With Bleak Job Market, Should College Students Go Right to Grad School?

by Darwin on July 28, 2010

Frustratingly, the job market environment is so bleak that many graduating college students are starting to question what to do with their degrees.  The offers are few and far between, the jobs they were targeting have no openings, and the starting salaries aren’t what they anticipated in an environment where even tenured employees are seeing salary freezes and reductions.  That begs the question as to whether it’s even worth entering the job market at this time if other options present themselves.  Here are a few considerations:

Why Grad School?

Primarily, you’ve got to ask yourself whether you really want or need a graduate degree.  There are such diverse choices from continuing your undergrad with an M.S. or PhD in a similar discipline to your undergrad, to an MBA, law degree or medical school, there are definitely merits to having that graduate degree, but before rushing in due to the current circumstances, you’ve got to think about whether the approach and the timing are right.  If you’ve always wanted to be a doctor and were heading down this path anyway, it’s a no-brainer (if you’ve got the funding capabilities).  Same with law school.  However, MBA programs are often different.  It’s often recommended that you have some industry experience FIRST, then pursue an MBA.  Otherwise, you’ve basically a school-smart, street novice going through an MBA program with little or no real-world experience to apply in the classroom.

Something that students don’t always consider is that a graduate degree doesn’t necessarily make you any more attractive to employers.  Often times, work experience is more important.  There are many “MBA preferred” listings that go to non-MBAs that have the 2-3 years work experience instead of an MBA.  And same with Master’s degrees.  A Chemical Engineer with a couple years experience in the lab or the plant is often viewed as more valuable than a wide-eyed recent Master’s program graduate.  This is a trade-off to think about.

Who’s Paying?

This is a huge factor.  If the bank of mom and dad stand ready and willing to fund your graduate studies, then perhaps it makes sense for you personally financially, family factors aside.  Now may be a better time than when you’re working and trying to raise a family.  However, if you’re paying for it out of your own pocket (likely taking on large loans), now may not be the best time.  Even though the job offerings out there may not be ideal, if you can land a job with a college tuition reimbursement program, even though it’s not your ideal job now, pragmatically speaking, it is a way to fund your degree.  This isn’t cool for the employer if you’re completely using them, but who knows, perhaps the role turns into something you’d want to stick with the the degree opens more doors for you.  I interviewed a candidate once who admitted as much in a bit of TMI, so of course, I didn’t recommend him for an offer since I knew he’d jump ship as soon as his PhD was complete.  But people do this.  Just like companies opportunistically hire and retire employees, graduating students need to think about what the optimal set of benefits are they can realize from their various employment opportunities (if they even present themselves).

Grad School Bubble?

There are probably a lot of people thinking the same thing right now.  With no viable offers and the capability to complete a degree now while they’re young, there’s likely to be a larger class of students entering and graduating from these programs in the next few years.  There are also tons of for-profit and online outfits popping up.  This could lend itself to a bit of a bubble, or perhaps the perception that the current class of students (in aggregate) is in some way flawed – a bunch of kids who couldn’t get jobs out of college so they completed random graduate degrees.  Perception is reality when it comes to the hiring process, so it’s important to ensure you’re attending a top school or program that employers will really find useful, not just going back to school for the sake of doing so while riding out a poor job market.

While such a heavy decisions is weighted by so many factors, I think if I had a decent job prospect that offers tuition benefits after some period of time, I’d probably take the job and go to school at night.  However, if the job market is still unforgiving after months and the resources are available to obtain a valuable degree (in my estimation), I might just jump right into grad school.  And of course, for law school or medical school, the plan probably would have been to skip the corporate world and continue with education right out of the undergrad program anyway.

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1 Phillip July 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

And then there are also the people who get paid to go to grad school…

Darwin Reply:

@Phillip, Bonus!

2 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff July 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I’d look into grad school or at least a further certification of some sort (especially if you can get paid along the way). When the job market is tough, you have to make yourself sellable.

Also, if you try to get jobs and keep hitting brick walls, think about volunteering in your field while working part-time to make ends meet. The volunteer hours get you experience and hopefully some networking.

Darwin Reply:

@Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, Yes, volunteering, networking, whatever works – it beats sitting around filling out online applications.

3 Finacial Uproar July 29, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I’d like to go to the same grad school as those two girls in the picture… Nice work on picking that one.

Darwin Reply:

@Finacial Uproar, Hah! so true! Where were they when I was slogging through my MBA? LOL

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