Four years of college have passed, and you’re debating whether or not your education is over. Many recent grads face this dilemma: workforce or grad school? The experience vs. higher education debate may have your brain spinning with conflicting information, but here’s what you need to know to make a decision.
When Local is Best
The majority of master’s students are enrolled at the local level (in smaller, community-based schools). These are good choices in three scenarios:
1. When you plan to stay local. While these schools don’t have the reach of their top 10 counterparts, they do have strong brands and alumni communities in their areas. A degree from a local school will provide professional recognition and a network, both of which can greatly help for job placement in your area.
2. When you need it to move forward. Some career paths, such as physical therapy and engineering, require advanced degrees to move forward. In these cases, attending a local school can be a great investment.
3. When you are going to school part-time. Not everyone has the time or money to pursue an advanced degree full time; local schools tend to be cost-effective and flexible.
When to Head Out of Town
If you plan to relocate after getting your degree, I advise against staying local. A lack of brand recognition outside the area can cause potential employers to assume you weren’t capable of getting into a top 10 school (a bias that is, unfortunately, common). You’d be better off not getting an advanced degree at all than getting one from a “no-name” school. Run the numbers because you need to understand the income you’d be giving up by getting a master’s (your “opportunity cost”). Here are some tips to get you started—a spreadsheet can help!
Research the starting salary for graduating seniors in your field from your college; this is your salary in “year one.” Assume a 5-percent increase each year, and calculate your salary through “year ten.” The formula is: Salaries added from years one through ten.
With advanced degree:
Let’s assume your program is two years. Calculate the cost of attending a graduate program: tuition, books, and fees. Research the starting salary of graduates from your potential graduate program, assuming you’ll earn this salary in “year three.” You can estimate a modest increase from your “year three” salary, each year through “year ten.” The formula is: (Salaries added from years three to 10) – (Cost of degree).
These are general guidelines; only you know your career goals. Talk to professionals in your field for advice. Lastly, don’t forget the intangibles of a graduate degree: Personal job satisfaction may be worth more than a good salary in the long run.
Bhavin Parikh is the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh, an online test prep company that provides video lessons and practice questions accessible anytime, anywhere for exams such as the GMAT, GRE, and SAT.