Career Planning

Is graduate school right for your student?

For December graduates, entering into a workplace unemployment rate of 9 percent can be daunting. If your student doesn’t have a job or promising prospects, she might be considering continuing her education in hopes of entering the job market a few years later with a higher degree and a better economic outlook. But graduate school isn’t for everyone. Consider these tips for the discussion:

Motives: If your student is considering returning to school because of fear or comfort, she’s not alone. It’s scary to enter a profession and take the final steps to independence – especially without any leads on jobs. And your student has been going to school for the past 17 years or so of her life. The idea of studying, tests and the life of a student might be more tempting than the unknown of the working world. Encourage your student to not let fear guide her decision, because true growth comes from change and risks.

    Dreams: Ask your student to describe where she wants to be in five years. Discuss what her career would look like, where she would live and her personal life. Then discuss if graduate school will bring her closer to her goals or push them further down the road. If she’s unsure of her dreams – especially when it comes to her career – investing in a graduate degree might be foolish. Encourage her to seek a vision for her career, i.e. if she’s considering law school, she can look into shadowing a lawyer or applying for an entry-level position at a law firm to get a feel for the business.

      Cost: While dreaming of her goals and ambitions might be important, your student should also look realistically at the cost of graduate school. Besides the obvious tuition and living expenses, your student would be forfeiting a few years of steady income and real-life experience. Because graduate school is arduous, it would demand her time and energy, possibly forcing her other interests or relationships to take a back seat. 

        Alternatives: Instead of forking over more tuition, your student can take advantage of affordable ways to get a leg up on employment competition. Certificate programs in certain fields of work require continuing education or exams, but not several semesters at a university. Networking events and career-related associations provide conferences, seminars and seasoned experts in the field. For job applicants, landing a first job in their field can be a catch-22. Most positions require some degree of experience, but they can’t gain that experience without getting a job first. Exploring entry-level or administrative positions, volunteer hours or unpaid internships might be worth the real-life experience.

          Research: If, after her consideration, graduate school seems to be a viable option, extensive research is a must. Your student should talk to other graduate students, tour and visit programs and pinpoint her expectations for a graduate degree. Graduate schools and programs require prerequisites – and some require a minimum score on standardized tests like the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Your student should start planning now to study for any necessary tests, take them, apply to schools, apply for scholarships and find work or an internship in the meantime.

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