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Grad School Now or Later?
By Ashley Collins, AgCareers.com Education & Marketing Manager
You’ve reached the pinnacle of four, maybe a little more, years of hard work…your college graduation! Numerous late night study groups, countless hours in lectures and labs, the miles you’ve logged on your FitBit crossing campus for classes, club meetings, and trips to the local ice cream spot. Now you’re thinking about signing up for two, or more, years. Wait, what? What about a career? A career where you are rewarded with money, the same amount of money every two to four weeks, direct deposited! A career with a retirement plan, bonuses, lunch-n-learns for crying out loud!
For some, this decision is easy… they’ve chosen a career path where a graduate or professional degree is a requirement. ‘Do not pass go, do not collect your first paycheck’ without additional education. There are many careers in the agricultural industry that require advanced education prior to being hired; regulatory scientist, food animal veterinarian, and plant breeder just to name a few. Then, for just as many of those careers, there are more career opportunities ripe for the picking for those with a fresh-off-the-press, four year degree, some where advanced education would be nice but not necessarily a requirement. Deciding which path to take can be daunting. If you’ve reached this fork in the road and find yourself questioning “Grad School Now or Later?” we’ve collected the following advice from a variety of stakeholders, to help you make the decision.
Everyone’s situation will be different. Whether you choose to go directly onto graduate school or to get a little experience under your belt first, deciding to better yourself with additional education, at any point, is never a bad choice!
"Consider your finances. If an assistantship isn’t being offered to help offset the costs, entering the workforce first may be a better route. You can save up some money yourself to help cover the costs, or your employer may offer some level of tuition reimbursement. 77% of Agribusiness Employers participating in the 2014 AgCareers.com Agribusiness HR Report reported offering Tuition Reimbursement for their employees."
HR Services Manager at AgCareers.com who earned an MBA while working, 5 years after obtaining her bachelor’s degree
"Gaining work experience for at least two years before starting graduate studies provides you focus on what you really need to learn. Also, the work experience will help you discover some of the things you do and don't want to do in your future. Overall, your work experience will enhance the value of the master's degree."
Chief of Community Creation at Truffle Media who earned his master’s degree after working for 5 years
"The work experience requirements of many professional graduate programs ensure students have employer support and familiarity with their job so they can immediately make direct application of material and skills learned in class. Improving skills and getting better at the job you are in are the first steps to developing your career and the best reasons to start a degree program. If you are ready to begin your studies prior to accruing all of the work experience required, contact the university about a strategy to help you start classes before formally joining a program. Good programs will recommend courses that will easily transfer and allow you to “test the waters” for timing and fit."
Coordinator, Master of Agribusiness Program at Kansas State University
"The graduate school decision should be driven by the educational requirements for the career path you’ve chosen. Otherwise, joining the working world after attaining your four-year degree is an excellent start to setting the course for the rest of your life. Focus on jobs, in your field of study, where you can learn, develop and grow. The value of real work experience cannot be overstated because “hands-on” experience displays talent that’s highly sought in today’s job market. If you decide to go to graduate school later to increase your knowledge and credentials, you’ll go with maturity and a strategic vision to aid in your career success."
Manager, Human Resources & Compliance
"I went straight into grad school because I wasn't ready to start a "real" job yet, and I had no idea what I wanted to do. It was one of the best decisions I've made. Now, after working for four years, I couldn't imagine getting back into a student mindset and going back to school. I've never heard anyone regretting getting more education. If you're so inclined, go for it!"
Press Secretary U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry who earned her Masters of Science in Agricultural Communications
"Do not choose graduate school because you can’t find a job or because you don’t know exactly what career you are looking for. Choose graduate school if it is a necessity for licensing purposes or if it will help you become more specialized and qualified for your chosen career. If you go to graduate school without a definite career plan in mind, you will find yourself in the same boat job searching 2 years from now but with additional debt. A much smarter move is to find a job that is in your interest area and work for a bit before deciding what additional education will benefit you the most. Also, a number of employers will help cover your cost of additional education if it is job related! Be strategic about your career and this includes how much education you need to pursue."
Director of Bookhart Student Services Center at Clemson University
"If you know 100% that you are entering a career you plan to be in for a long time, then immediately continuing into a grad school program will provide you with additional knowledge. However, by spending time in a career first, you will have a better understanding of how assignments apply to your career field. I highly suggest completing observations or an internship in your career interest at some point during your college career. It may open your eyes to things you never knew about your career choice.
Because of these observations and semester long "internship," I knew that I wanted to become a teacher so staying an additional year and a half to complete a masters degree was an easy decision. After five years of teaching at the middle school and high school level, I chose to pursue my doctorate so that I could teach at the university level. By first teaching for five years, I was able to gain the necessary experiences and knowledge that allow me to have credibility when teaching at the university level."
Dr. Joy Morgan
Lecturer within the Agricultural and Extension Education Department at NC State University