already in debt and don’t absolutely need a degree for your chosen field, consider waiting. As mentioned above, advanced degrees, especially an MBA, won’t make a huge difference in earnings right out of college, and there’s no reason to escalate debt without understanding the specific financial reward. Many universities offer Executive MBA programs that are specifically designed for those with work experience. These programs enable you to keep working, network with other executives and learn new skills that lead to promotions and upper management positions.