How Graduate School Can Help Your Career

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I have often heard from advisees that "These days you need a graduate degree to get anywhere in the job market." In some cases, graduates take this to mean that any additional schooling is a good thing, and will pave the way to gainful employment.

How Graduate School Can Help Your Career

There is, however, great danger in thinking indiscriminately about graduate school, especially given the price of tuition and the opportunity cost in terms of lost income.

The Philosophy major who acquires a master's degree in the same discipline will likely be no more competitive in the job market than she was with a bachelor's degree. Graduates should generally identify clear career goals, and ascertain that a specific graduate degree will make it easier for them to reach those goals, prior pursuing an additional degree.

Professional Degrees

Professional degrees prepare students for work in a specific field which requires a specialized education. Examples include law, medicine, counseling, social work, public health, speech pathology, architecture, physician's assistant, physical therapy, library science, accounting, business, journalism, dentistry, acupuncture, nutrition, engineering, actuarial science, nurse practitioner, elementary education, music education, health services administration, clinical psychology and human resource management.

Academic Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees in traditional academic disciplines like English, Anthropology, Sociology, Philosophy, History and Foreign Language present a different scenario. A PhD in these disciplines can also lead to employment but often this will be restricted to college teaching and research, with some side work in consulting an additional possibility.

Graduates with financial pressures should make sure that they are interested in working in these roles, and that they are aware of the challenges in acquiring such jobs. College faculty and mentors at your alma mater can be an excellent source of information and perspective about the options and pitfalls of pursuing an advanced degree in an academic discipline. For example, many colleges are hiring adjuncts rather than tenure track PhDs to save money on salaries and benefits.

The Differences Between Graduate Programs

Not all graduate programs in traditional academic disciplines are created equal. Disciplines with a strong research base and significant public funding will often offer financial assistance to prospective graduate students. It is not uncommon for PhD students in fields like Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Geology to receive full tuition remission and a stipend. Teaching and research support duties often would be required in exchange for this funding. Graduates from these programs will find opportunities outside of academia, in industry and government, to be more plentiful and lucrative. Other disciplines without as many applications of research to pressing societal or commercial interests will also offer some funding to graduate students, but it will be less common.

Do You Need a Graduate Degree?

Of course, not all students pursue graduate work for practical reasons. Some individuals may pursue a discipline for intellectual fulfillment, but also cover practical bases by earning a certificate in a more marketable field by completing internships or summer jobs in more career focused areas. Another option might involve taking some courses in a more practical area of Humanities or Social Science while pursuing their primary area of interest in a less practical academic area. For example, a student pursuing a degree in English Literature might complete a summer publishing internship, or a Philosophy student might work as a legal assistant or gain a paralegal certificate. A student pursuing a Sociology degree might take several statistics courses, and do some projects related to consumer behavior, to pave their way to a career in market research.

The bottom line is that graduate education can open many doors, but is not required or beneficial for all candidates. Carefully research career options and outcomes to make sure it is worthwhile to pursue a graduate degree in a discipline which you are targeting.

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