By Katie McBeth
After 17 years of school (K-12 plus another five years in college) I thought I was through with this. After all those tests, the piles of homework, the never-going-away student loans; I didn’t suspected I would be here. Again.
I’ve been staring at this admissions screen for graduate school programs for what feels like hours. Should I go through with it? Should I jump into more stress, more work, and more debt, just to get a one-up in the job market?
I’m so torn, that I’ve decided to write a pros and cons list on graduate school to help me make up my mind. And—even better—I’ve decided to share it with you.
Voilá: my current struggle!
This one is obviously a pro, right? Wrong.
This one is a mixed bag. Let me break it down for you: Yes, people trust your opinion when you have a fancy title with your name. No, you are not actually smarter just by attending school.
There’s an unfortunate side-effect to going through college these days: you gain a lot of book knowledge, but not necessarily a lot of applied knowledge. In a 2015 study by the Hart Research Associates, researchers found that many employers preferred a steady mix of applied and book knowledge across multiple fields, but found that most graduating college students did not meet these standards. Students also agreed that this knowledge was important, but thought they were properly prepared when employers did not.
Well, crap. That would be a con.
This is why it is so important to research and choose the right school when continuing your education. Intermixing book knowledge with experience in the field is basically how you can guarantee yourself a career when graduating. That can be done through interning, apprenticeship, or volunteering, and not all universities offer these opportunities.
On a more positive note, more and more universities are recommending the gap year as a way for students to get some world knowledge under their belt. So I seem to be on the right track; since I took three years off between undergraduate and graduate school! *Self-Five* Thus, I will conclude that the gap year is a pro.
This one is a con. There’s no skirting around that part. Universities are pricier than ever, and there’s not much available to prevent that. However, I did find a couple of alternative options when researching how to financially prepare for graduate school.
One of the most exciting options I found was tuition reimbursement through your employer. For example, Starbucks has tuition reimbursement for their employees through ASU’s online education program. So you can work on your bank account, and work on your education: score! Other companies have since jumped on the bandwagon, so check with your employer if they have a similar option.
Another financial option I found was the 529 plan, also known as the “qualified tuition program.” This program isn’t just for your kids anymore—you can assign yourself as the beneficiary and use it to build up a college savings plan. There is also no limit to how many accounts you can open up. So if you have kids, you can start their savings early while trying to save for yourself on the side. Oh, and they’re tax free!
About five years ago, I would have marked this as a con. Luckily, there is now the super convenient option of accredited online schooling! So I will mark convenience as a pro.
Now, online schooling isn’t for everyone. It takes a whole new level of dedication and discipline to keep up with your classes and study. But, hey, how can you tell me going to class is better than staying at home, on my couch, wearing sweatpants, and listening to the day’s lecture on my computer and on my own time? You can’t. No one can.
The Potential Future
What can I really get out of going back to school? A title, an extended education, a career? Since Americans in their twenties are suffering the most from unemployment or underemployment, it’s very possible that taking the extra step could get me out of my career rut.
I do know that now, after being out of college for three years, I am more prepared than ever to apply my world experience to my education. Yes, this may seem backwards, but it’s what I believe will help me learn and grow the most. Sometimes you need a little reference before you can fully absorb and analyze a foreign concept, right?
In that way, I feel that a future after graduate school will be a pro. Sure I might have more debt, and sure I might not get that dream job, but the education and experience I will gain through a few more years of school will be irreplaceable.
Life is short, so why not take a chance?
Masters of Cultural Studies sounds like fun. Maybe it’s about time I hit the “Apply” button…
Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID. She is an intersectional feminist, owner of a small private zoo, and can occasionally be found at music festivals cheering on her favorite indie acts. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.