Now or Later?

Should you go straight to graduate school? There are no hard and fast rules. It is a good idea to talk with faculty, prospective employers, and students currently pursuing programs of interest to you, to hear their perspectives on the advantages of immediate vs. delayed entry into graduate school.

You may want to consider these questions before making your decision:

  • Are you reasonably sure of your career goals, or is there a strong possibility that you could change your mind after a taste of the working world?
  • Would related work experience help you clarify ambiguous career goals?
  • Is an advanced degree a prerequisite to your chosen career?
  • How much will your job and salary prospects be enhanced by a graduate degree? The master's degree recipient almost always commands a higher yearly rate of pay. A $3,000–$4,000 differential is common, while in some technical disciplines $6,000–$8,000 is not uncommon.
  • Would you have difficulty readjusting to student life after a break?
  • Do you have a strong GPA? Would work experience enhance your application credentials by offsetting mediocre grades or test scores? In the case of some professional schools, admissions committees are generally as interested in your work background as in your "numbers."
  • Will it be easier to enter graduate school in your field directly after college or after gaining work experience?
  • What are the direct and indirect costs of graduate school? Include the cost of the program and books, living expenses and loss of income while you're in school.
  • Is there a possibility a future employer might pay for you to attend graduate school?

If you know you want to go to graduate school later, there are still some things you can take care of now:

  1. Before you leave your undergraduate institution, ask your professors and on-campus employers to write recommendations for you. This will allow you to touch base with your potential references while they know you.
  2. If potential graduate schools are nearby, it is a good idea to interview at the school now.
  3. Take tests such as the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc., now while you are still in an academic frame of mind. Often the results are good for five years.

Combining Work and Graduate School

  • Many recent graduates, strapped with sizable debts from undergraduate college years, forego the pursuit of an advanced degree and look for employment as soon as possible.
  • The solution is finding employment with major corporations that offer tuition assistance programs as part of their benefits package. These programs allow employees to take courses and earn master's degrees at nearby colleges or universities while they advance their careers.
  • Numerous corporations provide 100% assistance for tuition and fees for credit courses. Interestingly, tuition reimbursement remains an underused benefit. A recent survey by Hewitt Associates shows that only 7% of employees take advantage of company plans that pay for job-related courses.
  • Some companies combine the tuition assistance benefit with a "front-pay" option that allows direct billing from the college to the corporation, eliminating the need for out-of-pocket expenses. Other companies allow employees to apply for up-front advances on 50% of tuition costs.
  • Usually, classes must be taken during evenings or weekends to qualify for assistance.



Reproduced and adapted with permission from Sarah Lawrence College's Graduate School Guide.

Page last modified January 19, 2009