Graduate School is not for everyone! PhD is like a short term marriage with your advisor. MS is like a two year contract which reads- “yes, you could have been making a lot of money right now, but for now, bear with the student loan and negative cash flow”.
Then why go to graduate school and is it for you?
I was lucky enough to go to graduate school with full fellowship for my first year and was funded as a teaching assistant in the following. I had enrolled myself in a PhD program but graduated with a Masters. Going to graduate school was one of the finest decisions of my life. I learnt a lot of technical skills (I got an MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering) and life skills (believe me, life is much tougher than undergrad). Here is how you could decide whether you should go for graduate school:
- Glamour: don’t go to a graduate school just because you fancy to see yourself as a Doctor of Philosophy. For starters, you won’t be a real doctor and more importantly motivation will dry off soon if your basic premise was glamour.
- Depth: do you like to get into depth of things? Or do you prefer to know about a lot of things but don’t like to get too deep into a topic. Graduate School means a lot of deep diving. So, go for it only if you have the temperament for deep diving.
- Expertise: if you want to become a subject matter expert in a certain area, graduate school is a very meaningful path.
- Research: if you are interested in research, you MUST go to graduate school. That’s the single most prominent path for research in America.
- Duration and patience: getting a Masters can take anywhere between 1 and 3 years and getting a PhD after a bachelors can take from 4-10 years.
- Finances: there are a lot of things to remember here. If you were fortunate like me, you will have full scholarship and you will be even paid a monthly stipend to take care of your living expenses. For a PhD program, it is very common to be fully funded. (fully funded would mean tuition and living expenses taken care of). Not all Masters programs offer full funding. So, if you did not get fully-funded for a Masters program, you will have to analyze the return on investment in your Masters program. Usually, having a Masters helps you in getting a higher pay on graduation. But, you will be paying for tuition and living expenses and won’t be earning either. Of course, there should be job opportunities in your desired area of expertise in the first place. If there are jobs in the area, the decision is easier for people making less money in their jobs currently. For eg. all other things being equal, it is easier for an engineer working in India to decide to get a Masters over an engineer working in the US. An engineer working in the US might be already making a good salary hence her financial incentives will be lower to take a loan and get a Masters. An engineer in India does not have as much cash flow to lose on and hence she might decide to take a loan, get a Masters, get a job in the US and repay the loan back. Since I assumed all other things are equal; this includes the savings; which I assume are zero for both. It is not a surprise that you see a huge international student population in graduate schools.
- Immigration: Graduate school is a path of immigration to the US as well. If you want to work in the US, you are more likely to get a job if you got your degree from here. Since an undergraduate education in the US is extremely expensive, a lot of students get their undergraduate degrees in their home countries and come to the US for their graduate degrees. Post graduate school, they can work on OPT (F1-visa) and eventually H1B visa.
- Necessity: in some fields like medicine and law, graduate school is almost necessary.
- Switching careers: I think this is a very important reason for going to graduate school. Often times, the only way you can switch careers is by going to graduate school. Eg. music major moving to management by getting an MBA.
- Career jump: this is the obvious one. If getting a graduate degree helps you jump ahead in your career by helping you get promoted to a role which you desire and which you will enjoy, it might be well worth it.
These bullet points might make it easier for you to decide if you should go to graduate school.