Grad School or Not?

There was a time when grad school was only for the very ambitious and the brainiacs.  Then there was a time when grad-school was perceived to be a necessity due to education inflation.

So what’s the consensus now? Simply put: there isn’t a consensus. There will always be the people that went to grad school and preach it, and there will always be the people that made a killing in their career without ever going to grad school. Then of course, there are the institutions and academics that say it’s a necessity but they obviously are a little biased.

Thus, the CampusRankings team did some research and has broken it down for you nicely so you can make your own decision based on this information, rather than somebody just telling YOU what is best for YOU.

Internal variables

The first thing you should consider is if you really want to go to grad school. If you have absolutely no desire and are sick and tired of school, there probably isn’t much point going. If you go in with a negative attitude, you likely won’t do well, so no sense wasting the money and time. Also, be sure of what you want to go for. Unlike with an undergrad, once you are in a graduate program, it may be difficult or impossible to switch. Along with this is deciding what kind of graduate degree you actually want. If you don’t want to be an academic or a researcher, getting a doctorate degree may not be the best first option.

The second thing that is obviously a consideration is money. If you already have a pile of debt from undergrad and are thinking about going into further debt to go grad school, the rewards may not be significant enough to offset all the interest you’ll be paying. There are some graduate degrees that are “inexpensive” as well as some MBA programs that are incredibly expensive. Nonetheless, there are some MBA programs that actually pay for themselves, like the Dalhousie Corporate Residency. As well, investigating companies that may pay for a graduate degree is a practical solution to this major question. You may be able to get work experience, a grad degree, and a guaranteed job afterwards. This often requires sticking with the company though.

The degree you would pursue is an important factor as well. For instance, if you want to be a lawyer, then you know you’re going to have to go to law school. If you want to be a politician, then getting a master in political science is not really a prerequisite for becoming a politician. With this in mind, we have further broken it down:
-if grad school is required for career ambition, then go to grad school (ie, want to become a Doctor).
-if you get an undergrad degree  that isn’t getting you any degree specific jobs, go to grad school, then become a professor (ie. got a History degree and would like to be an academic).
-if you got an undergrad degree and want to improve on it by getting a masters in something else, go to grad school. (ie. an engineer getting an MBA).

Another internal consideration is location. If you want to travel somewhere but can’t find a job there, try to get into school. For instance, if you want to go to Austria but cannot find a job, apply to European University at the Austrian campus. Choosing the right location can really improve your happiness levels and that is critical to success. Moreover, to go along with the money issue, if you can live at home (yes, the parents) while attending grad school, this can be a smart move, although an annoying one. Remember, short term pain, long term gain.

Although it is not a smart idea to go or not go to grad school because of family, friends, love ones, etc, it is usually a consideration for most people. I would not recommend making any decisions based purely on this factor, but should count for something, and could act as a final decider.

An interesting internal variable is whether or not you plan on starting a family by the time you are 30. Apparently the Harvard Business School has acknowledged that an MBA cannot be fully utilized or leveraged if you plan on having kids by 30. Subsequently, this should be considered (although not decided) when applying to grad school. It is not known if the same applies for other masters degrees.

External variables

If you have already received a job offer this clearly must be considered. If you get a good offer, it’s likely best to examine another critical external variable: the economy. We have thus come up with three scenarios involving these two criterion to help you out:

1. If the economy is in a recession, then improving your skills by getting a grad degree will really increase your chances of landing a solid job when the economy recovers and will separate you from the many others getting undergrad degrees in the same period. If you do happen to get great offers during a recession, the decision will be that much tougher. Weighing the internal variables in this case will play a vital part of your decision. Keep in mind, don’t go to grad school simply because there is a recession. Internal variables such as money and want are crucial. Feeling forced into grad school may just carve out a path for you that you may not like and have to spend even more money switching.

2. Conversely, if the economy is in full bloom then it is best to except any job offers you may have while they last rather than going to grad school and upon your graduation, there be a recession and possibly have a hard time getting a job. If you are already getting good offers, the experience and seniority you gain in the x amount of years it takes to complete a grad school degree (typically 2 for a Masters) may be more valuable than the graduate degree.

3. Finally, if you are at the tail end of a recession and receive good job offers, take them before the people that followed scenario 1 graduate, the recession finish, and they get the offers instead of you with your undergrad. If you get ok job offers, strongly consider internal variables to decide whether or not going to grad school works for you.

Furthermore, the economic outlook for certain sectors should be considered as well to predict the need for a career change or modification. For instance, if you have a computer science undergrad degree, and it is expected that programmers will not be needed as much in the near future, getting a MBA could be beneficial as it could make you more marketable in more sectors. Instead of just being a “computer nerd” you could be more suited for a CIO position. This concept is in contrast with simply just getting a second undergrad degree. Most graduate degrees require certain undergrad degrees, either a variety or very specific, as a result this should also be examined.

Clearly, another consideration is the reputation of the university and/or program. Even though the top notch programs usually cost more, the reputation alone (putting aside the actual quality of education) might be worth the extra cost. In some cases, you may choose a certain school simply for the degree, and not necessarily the actual education. Thus, if you have gotten into a graduate program but it is not a very reputable university, this may play a significant part of weighing the external and internal variables and ultimately deciding if you should go to grad school or not.


In summation, there is no easy answer to this question. However, weighing the internal variables such as your want, the money it’ll cost, the degree of choice, location, proximity to family and friends, and even your planned future family life, is the first step in deciding whether or not to go to grad school. Then, weighing external variables such as the jobs you may or may not have already been offered, the status of the economy including certain sectors, and the reputation of desired schools are all vital in making a final decision.

Alex Dorward

Alex Dorward

Alex is the co-founder of UniversityHub (now CampusRankings) and current Technical Director for CampusRankings. Alex grew up in Ottawa before attending St FX in Antigonish, NS. After graduating, he joined Accenture and is currently a Manager in Accenture Digital.

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