Illustration by Alexandra Dwight
The school year is almost over, and roughly a quarter of our school’s student population will be graduating. For those of us who are staying for another year, though, the time that we will have to leave the bubble that is our carefree undergrad lives is quickly approaching. Specifically, it’s time we started thinking about what we’re going to do after we graduate–the next step in our academic and professional lives.
Whenever I bring up the prospect of not starting graduate school directly after completing undergrad, or even a few months after completing undergrad, my parents just cringe. To a family filled with engineering and economics majors who naturally assumed that graduate school was the next logical step in their lives, the concept of taking a year or so off to pursue other interests is an entirely foreign concept.
Not counting medical school and law school, which practically guarantee a solid, profitable career at the end and are required in order to pursue said career, is pursuing grad school directly after completing undergrad really worth it? At University of California, Santa Barbara, tuition is the same for both undergraduate and graduate students, even though other expenses, such as other campus based fees and money for books and supplies may differ. Not to mention, a grad student’s workload is so vastly different–and oftentimes greater–than an undergrad student’s.
Theoretically, people who choose to pursue a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in a specific subject, it means that they really enjoy said subject and wish to spend a significant part of their lives working with it–but not all of us can say with absolute certainty which subject we want to dedicate a significant part of our lives pursuing. If we choose to attend grad school for the purpose of simply prolonging our academic careers because we don’t know what we want to do with our lives, then we’d be wasting a lot of time, effort, and money that can be better spent elsewhere.
Whether or not grad school is worth the amount of time, money, and effort we have to invest in it depends on each individual person and his or her experiences–but going to grad school just for the sake of grad school or because we don’t know what else to do with our lives is definitely not worth it. If we’re going to attend grad school, we should do so with a clear purpose in mind, with a goal we’re pursuing.
You can’t expect the people of the entire graduating class of 2014 to know exactly what they want to do with their lives after college–and a lot of them don’t. Grad school cannot serve as a waiting room for people who do not know what they want to do with their lives, specifically because it’s such a huge commitment in terms of time, effort, and money. But if you do know what you want to do, if you have a goal in mind that requires grad school, then by all means, go right ahead and attend grad school.
There are so many other things to do after finishing college and getting our undergraduate degrees than going to grad school. It may sound like an entirely different world to us now since we’ve been in school for practically our entire lives, but a lot of people start working right after graduating. If we spend a year or two working, we’ll have a better idea of what we do or don’t want to do with our lives in the future, and if we choose to attend grad school at that point, we’ll have some money saved up. We can also join volunteer organizations, such as the Peace Corps and Teach for America, if we want to. Grad school is not the only option, and we shouldn’t blindly choose it because we don’t know what else to do.