Why Graduate School?
By Dr. Don Martin
We all know of individuals who have succeeded, in some cases astoundingly so, and who did not even graduate from college. While the jobs forecast can fluctuate greatly, the cost of education continues to increase faster than the rate of inflation. So why would someone want to consider the academic, personal and financial rigors of grad school?
Here are a few reasons:
- Personal Growth. Some people are life-long learners. They have an insatiable desire to add to their knowledge reservoir, challenge themselves academically, and experience what they consider to be of the most rewarding pursuits in life: developing the mind. For these individuals, a graduate education offers the opportunity to do all of that, and in a structured way that requires class attendance, completion of course assignments, and discussing/defending opinions and research conclusions.
- Greater Employment Opportunities. It is clear that in many career sectors (education, business, public policy, social work, journalism, and more), a master’s degree is replacing a bachelor’s as the minimum education requirement for employment. Upon entering my chosen profession – enrollment and student services – back in 1980, one could secure an entry level position as an admissions counselor, academic advisor, student services coordinator, etc., with a strong personality and work ethic, initiative and good people skills – she or he may not have needed to have a bachelor’s degree. In my last higher education full-time position (2004-2008), applicants for these same entry- level positions were not even considered unless they held a master’s degree. The bar has been raised, no doubt about it. While holding a graduate degree is not a guarantee of ultimate success, it certainly opens many more doors in the employment recruitment and search process.
- Greater Career Advancement. Related to point #2, it is evident that those with graduate degrees are at an advantage for promotion/advancement within their organization. Earning a graduate degree is evidence of persistence, determination, intellectual prowess, interpersonal skills, and ability to handle a challenging environment. All of these are qualities that are highly sought after by recruiters and selection committees. An employee, who has demonstrated success in a longer-term educational program that requires stamina, discipline, resilience, teamwork, planning, organization and the ability to work well with others, is going to be in line for substantial growth opportunities in his/her chosen career.
- Financial Rewards. While I do not advocate pursuing a graduate degree solely for financial reasons, anyone considering this endeavor would be less than wise if s/he were not wondering about the “return on investment.” Clearly, there is overwhelming evidence that an advanced graduate degree translates in to increased financial income.
- Sense of accomplishment. When I walked across the platform to receive my master’s and doctoral diplomas, the feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming. In both instances there were unexpected setbacks, including a personal crisis during my second year as a Ph.D. candidate. I came close to withdrawing from the program, but in the end, decided I needed to continue, if for no other reason at that moment, for my own sense of accomplishment, and finishing what I started. No one can take your degree away from you. It stands as a testament to your ability to pursue and achiever your goals.
- Greater recognition and credibility. There is not doubt that many who have earned graduate degrees have failed miserably. But there are countless numbers who have gone on to accomplish great things, and who are afforded respect and recognition they would not otherwise receive. Holding a doctoral degree in my chosen profession enabled me to have a greater impact on those with whom I worked. There were other skills that were important too, but when others learned about my educational background, they were initially more willing to listen to what I had do say. I had to earn their respect and trust, but it did not hurt to have an earned degree under my belt.
Graduate school is definitely not for everyone, and one can achieve much of what has been suggested above without earning an advanced degree. That said, the opportunities that graduate education opens up are endless, and millions are daily reaping the benefits of taking this step in their educational and professional journey.
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