What are the Benefits of Post- Graduate Education?

Sep 6, 2001 (Updated Jan 28, 2006)

The Bottom Line Graduate school can help give you a competitive advantage in the workforce. If you get a chance to go, seize it! You may not get the chance again.

Completion of college is considered by many to be one of their greatest and proudest accomplishments. After spending four years (or more) sweating, studying, and starving, our Bachelor's degree is placed in our hands and we can proudly count ourselves among the world’s most educated people.

For most students, the next step is to find a good job. But for others, there’s another important decision to make: whether or not to attend graduate school. But is graduate school really worth the trouble? Does the selection of colleges make a difference? What can be expected in graduate school? Is it much different from undergraduate education? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of attaining an advanced degree.

Deciding Where to Go:

If you are considering attending grad school, the first thing you need to do is to find a college that has a reputable program, in your chosen field of study. This might require moving to another city or state. Just because your undergraduate university had a great program in your selected major, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the graduate program will also be a solid, accredited program. You might very well end up having to relocate to another state, to get the best education for your dollar.

Once you have chosen a school to attend, you then must prepare for taking the graduate admission test (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, etc.). Some schools will allow you to take a class or two, at the graduate level, before you take the admission test. But you must take the test to continue with the program. I took the GMAT (to get into business school), and I found it fairly easy, scoring in the 94th percentile. Most schools don't require a very high score, to get accepted, so I wouldn't sweat it. Unless you’re trying to get accepted into MIT, Columbia, Harvard, or some other highly- acclaimed school, you won't need to score in the top 10 percent, so don’t worry about it.

Another important consideration is whether or not you want to remain in your undergraduate field of study, or move on to something different. If you switch your course of study, you will have to take several more classes. When I went to graduate school, to study finance, I already had an undergraduate degree in finance, so I needed to take only 17 classes to earn the masters degree. There were other students who entered the same program who had undergraduate degrees in other fields (like education, psychology, etc.). As a result, they had to take an additional 8 classes in basic business courses, like “survey in accounting”, “survey in economics”, and a few others. This added another year to their graduate degree program.

What Can I Expect in Graduate School:

Graduate school is much, much different from undergraduate education! For the most part, grad school is better. First of all, students seem to be more focused and more interested in the subject matter. At the undergraduate level, you are forced to take many “general education” requirements, whether you like the classes or not. But in graduate school, your courses are all concentrated in your field of study, so there is less chance that a class will bore you, and less chance that you will lose interest. Every class you take has relevance to your selected course of study.

Another thing that I liked about graduate school is the emphasis on “doing”, rather than just “memorizing”. In grad school, most of your work involves writing papers, researching, discussing topics in groups, completing group projects, and giving oral presentations. The tests are usually essay questions, with a few exceptions, and many courses don't even have written tests at all. In other words, you are graded based on your ability to apply knowledge, rather than simply your ability to memorize facts. I think this is much better than taking multiple choice tests. A ten- year old child can memorize a list of management terms, but not have any idea what they really mean or how they can be applied to real- life situations. In grad school, you must be able to demonstrate applications of knowledge.

One other observation that I made, while attending grad school, is that the professors are much more respectful of the students, and much more flexible and understanding of individual situations and circumstances. When I was an undergraduate student, I remember that many teachers were overly- strict disciplinarians, and they refused to cut any student any slack at all. “Unless you experience a death in the family, or develop cancer, then don’t bother asking to reschedule a test…your grade will be a zero!”, many of them would say. I recall an incident once where a fellow student had an appendix operation and missed a test. She needed to reschedule, but the stern, grumpy, 70- year old professor didn’t believe her story and tried to give her an “F” on the test! She had to go to the dean, to be allowed to retake the test.

In graduate school, the instructors are much more understanding and respectful. If you show up to class late, they don’t say a word. If you have to miss a day of class, they gladly e-mail the class notes to you. They don’t question your reasons for missing a class, and they are more than happy to allow the students to reschedule a test, if necessary. The reason for this difference in attitude, I think, is simply because the students are older. When I was in grad school, the age of the students ranged from 22 to 60. In undergraduate, there are a few older students, but they are mostly younger. The professors know that they can get away with more, when dealing with younger students, so they tend to me more strict. With grad students, professors are much more cautious and respectful. Call it what you will, but to me, this is nothing more than good old- fashioned age discrimination. Older people are far less likely to tolerate any behavior from a professor that they perceive as unreasonable. More mature people are more apt to fight back and defend themselves, so the professors are careful to show respect and consideration.

Is Graduate School Really Necessary?:

Before you decide to enroll in grad school, ask yourself a few questions. Do you really need to attend graduate school? Is it important enough to invest the time and money to complete the degree? Will it make a significant difference in your chosen career?

Depending on your field of study, obtaining a master’s degree can make a difference in your career. Those who have undergraduate degrees in fields like psychology, pre- med, biology, etc., can give themselves a competitive advantage with an advanced degree. In other fields, like computer science, the job market is such that an advanced degree isn’t that critical. Also, if you want to teach, at the college level, you will greatly improve your chances for getting hired with a master’s degree.

Another way that a graduate degree can be helpful is that it can give you a much- needed boast, to overcome circumstances beyond your control and help you to compete in the job market. As most people know, the main reason that people get good jobs is based on who they know, not what they know. I was talking one day, to a person in my company’s human resources department and he admitted to me that the way to get places in the company is to have the right connections. “Without any high- ranking friends or family to help you”, he told me, “you’re best bet is to get more schooling, to help even the playing field”. In other words, if your dad is the company CEO, there’s really no need to get an advanced degree. The high- paying jobs will come to you with minimal effort. But without any family or friends in high places, a master’s degree can help to make conditions a little more equal.

If you decide to work and go to grad school part- time, then it’s a good idea to find out if your company has a tuition reimbursement plan. Most of them do, and this can greatly reduce the cost of your schooling, and possibly even make it free. Where I work, I had to pay the money up- front, for each class. I was then reimbursed for 50% of the cost, after completing the course with an “A” or “B” grade (there was no reimbursement for “C” or lower). After I finished the entire program, I was reimbursed the remaining 50% for all of my classes, in a lump sum payment, with the agreement that I would continue to work at my present employer for a full year. If I leave before the one- year anniversary date of my degree completion, I will have to give back part of the money, on a prorated basis.

Final Thoughts:

Going to graduate school was a positive decision for me. I enjoyed the coursework, the presentations, the fellow students, and the professors. And since my company reimbursed 100% of the tuition, the only cost that I had to pay on my own was for books and supplies. Otherwise, I received a free master’s degree. All that I had to invest was my time.

If money was not an issue, I probably would have gone directly to graduate school, following the completion of my bachelor’s degree. But, unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury. I was completely broke when I completed my undergraduate degree, and I was sick of living the student life, which for me meant having to eat pasta products, macaroni and cheese, and other cheap foods almost every day. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get a job so that I could experience what it was like to be able to eat the food of my choice and live like a normal person.

I’m happy with the decision that I made. I went to work first, then entered graduate school as a part- time student. I didn’t have the financial worries that I would have had, if I went to school full- time. Also, the money was completely reimbursed by my employer, so I didn’t have to worry about the payment of tuition.

If you’re considering graduate school, you need to decide if it’s really going to be necessary or not, and whether or not you want to jump into the program full- time, or part time. Once you decide to attend, be prepared to write papers, do extensive research, and give presentations. If you have stage fright, you better try to get over it, because there will be lots of oral presentations that you will be expected to give.

Graduate school isn’t always easy, but the rewards and the prestige are well worth the effort. Only 7 percent of all people in the United States have a post- graduate degree. If the opportunity to obtain one presents itself, take advantage of it and go!

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