Should Grad School Be Your Plan B?

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Posted by Liz Seasholtz on May 3, 2011
Should Grad School Be Your Plan B?
If you’ve recently been laid off or are fresh out of college, you might think now is the perfect time to enroll in grad school in hopes you’ll avoid job hunting in a dismal economy. Think again.

Using grad school as a shelter from the job market is probably not in your best interest. Making the decision to enroll based on your long-term career goals is. In fact, it may be more valuable to consider where you’d like your career to lead, get relevant work experience, and avoid the elevated competition of grad school admissions.

Before you sink money into the GMAT and stick stamps on your grad apps, take some time to reflect on your career path.

Factor Out the Recession

Keep the thought of grad school and the recession independent. Make sure the timing of your enrollment fits with your professional and personal life—and isn’t just a convenient alternative to being unemployed. “Students should think about whether the timing is right, rather than say, ‘The economy is struggling, let me go back to school and protect myself.’” says Brad Rosenwinkel, associate director of admissions at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “We are looking for a student who wants to do it for more than external factors.”

Look Before You Leap

In any economy, you need to make sure you’re investing in the right degree, and have clear post-graduation career goals. Otherwise you may lack conviction about your studies and end up directionless—and in debt. “Getting your masters to simply get it out of the way is the opposite of career development,” says Donald Asher, author of Graduate Admissions Essays.

Take time to investigate potential positions by reading up on the industry, shadowing someone with your ideal job, or even better, by working in the industry. Case in point: you might decide to get your law degree, but without ever setting foot in a law office, it’s hard to know whether that lifestyle is right for you. By being a paralegal for a year or two, you’ll get a much better handle on the industry and what lawyers actually do.
 
Work experience vs. Education
On the same note, many employers value experience over education. If you graduate from grad school with little or no work experience, you may still have a hard time finding a job, regardless of the market. At the very least, try to get an internship before your grad school education, to provide some experience for your resume.

Working for a few years in your desired industry before grad school also helps solidify networking contacts. You can reach out to these contacts after graduation for potential job openings that require an advanced degree.

Competition is Tough

Many schools have a fixed capacity for their grad programs, and since more people are applying to escape job hunting, mathematically that means admissions rates will be lower and the bar higher. And though Kelley School of Business has seen a decrease in international applicants, they have had a rise in domestic applicants, says Rosenwinkel. You’ll have a better chance of getting into the program you want when there isn’t a surge of other qualified people vying for a spot on the class roster.

The Money Issue
Graduate school can be a huge financial investment, and taking on student loans when you’re unemployed can be a tough pill to swallow. Again, this is a situation where you need to look outside of the recession to make a decision. “You shouldn’t be afraid to invest in yourself,” says Asher. “If your grad school aspirations are tied to career advancement, it makes sense to take out students loans and forge ahead.” On the other hand, it’s senseless to invest in your education if you’re not 100 percent committed to your career goals.

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