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By Kathleen Brady

Graduate school is not always the answer

Many college graduates struggling to land their first job conclude that the easiest way to secure employment is to enhance their credentials by attending graduate school.

Think again.

Hiding out in graduate school because you do not know how to get a job simply exchanges one set of problems for another. Eventually, you are going to have to learn how to find a job anyway, so before you take on the huge financial, emotional and time commitments of graduate school, be sure to think it through.

A graduate education can be a wonderful thing if it fits in with your long-term career goals. If you are unclear what your goals are and how a graduate degree will help you achieve them, you will be wasting money, effort and time. It is likely that the reason you are struggling in the job search in the first place is precisely because you do not have a clear career vision.

You may have earned your undergraduate degree, but there is still homework to do. Invest the time to engage in self-assessment to figure out what your skills and abilities are, as well as your wants and needs. You have to be prepared to say more than “I just graduated from college and need a job” or “I can’t find a job so I figured I would go to graduate school.” You need to be able to articulate a goal or a vision about what direction you want your career and life to take in order to present yourself during job interviews or on grad school applications. If you need help, visit your undergraduate school’s career services office and avail yourself of their resources. Do not skip this step; it is too important.

Next, conduct market research to uncover industry requirements and employer expectations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Finder provides a wealth of information. You can learn what the educational requirements are to enter into and advance in more than 500 career paths at You cannot find a job or advance in a career until you expand your understanding about the world of work. Once you are armed with detailed information about yourself and the marketplace, you will be prepared to map out a comprehensive strategy to satisfy both.

If your research indicates that a graduate degree is indeed necessary to achieve your objectives, you must do a little bit more homework to learn about the different types of graduate programs available and which ones employers in your industry value most.

Master’s degree programs, offered in almost every field, can be professional or academic. Professional degrees, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Masters of Social Work (MSW) or a Juris Doctor (JD), stress practical knowledge and specific skill sets needed in the workplace. In some instances, these degrees are required for licensing purposes. Academic degrees, on the other hand, such as a Master of Science, are designed for intellectual growth and are oftentimes a prerequisite for doctoral work. Doctoral degrees (also called terminal degrees because they are the highest possible earned academic degree) focus on deepening a knowledge base through innovative research. To learn more, visit

It is important to note that not all programs or universities are created equal. Be an informed consumer and know what employers in your industry value before enrolling. Do they demand a degree in a specific discipline? Do they prefer a particular type of coursework? Do they care about the status of the institution? These are all important considerations in choosing your path. Every admissions counselor is going to tell you why their institution is the best; that is their job. Employers, who have no vested interest in whether or not you go to graduate school, will provide unbiased opinions regarding which skills and credentials they look for in new hires. Invest the time to explore.

Most employers will tell you that they value experience, which frustrates new graduates. They often lament, “how can I get experience without experience?” not realizing that college internships and senior projects count. Graduate school might help address this issue with employers, but it might not. Perhaps a better option after graduation is to look for a “point of entry” job in your field. For example, if you are considering law school, look for a job as a paralegal. Before enrolling in Social Work school, secure a job as a caseworker. Consider accepting an unpaid internship in your field/industry of interest in order to expand your network and develop industry knowledge. You could also volunteer at any not-for-profit organization to build your skill set. Each of these options provides you with an opportunity to gain valuable experience and confirm your career choice without incurring any additional debt. You may start on a lower rung on the career ladder than you might like, but at least you are beginning your upward ascension.

Graduate school is not the antidote to unemployment. It should only be considered if it is aligned with well thought out professional or personal goals. Only then, will it be worth the price.

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