The Master’s is the new Bachelor’s… or so they are saying these days. Many officers transitioning from the Army, especially those questioning their relevance in the civilian world, head straight to graduate school to earn degrees before pursuing civilian careers. But is it the right call?
In an uncertain economy, graduate school is known as a hideout for post-undergrads who worry they won’t be able to find jobs after graduation. There’s an increase in applicants to graduate schools during times of economic decline. People see Master’s degrees as a surefire ticket to better-paying jobs later on, something to set them apart from their peers. But I have friends who have racked up six-figure debt from nearly a decade of higher education, because they have never actually joined the workforce to start paying it off.
For us military folks, who either have earned a degree and/or have GI Bill benefits to help us pay, the story may be a little different. We have valuable work experience already. Some of us will get the military to pay for that graduate degree (or at least part of it). Some of us are financially stable enough to undertake student loans and forgo ‘lost wages’ for a couple of years, because we feel a degree will help us transition to the job we want. It’s all about the individual situation.
That said, a military officer transitioning does not need to rush into grad school to be relevant. You already have plenty of qualities that would make you an excellent hire in Corporate America. So don’t assume you need the degree to get the job you want; it’s not the only way to differentiate yourself. Many jobs will give you tuitiion reimbursement if you take on your degree while gaining valuable job experience working for them. I’ve met several former military officers who were hired for the same jobs right out of the military that others got right after their MBA. They gained valuable work experience in the civilian world first, then pursued a degree that allowed them to apply theories to the knowledge they acquired on the job. I also have friends who went straight to the Ivy League, and I know they will be just as successful… but they made the choice based on their individual situations, and it was a fully educated (no pun intended!) decision.
DO go straight to grad school if:
- You can afford it. Think tuition, living expenses, but also potential lost wages. Be fiscally responsible, so you don’t end up paying debts for the rest of your life. If you’ve got the GI Bill, that’s awesome! Do it!
- You know what you want to do. Is the degree essential to what you want to do? (For prospective doctors and lawyers, this is a no-brainer question.) For other Master’s degrees, talk to someone in the field you’re interested in, and see what they think about pursuing that degree. You need to know you’re going to use it.
DON’T go straight to grad school if:
- You can’t afford it. Seriously, student loans are the only debt that isn’t erased by bankruptcy. They stay with you forever, until you pay them off.
- You don’t know what you want to do, or how it will enhance your career. Again, talk to people who do what you want to do, and find out if the degree is something you need right away.
- You’re doing it because you don’t feel relevant. You are relevant!
- You’re just doing it to give yourself more time to decide on a career path. That kind of procrastinating is expensive!
I know that this post did seem pretty negative towards the decision to go straight to graduate school. But that was unintentional; there are a TON of GREAT reasons why grad school could HELP you on your career path! I see people who turn their top degrees into great jobs. So don’t let that be the takeaway from this post… I just don’t want anyone to think they have to go to grad school to achieve success after the military. It’s not a choice to be taken lightly, especially considering the financial repercussions. Make sure the cost is worth the rewards down the road.
Articles on This Topic:
“To Grad School or Not to Grad School?” by Jesse Langely, MsCareerGirl (2012)
“Why You Shouldn’t Go to Grad School” by Frances Bridges, Forbes (2012)
“The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s” by Laura Pappano, NY Times (2011)
“Grad school isn’t an escape from a bad job market” by Alison Green, US News (2011)
“Considering grad school? Advice in a flat job market” by Betty Klinck, USA Today (2010)
“Get a job, or go to grad school?” by Anne Fisher, Fortune (2010)
“For many, a grad school stint doens’t pay off in job market” by Emmeline Zhao, Wall Street Journal (2010)
“Don’t try to dodge the recession with grad school” by Penelope Trunk (2009)
“College Students Face a Tough Choice” by Melissa Sayers, educationguide.com