New Grad Dilemma: Return to School or Job Search?


A former intern of mine contacted me to give an update on her job search. (It’s always a good idea to keep your network current on your status. That way they know how to help you.)

This entry-level job seeker just earned her bachelor’s degree. She is thinking about applying to graduate schools for fall or winter admittance because she has not found a full-time job in her field yet. She just graduated this spring.

My reply to her was this:

“When entering a career field, my bias is toward getting real-world experience before going on to a higher degree. That way you can confirm that it’s the right career for you. Plus, you can find out if you want to go back to school to specialize in anything.”

I then gave her some examples of the types of businesses where she should look for job leads and information on a job opening I knew of.

I also told her “if you can’t find paid positions related to your career, volunteer at a nonprofit organization. Even helping out once a week for a few months will give you a wealth of knowledge — and networking contacts.”

I should have reminded her that being active in a professional association and doing informational interviews is critical for new college graduates. Now is the time to build your network and let other know that you are capable and dedicated to your field.

Going to graduate school might seem like a smart alternative to job seeking, but if entry-level positions in your field do not require an advanced degree, than it could be a waste of time and money at this point in your career.

Grad school is a place to gain advanced or specialized career skills. Grad school broadens your horizons and promotes personal growth. Grad school is a place to hide from the job market. Do not use going back to school as a stall tactic.

If your main motivation for applying to a master’s or Ph.D program is to put off a job search — not to make you more qualified for one — then don’t go to school right now.

Get at least one year of real-world experience first, be it a paid position or volunteer work related to your field. Once you’ve gained that knowledge and have a broader perspective, then decide if grad school is the right move for you at that time.

Remember, the job market is brutal now, but it is turning around. If you are not able to accept a full-time position, some other job candidate who is not in school will.

Keep looking up!

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One thought on “New Grad Dilemma: Return to School or Job Search?

  1. I never inteded to go to graduate school. I wanted to get started on my career with the Department of Corrections and just wait until retirement. But it hit me that I wanted something more out of life and my career. After almost two years in corrections as a Correctional Officer in a maximum security prison, I decided to go to graduate school. I’m glad I waited two years for two reasons. First, the experience I gained made me a better candidate for Tier 1 institutions, including my top 2 choices – Penn State and the University of Iowa. My GRE scores were not the highest of the group, but the experiences and insight I brought to the program were what made me competetive (I found this out later). The second reason I am glad I took some time prior to going to grad school was that the experiences in corrections allowed me to add more to discussions in class. I was able to take in the information and sythesize/apply it to real-life situations. Everyone else in the program went straight from undergrad to grad school and appeared to be focused on books whereas I had real-life experiences to either back up or refute theories.

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