Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is the Master's the New Bachelor's Degree? Or, Should I Go To Graduate School?

A recent New York Times article titled The Master's As The New Bachelor's addresses a trend I've already noticed: the decision or desire to go straight into graduate school for lack of other options.  The comment from new graduate William Klein, “it’s pretty apparent that with the degree I have right now, there are not too many jobs I would want to commit to” seems to echo what I'm hearing from a lot of recent and soon to be grads making the decision to apply immediately to graduate school.  Several students have said to me, "When I look at the jobs I want, they all require a Master's degree, so that's why I'm going to get one first."  Yet the question beckons, will a Master's degree suffice?  It will not replace a lack of work experience, worldliness, and the knowledge of a field that only comes from interacting within it, outside the confines of ivy covered buildings.  I fear that these students, unwilling to settle for entry-level jobs, may opt instead for what they see as an alternative route to success (i.e. graduate school), a comfortable route they know well from their proven track record of 16 years of academic success.

Of course, to a large extent, the actual necessity of graduate school is industry specific.  To practice law, you need a law degree.  But, in higher education for instance, you're likely better off securing some experience, before attaining the Master's degree.  Additionally, the value of your degree may lie, not only in the program's reputation, but also in the practical skills you will learn as a result of engaging in its coursework.  Is their an internship component? A strong alumni network?  Without experience in the field prior to entering a graduate program, you will need a lot more guidance and practical skills than some of your more mature counterparts. 

Additionally, the decision to enter graduate school is one with serious financial implications, one which can be decided on that much more judiciously by spending some years in the field,  thereby allowing for increased maturity, as well as career exploration.  Had I entered graduate school immediately after college I'd still be working my way towards a PhD in history, a decision which I'd likely regret based on my own, learned, personal work place preferences and interests. I'm not saying that a Master's isn't the right route for some recent grads, but I definitely don't think it's the new Bachelor's Degree.  If anything, I think it's recent graduates expectations regarding their post-graduate job options that be what's shifting.

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