“So, what are you doing next year?”
Did that question give you heart palpitations? Did you imagine moving back home? Moving across the country? Across the globe? Starting your first real-world job? None of the above?
I hear you. I’m with you. And for me, right now, the question brings to mind an image of yet another classroom, in yet another school.
Yes, that’s right! It’s grad school season baby- and the application process has got me wondering where grad school even came from.
Graduate school is defined by Wikipedia as a school “that awards advanced academic degrees with the general requirement that students must have earned a previous undergraduate degree”. These advanced degrees can be any kind of post-post-secondary education, from Medical School and Law School, to Master’s and PhD Programs in any subject under the sun.
Grad school has existed for time immemorial (we’ve always needed doctors fam!) but it seems as though, in the past decade, there’s been a surge in people pursing another degree after their undergrad.
The number of students pursing university degrees has doubled and, in response, the number of graduate students has almost tripled since the 1970s. Some 27% of employees now require a Master’s degrees to fill a role where undergrad degrees used to suffice.
People choose to pursue degrees beyond undergrad for any number of reasons, such as getting professional qualifications or becoming an expert in their field. Some people just genuinely like school and want to further their passion for a subject. Personally, I think a lot of the time it comes down to this: a Master’s has become what a Bachelor’s degree used to be.
Our generation has always been told that we will never have a job market that’s as accessible as our parents. We’ve been told to be prepare for crippling student debt and a lifetime of service jobs, or that only our friends in STEM will “actually get employed”. In response, we want to be serious candidates for the entry-level jobs that now require almost six years of education (and work experience, on top of it), so we end up thinking that grad school is the only option.
However, grad school isn’t a cure-all to unemployment. Recent graduates from graduate and professional degrees’ account for 40% of the 1.5 trillion-dollar student loan debt in the United States. Only half of graduates think that their graduate degree was worth the cost. Yikes. There’s an association between the starting salaries of people with graduate degrees making more than those with just undergraduate degrees, but when it comes to satisfaction, the numbers are clear: doing a second degree just to get a pay raise doesn’t make it worth it.
So, like everything that we as soon to be graduates are going to face, grad school is a choice that needs to be considered with a lot of weight It should be something you choose to do if you’re able and willing to do it, not because you feel like it’s something you “have” to do. Like any other adult decision, it’s hard to thinking about what’s right for you because we can’t tell what the future holds, but trying to do something out of love for where you are and where a second degree might take you is always a good place to start.
I tried to write this piece to make myself feel better about next year, about the potential future that awaits me beyond another graduation hood. I was even hoping that maybe this piece would do the opposite, and I would go screaming for the hills at the thought of another year in school. Instead, neither happened. I’m still looking forward to the chance to study something I’m interested in, and I’m so grateful that I have that opportunity in the first place. I’m still nervous to see what comes next.
I’m also excited for my friends who are going to take the world by storm as doctors and lawyers, and for my friends that maybe don’t have it all figured out right now and are leaving Queen’s and not knowing where they’ll be in two years. There’s no one single track to success, and there’s most certainly not one to happiness.