T Nation

Grad School or Job


I will fortunately, but also unfortunately, be finishing my undergraduate degree in the spring. I am at a crossroads over whether I should go directly into grad school or get a job.

I will be applying to grad school regardless of whether or not I actually attend. I'd like to hear your opinions and experiences with this stage of your life. Do you regret your decision? How hard was it? What advice can you share?


I'll be in the shadows.


Can you cash flow grad school or will you be taking loans?


Get a job and go to Grad school at the same time (if possible) or later.

In my experience you need applicable experience if you want to be anywhere other than bottom of the totem pole. Key word is applicable.

No one gave a shit about my prior experience because it was not related to my degree (accounting).


Yes this is most important. Not just that but do you have loans from undergrad?

I see this more as a luxury item and you don't buy those on credit or when your already in debt.


Did your avi evolve?


I agree with this.

Depending on how good you are, your current qualifications, and the company you're with, you may even be able to get a job, get the work experience, and get tuition assistance for grad school.

Bottom line is that you need to be very good at your job regardless.

Some employers look at advanced degrees as a plus, some look at them as a prerequisite, and others look down on them -- at least if they're earned without relevant job experience.

One of the biggest problems with recent grads in general is that they think they know everything. And sure, there are things that they know how to do much better than what's currently happening. However, while they might be technically correct, they don't have the experience to know how to apply that knowledge to real life situations, because real life is dirty, messy, and not very predictable.

So, if regular grads have a know-it-all attitude already... those with advanced degrees are often more so that way. And that's a bias that can work against you, even if it might not apply to you specifically.

We've turned down many PhDs from great schools because they simply don't know how to take their knowledge and do anything with it, and yet retain a smugness that they know better.

But once you have the job, once you're building the experience, pursuing an advanced degree is looked very highly on.


I agree with what has already been said. I would only go to grad school if you absolutely cannot find a job and, then, only if it won't put you into debt. Companies these days put much more value on experience than on degrees. There are simply too many people walking around with advanced degrees and no real world experience.

You don't want to mortgage your future either for a degree which will look pretty on your wall but not help your job prospects. It's a different world out there right now and I know that your parents may be encouraging you to go to grad school but, they have to understand that advanced degrees are commonplace these days and nowhere near as impressive in most circumstances as on the job experience.

The only caveat that I would state is if you can find a grad program with a job placement / co-op option which may be a great way to get a foot in the door at a company. However, again, not if you are going to assume a tremendous amount of debt.


I definitely vote job. The way the market is for college grads much of the time getting your masters just means you'll still be unemployed, but with more debt.




I would vote job if possible, and then go to grad school and have the company pay for you, which is what I am doing now (for Electrical Engineering). Currently working full time and getting a Masters part time and I get a $50,000 education pretty much for free while earning money. Might really depend on your particular field though and what opportunities are available right away with just a Bachelor's degree


I'm a chemistry major, and I'm reminded every day of how little I actually know about the subject. My main predicament between grad school and getting a job is that chemistry is such an extensive and broad field that it's impossible not to be at the bottom without an advanced degree.

I've been working on a research project with my advisor and he has mentioned more that once I should go to grad school. Hence, the thread. I'm just unsure of which path to take.


My parents are encouraging me to get a job. I'm not in all that bad of debt.


1) Are you particularly gifted in and passionate about your field of study?

I think #1 doesn't have to be an unqualified "yes" if other factors are favorable. But if it is a solid, honest, uninflated "yes" then that would be a factor in favor of grad school.

2) Are you the first generation in your family to obtain a post-high-school academic degree?

3) Have you already gotten hooked into some type of job situation (summer, part-time, or whatever) that would be considered relevant experience for your field?

I could be wrong, but my gut feeling is that if #2 is "yes" and #3 is "no" then the person in question is more likely to be missing some type of know-how to make a post-graduate degree pay off economically.

4) Will you have to go further into debt, or impose a major financial burden on your family?

5) How much risk is there of ending up with an income dwarfed by your debt?


My bro was a chemistry major, and what you said reflects his experience, you can't get that good of a job with chemistry without an advanced degree (he was a lab technician before he decided to pursue grad school since the pay wasn't that great). So maybe pursuing an M.S. in chemical engineering (or chemistry if you prefer, but it seems Chem-E has a lot of opportunities these days) while getting research/internships on your resume would be good in your case. Won't hurt to at least apply to jobs though and see if they have programs where you can go to school at the same time.


This is a toughie. On the one hand, chemistry, as you mentioned, is an area that honestly requires further school to ever hold "legitimacy." However, on the other hand and as any have mentioned, taking out loans for grad school right now is very bad idea. The education bubble is the next one to bust in the United States - you simply cannot have this much student debt relative to solid jobs available and it be sustainable.

The deciding factor? How passionate are you about chemistry? While some of the old school posters here might shun this question as they equate it to liberal arts kids coming out of school claiming to be passionate about a subject that holds little economic value (read: doomed financially), your situation is different. Chemistry isn't English. Chemistry is a well-respected, core science that holds merit outside of just the chemistry world. So, if you have a passion for it, I could see you breaking the cardinal rule of not taking out loans here and going to grad school.

Or, if money is all you're worried about, do a financial analysis on how quickly you could get a degree in some form of engineering and pay it off. The starting salary just might justify taking out large student loans here. It would be an exception.

Just my 2 cents.


Do a bit of outside research via your school services and otherwise to see how people fared after they graduated, then make a decision from that?

That being said, certain majors like EE, chem, etc just absolutely require grad school to be even remotely useful. It's probably more proper to consider them 6 years of schooling more than 4, in all honesty.


1) That's not an easy question to for me to answer about myself. I wouldn't say particularly gifted, but I am no slouch. My advisor said yesterday that I was passionate about what we were working on. I'm definitely not dispassionate about chemistry or I wouldn't have stayed with it.

2) No, pretty much everyone in my family have college degrees. Most of my uncles are engineers.

3) No.

4) I'd have to take loans. And make no mistake I am in debt right now, but no where approaching the amount that the average student at a university is.

5) It could happen, but the pay in my field is higher than most so that is a plus.


Making money isn't my primary goal. I simply want to make enough money to live and not hate my job at the same time. Fortunately, I am much more inclined towards physical chemistry and mathematics than the organic side of things so I could go the ChemE route if I wanted to.


Might be a good idea to do some research and find out what potential employers expect in terms of relevant job experience when they hire Chemistry Masters-degree-holders. (Easy for me to say, because I am not the one working on an academic research project and researching grad schools at the same time.) If potential employers are all good with Masters-degree plus research projects plus no other relevant experience, it might be better for you to keep moving forward and finish your graduate education sooner rather than later. Would I be correct in assuming that if you end up with a huge debt and a tiny salary, your parents or one of your uncles would let you live with them (without a huge amount of grief) while you pay down the debt?

If for some reason you cannot ascertain whether or not potential employers would be good with Masters-degree plus research projects plus no other relevant experience, it might be prudent to get a relevant job before continuing on with grad school.