Graduate School and Jobs

Posted October 25, 2010
By Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that more Americans than ever before are applying to graduate programs.  The article notes that this trend is common during recessions.  People look to graduate degrees as a path to a new career.

Is this belief valid?  The article tells the story of a nursing professional who is pursuing a master’s degree to have the option of teaching.  In this case, someone is managing her career to give herself extra options.  That’s a good thing in any economy.  Other people cited in the article seemed to assume that earning a graduate degree guaranteed a new job.  That’s not always the case.  As I’ve discussed in other posts, teachers with graduate degrees and the highest certifications are being laid off. 

Professionals who are returning to school also need to weigh the cost-benefit of graduate education.  A recent MBA graduate featured in the article said she had graduated with a “six figure overhead.”  Are such investments going to pay off?  For some people, they will.  In other cases, they are piling debt on top of debt.  Job seekers need to weigh potential outcomes before pursuing a professional degree.  Ask the school for statistics about placement.  Find out what companies hired recent graduates.  A graduate degree can lead to increased marketability.  It can also be a dead end if you follow a career path that is glutted or if you are attending a school that has a poor placement record.

Let me be clear.  I am a big fan of education.  Everyone should improve their skills and learn more about subjects that interest them.  However, it is dangerous to assume that a graduate degree will automatically lead to a job in a given field.  Once upon a time, many of my clients had graduate degrees in teaching or social work.  They enjoyed job security and often opportunities to switch employers or advance in their careers.  Now, with big cuts in government spending and even more reductions possible in the future, these fields offer few jobs and less security.  Job seekers must consider such issues before they invest money and time in graduate education.  Learning is always a good thing.  Be sure it makes sense for you. 

P.S. Yahoo offers a feature on popular degrees and how they translate to pay.