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Should I Go To Grad School After College?

Author: Matthew Smith

Despite the occasional dropout who goes on to fame and fortune – Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg, to name three – for most of us, the relationship between more education and better career prospects is clear-cut.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, each step up in education means higher salaries and more job security. High school graduates in 2013, for example, had median weekly earnings of $651 and an unemployment rate of 7.5%. Those with a master's degree had more than twice the median weekly earnings ($1,329) and less than half the unemployment rate (3.4%).

That can be a powerful argument for attending graduate school. But it doesn't necessarily mean going right after you're received your bachelor's degree. While a handful of fields require a graduate or professional degree as the price of admission, in many others, a bachelor's is just fine for an entry-level job.

If you believe that a graduate degree is in your future but aren't sure whether to get one right away or wait a few years, here are some things to consider.

Advantages of Going Sooner

You'll be in school mode. It could be easier to make the transition to grad school without taking a break. You'll be accustomed to studying and test-taking, as well as to living the low-rent life of a typical college student. A couple of years in a comfortable job, on the other hand, might dull your study habits and accustom you to the finer things.

It could be now or never. If you take a break from education, your life may change in unforeseen ways. You might get married, have kids, buy a home or take on other new responsibilities that will make attending and paying for graduate school more challenging.

You might be able to delay loan repayments. If you racked up a lot of federal student loan debt as an undergrad, one way to postpone repaying in some cases is continuing your education and obtaining a loan deferment. The federal Department of Education explains the rules on its website. The downside, of course, is that you'll probably take on more debt for grad school, and sooner or later you'll have to start paying it all back.

Advantages of Waiting

You might enjoy a break. After a rigorous undergraduate program, you probably deserve some time off from midterms, all-nighters and cold pizza.

You'll earn some money. Graduate school isn't cheap. Tuition and fees alone averaged about $7,700 to $37,000 a year in 2012-2013, the most recent figures available from the National Center for Education Statistics. A couple of years of work can help you pay for your next degree without taking on unnecessary debt.

You could change your mind. Once you've spent some time in the workplace, your interests and ambitions may evolve. Better to discover that before you've paid for a graduate degree in the wrong field. You might still end up in grad school, but studying something completely different.

You'll be more seasoned. With a little added maturity, you will bring more to graduate school and most likely get more out of it. Some work experience on your resume could also be a plus, both when you apply to grad school (see Applying To Grad School: GPA Vs. Work Experience) and when you finish your degree and go job hunting again.

Your boss might pick up the tab. Many companies will subsidize or completely pay for graduate work, especially if your training is in their interest. A 2013 survey of human res professionals by the Society for Human Re Management reported that 59% of the employers they represented provided such aid. What's more, according to current IRS rules, you can generally exclude up to $5,250 in employer-provided education assistance from your income if your employer's program qualifies. Above that amount, you'll owe some income tax, though it's still a better deal than paying for grad school all by yourself.

The Bottom Line

Whether you go immediately after school or wait a while before graduate school will depend on your finances, your field and your gut. Don't rush there if you don't feel ready.

On the other hand, if you are offered a juicy fellowship, it might be worth going straight on, especially if you're targeting a field that requires a Ph.D. For more, see When Is Grad School Worth it? and Attend Grad School For Free.

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