If you are considering going back to grad school to boost your career, you should read this article.
Millions of people globally earn graduate degrees each year – be it an MBA, MA, MS, or another related degree. Though my years of university career services work and now talent acquisition advisory, one key factor to post-graduate success is often overlooked and I seek to explore it in this article.
Why (very) specifically do you want to go to grad school?
What (very) specifically do you wish to get out of it?
What specifically are you prepared to put into your academic and career endeavor?
There are many reasons why people seek to complete a graduate degree. While most seek career growth or transition (either with their current company or a new one), others might seek a graduate degree for a love of learning or for personal fulfillment. For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on those seeking career growth or transition with a new company – whether they are seeking a full-time or part-time degree.
There are more very good reasons to go to graduate school that are not mentioned here, but for those who will be seeking new employment, here are some caution signs to consider in both your decision of whether or not to get a graduate degree, but also where you choose to attain it.
Lack of Clarity
I have seen my fair share of graduate students who chose to either go to grad school right after undergrad or enter grad school for a career transition without fully understanding the end game. It is more of a step to take in the meantime, a delay of decision making. There are ample opportunities while in school to explore your options and make decisions, but you owe it to yourself, your career, and all the hard work you will do in grad school to conduct a full exercise and inventory of what you want to do while in grad school and what jobs at which companies you wish to pursue. You should really start your job search prior to selecting a degree program so that you can take the initial steps to understand options, conduct informational interviews, learn the recruiting practices of your target organizations and roles, gain professional insights and advice, and so on.
Common pitfalls of those who lack clarity include realizing later that you chose the wrong degree, chose the wrong institution, and/or struggle to focus on coursework selection resulting in either more expense or too broad of an academic focus to be marketable for specific jobs. Further, delay in understanding your next steps – particularly for short degree programs – often result in inability to gain the right internship while the option is available, inability to identify and close gaps in your experience/skill set before you need a job, failure to understand exactly the nature of your target roles and how you do/do not match them, and ultimately not getting a role and company you want after you graduate.
Wrong School or Program for Your Target
During my career services days, it was always heartbreaking to meet a new student (or worse meet a student for the first time who is already about to graduate) with specific goals that are very difficult to attain within the constraints of the school, program, or that their target does not source from the school or program. For example, if a student wants a specific role or company, but the student does not have their own pathway to get there, they are completely reliant on what that particular school and program can present to them. Keep in mind that a solid job search strategy does include a healthy amount of candidate driven job search tactics (under the guidance of their career services office), and then complimentary opportunities brought to the students. In the end, if the student wants a specific post-graduate role with company X, but that company only hires via formal campus recruitment from 10 schools (example school not included), the student ends up being very disappointed (and sometimes angry) that this option is not in front of them. Not to fret, there are ways (under the guidance of career services) to still get your foot in the door, but it can be a difficult uphill battle in this example. Understanding your target companies and roles, and the specific recruitment strategies for that combination – and how that does or does not fit a particular school or program is important.
$$$ and ROI Gaps
You want to keep an ROI mindset along with your own understanding of what is used to calculate the ROI – many times there are opportunities, happiness/satisfaction factors, and other intangible benefits that should be part of it. In the end, grad school costs money and you need to understand how long it will take you to pay it off and how much you need to make in the short and long term after you graduate to be comfortable. This sometimes means you need to work backward – how much will you need to make after graduation (and what does progression look like after the first job), and what job options with this degree will meet that basic need. You will also want to think about opportunity costs or if you need to exit the workforce for a period of time. Only you can be the true judge of the “is it worth it” question – just make sure you know what will make it worth it for you.
Only Short or Long Term Focus, and Not Both
You want to have an idea of the short and long term regarding your career goals – granted long-term career goals can be general and they can change later. Those who only focus on short-term often might focus heavily on the exact job they want after they graduate, but then later end up on a path they do not like. Or, they might really want job B, but they really need to get job A first to get there. Those who focus only on the long-term often have difficulty articulating their message to employers (thus not making them appealing candidates), and struggle to figure out their job search while in school.
In the end, there is no singular, broad-brush answer to who should and should not go to grad school and for what reasons, but hopefully this gave you some food for thought in terms of your planning, research, pre-work, and then a jump on your job search if you choose to go for that diploma.