Do You Need To Go To Grad School?

do you need to go to grad school- Jessica LawlorSince I graduated from college in 2010, I’ve found it’s become common (perhaps even trendy) among my peers to say, “I’m applying to grad school” or “I’m thinking of going back and getting my MBA.”

For a little while, I even caught on to the hype and caught myself telling people of my plans to get my MBA. (Hint: there is absolutely no plan to go back to school and get my MBA…at least right now).

It sounds fancy. Smart. People who go to grad school must be go-getters. Overachievers.

But…is it really necessary? Do you NEED to go to grad school?

Disclaimer: The points I’m about to make in this post are my personal opinions, not backed up by stats (unless noted) and apply to those who are self-made entrepreneurs, creatives or work in the fields of public relations and communications. I totally get that a higher degree is necessary in some career fields, but I’ve found that it’s really not in my chosen career path.

I was inspired to think a bit harder about this question when my friend and fellow Philly entrepreneur Melissa Alam posed a similar question on her Facebook page.

She asked:

“Grad school- yay or nay? Is it worth it if I want to continue my career as an entrepreneur?”

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to learn. I absolutely loved school! I thrived in an environment where I was constantly learning, studying and even taking tests and writing papers. I was one of those Type A, competitive, overachievers in high school and college.

But I don’t think grad school is necessary. Here’s why.

1. I’m already earning extra income monthly doing exactly what I would plan to do after grad school. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been steadily building my freelance writing business, blog and public speaking, in addition to holding a full-time job in public relations. I have regular freelance clients and bring in $1,000+ extra income monthly through these efforts. None of my small business/startup clients have ever asked about my educational background, let alone asked or required that I have a higher degree. Instead, they’ve read my blog, checked out my portfolio and know that I can do what I say I can do. The business I’m building right now is exactly the business I would likely build upon getting a masters degree. If I’m already doing it now with success, why take my focus away from that for a piece of paper? Also, according to a study being conducted by Reputation.com, newer grads with masters degrees make an average of $2,000 more per year than their bachelor degree counterparts. I don’t know about you, but that bump in salary won’t make much of a difference in the long run, especially when you already might be making way more than that building a side business.

2. It likely wouldn’t help advance my career much. I get it. Having an advanced degree is necessary in many fields. But in PR/communications? I really don’t think so. In all the jobs I’ve ever applied for in the field or job listings I’ve looked at recently, I’ve never seen a request for a higher degree. While I absolutely loved my PR education at Temple University, let’s be honest: most of what I learned, I learned in hands-on situations through PRSSA, PRowl PR (Temple’s student-run PR firm), internships and my two post-grad jobs. In college, I learned a lot about history and theory. I learned how to think differently, strategically and creatively. But those things I do every day at work that contribute to the bottom line? I learned those on the job. If anything, I might consider getting an APR (accreditation in PR) before getting an MBA or a masters degree in communications. Within my field, I think those letters hold more credibility than a masters degree.

3. I’d rather spend that time/money growing my skills/business right now, rather than 2-4 years from now. There is such a demand out there right now for ambitious writers, communicators and marketers. If you want to earn extra income or start your own business, it’s very do-able. If I were to put my business on hold right now to focus on grad school (because let’s be real, I’m not Superwoman. I don’t think I could manage a full-time job, side business, blog AND grad school), depending on how many years grad school took to complete, I could lose a potential $25K-$35K. Not to mention, I’d be putting out WAY more money than that to go to grad school. WHAT? When you look at the financials, why on earth would I do that? The PR/social media/marketing world is also rapidly evolving/changing every day- the best way to stay ahead of the curve is to stay in the trenches. I’d rather spend my time learning and doing right now, rather than waiting until I have a fancy degree.

Like I mentioned above, I LOVE learning. I know that I will be a life-long learner and will always seek out opportunities to expand my knowledge.

Here are some other ways you can continue to educate yourself and advance professionally/personally without going to grad school:

  • Attend a conference in a topic you’re interested in. There are conferences out there for every single topic- find them!
  • Join a meetup group around an area of interest.
  • Look to social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to find experts in your field and those you may want to connect with.
  • Seek out bootcamps, seminars or other online/offline programming around the topics that excite you.
  • Set a goal to schedule monthly coffee meetings with people you admire/want to get to know.
  • Read blogs.
  • Read books.
  • Listen to podcasts.
  • Start your own business. The quickest way to learn is to dive right in and figure things out as you go.

Weigh in! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you gone to grad school? Thinking about it? Do you think it’s necessary?

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  • 100% agree! So many of my English major friends went to grad school just because it was something to do when they hadn’t quite figured out their career paths yet. (I almost signed up myself before having a blessed “What are you thinking?!” moment.)

    In the end, I know grad school isn’t where I need to be right now to further my goals. I’ve decided that if I ever do enroll in a masters program, it will be for an MFA in creative writing–because the structure and push to write, plus support from other writers just might be worth it if I ever decide to become a novelist! But I think most entrepreneurs are way better off in the trenches, like you said.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Ohhh, yes, many English majors go to grad school right away! Good for you for having that moment! Haha.

      Good call about an MFA. That’s actually something I would be interested in in the future because it actually aligns with my passions and interest…not just a career desire, necessarily.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  • Necessary? No. Can it be helpful? Yes.

    If you lay it out as an either/or proposition, as you do here, it’s an easy no. But it’s not that simple. I was able to knock out my MBA while earning extra income doing what I liked (consulting & teaching at the college level) and growing my skills (while jumping into a new career path).

    Additionally, I also educated myself in many of the ways you outline at the end of the article over the course of the 20 months I completed my degree. And with a toddler in the house. 🙂

    Now, if you’re talking about dropping out of the job market to finish a degree, I can’t imagine doing that in this day and age.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Thanks so much for weighing in, Karl!

      I never meant to undermine the helpfulness of grad school in this post, but just simply posed a question asking if it’s necessary, as so many people seem to think it is because of societal pressures.

      Good for you for doing everything you did while earning your MBA. That’s super impressive. I know myself pretty well by now and know that I simply wouldn’t be able to do that.

  • YES. Thank you. I work at a local college for my day job, so one of the benefits is I can go and get my MBA for free (very nice perk). The opportunity was sooooo tempting and it felt like should I “should do”. So I applied and took one course this spring to test it out. But I quickly realized that an MBA was not what I wanted. All my time was going towards studying for a class that I wasn’t really interested in and felt repetitive from everything I learned in college, instead of what I was passionate about and my side hustle! I agree the decision is right for some people, but I think the societal pressure to attend grad school needs to stop.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Ohhh, see, you’re in an even tougher situation because it’s FREE. I’m sure you might feel even more pressure from those around you to take advantage of it just because you can. That’s great that you tested it out by taking one class- super smart. I totally hear you about feeling like wasting time studying for a class you weren’t really interested in when you could be working on something you’re actually passionate about. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Caroline!

  • girlwiththeredhair.com

    Love this! Going to grad school will get me nowhere in my current career path so it’s not even on my radar. However, if I was to switch career paths slightly (something I’ve contemplated a few times) I would need a little more education and have considered doing that one day. But we’ll see!

    I admire so much where you’ve gone with your side hustle!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Thanks so much, Amber! That means the world to me 🙂 Working in similar fields, I’m so glad you agree that it’s completely not necessary! Like you said, right now, grad school isn’t on my radar, but I’m sure if I ever needed to do a total 180 and switch careers, I might start thinking about it a bit more.

  • When I worked in PR I never would have dreamed of going to grad school. But it is helpful in some cases, like if someone wanted to switch careers and go into PR (or in my case, go into something else). I have to go to grad school so I can become a licensed therapist. I also think an MBA might useful if, say, you wanted to own your own PR firm and need a better grasp on management and more of the business aspect. It really just depends on your priorities. But I think a lot of people feel like they should go to grad school and that’s really just not the case for most people! It can be a great investment or a total waste of money.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      It definitely makes sense to go back to school when contemplating switching careers. In fact, I’m not sure there’s much someone can do besides that to get the qualifications they need. Luckily, I haven’t faced that possibility, but that’s not to say that sometime down the road, I might develop a brand new interest that requires more schooling. But like you said, in PR? Not necessary.

  • I completely agree with you – there are plenty of fields out there that don’t require you to invest all that time and money in an MBA! I’m working towards one myself, but I know that, to advance in the industry I’d like to work on, having an MBA makes quite a difference.

    I used to think that MBAs were for people who studied non-business related careers as undergrads (engineering, IT, architecture, psychology, etc) and wanted to dive change careers or dive into management. However, I realised that there’s much more to it than just that – it’s the connections you make, the opportunities you’re given to explore and grow, to take on new responsibilities and challenge yourself.

    It really depends on each person’s situation and long term goals – If you’re already doing what you want to do, why stop?

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I didn’t know you were working on your MBA! Very cool- what are you hoping to do?

      Like you said, if you’re already doing what you want to do, why stop…that’s EXACTLY how I feel and what’s motivating me to keep moving forward.

      xox

  • I think it kind of depends on how competitive your field is. In journalism, it’s definitely not necessary to have Masters, but it’s sooo much more difficult to find a job in journalism (especially on the air) than most other fields (hundreds of people applying for one pretty low-paying job), so having a Master’s can really put you ahead of the competition. The last three reporters we hired at my station all had a Master’s degree from some of the top schools in journalism.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Definitely depends on how competitive the field is. I think it’s really interesting that you said having a master’s degree can put journalists ahead of the competition. To me, I feel like in these kinds of fields, employers are just looking for the absolute best quality of work and cultural fit. Good to know though! Definitely made me think about this in a new way! Thanks!

  • Up until 2010, I had largely ruled out graduate school myself.

    When I was an intern at a transportation agency from 2010 to 2012, I worked with some folks who were enrolled in a distance-learning master’s degree program in transportation management at San Jose State University. After learning more about the program from them, I decided to follow in their footsteps by eventually enrolling in the same program in January. This is the only graduate degree program I found to be relevant to my career aspirations as well as engaging and substantive. Another major factor was that my interest in working in transportation predated my time at the transportation agency and my decision to major in public relations in college.

    I get it. Grad school is not for everyone. I was in the same league myself for the longest time until four years ago. Education is indeed important although some of the most successful and richest among us did not advance far along in their educational endeavors — Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates among others. People that have a vision, an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take huge risks in the pursuit of success have great potential to achieve great things without the need for advanced education — college or graduate. I see that in you, Jess. Keep it going and make it big!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Very interesting!

      I think for you, given your interests and the field you want to go into, the program you’re doing seems extremely targeted and relevant!

      Thanks so much for the kind words comparing me to some of those greats! Definitely an honor! 🙂

  • Agreed. I went because it was absolutely necessary for me to practice as a social worker in my state. Now I’m licensed…and given the coaching I do, I think it gives me oodles of credibility. But other fields? Sometimes not necessary. And it’s totally not worth the money or effort if that’s the case.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I totally hear you…as a coach, it probably does give you some great credibility with your clients! If I were to go into coaching in the future, I would definitely look into *some* kind of certification- that credibility is very important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • It depends on what field you’re in but I think that if you don’t feel that you truly need grad school and you’re not required to go that far education-wise, you don’t HAVE to have an M.B.A. Education is a great thing and learning is a lifelong process but who says you can’t learn valuable information on the job?

    I went to school for teaching and to be honest, NOTHING in those classes were as helpful as when I was thrown into an actual classroom with real students. I have been contemplating grad school since I need to get a masters to retain certification (oh curse you, NYS and your outrageously expensive demands!) but for now, I just need a break. xD

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Hey Sandy! It definitely does depend on what field you’re in. Luckily for me, PR doesn’t require it 🙂 Totally agree that education is a lifelong process and you can literally educate yourself anywhere!

      Good luck getting back into school mode when you’re ready to apply to grad school!

  • I have absolutely zero plans to go to grad school. It’s not necessary for my career path, and I just don’t want the financial burden of paying back the loans I’d have to take out. That’s not worth it for me. Sometimes, I think about getting my MFA in creative writing, but then I realize that’s also not totally necessary (it might be helpful, but I’d need a bigger reason than that due to the time/money/effort I’d have to put in) and there are other things I can do to help me along in my creative writing endeavors that are just as valuable.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I hear you! It’s not necessary for mine either- and I realllllly actually love school, so it’s tempting, but it really just wouldn’t make sense, at least right now. And OMG, you’re right- the financial burden would be crazy. I’ve also thought an MFA would be useful to get serious about that type of writing, but like you said, I’d need a bigger reason too.

  • I don’t necessarily regret going to grad school, since I wouldn’t have met my husband without it and can’t imagine my life without doing it. But I’m not sure it was the best decision for me. I basically went to grad school right out of college, because I didn’t know what else to do. And now I’m still paying off the loans I took out for it, and it wasn’t at all necessary for the job I have. Actually for a while I was almost embarrassed by it, but I wasn’t really doing a job that it anywhere near qualified me for. But I’m happy where I am now, and wouldn’t be where I am now without it. But I’m not sure I’d recommend doing it, unless you know exactly what you want to do with it afterwards.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Ohhh! You met your hubby in grad school! That’s adorable. Everything happens for a reason 🙂

      What did you go to grad school for?

      I’m still paying back my loans for undergrad, so I can’t imagine adding more debt on top of that! Yikes.

  • Wow. Apparently this is a hot topic.

    Everyone’s situation is different and I’m more interested in why someone would go for a further degree as opposed to why they don’t need to. For example, is it because they’re scared of the job market? Feel like they NEED the advanced degree but they haven’t actually been in the field or in interviews to know? Are they trying to impress their friends or their parents are forcing them? Do they want to become a professor where a masters is commonly required? etc. THAT is what’s interesting to me.

    I agree with you that in fields similar to PR/comm/mktg, an advanced degree isn’t usually necessary. But now there are so many more options! Even within the last several years, schools have added tons of what were once “niche” programs. I graduated from college in 2008, felt like my education was a breeze, and looked into a masters (NOT MBA, I was against generic MBAs) but what I wanted didn’t exist. boooo.

    I love that you’re doing what these programs are doing: your own thing. Creating something brand new that didn’t exist before. You rock! How about YOU create a Get Gutsy University and a Get Gutsy masters degree program? I bet you’d get tons of students!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      It IS a hot topic! Crazy, I didn’t think so many people would comment!

      Everyone’s situation is definitely different. And you’re so right that there are a lot more options than just “get an MBA” or “go to grad school.” Lots of niche programs and mini-courses that you can take that might be better options.

      And, hello! Get Gutsy University? Genius idea!

      xox

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